Our Capsule Environment

Prof Binna Kandola -Our Capsule environment

Capsule environments are environments that are isolated and confined – a challenge to leadership. The external conditions of capsule environments are harsh and dangerous.

Our guest Binna Kandola talks about this. The typical features of a capsule environment are social isolation with the same group of people with sensory restrictions. Star Trek, Voyager, Dr Who, the Big Brother House and Space Travel demonstrate the features of capsule environments. This becomes relevant to leadership who need to consider the impact this way of working has had on us.

Due to lack of sensory stimulation people can start to narrow down the people they’re communicating with; restricting the amount of information that they are sharing and begin to develop stronger relationships with a smaller group of people. With remote working and people returning back to offices, leaders need to start looking at inclusion and making sure that diversity and inclusion is at the top of our priorities. Binna Kandola has written about why this matters and how it can be the answer to shaping our future.

Leaders need to start consciously looking at the way groups of teams can be working together, encouraging their teams, their individual team members to network with other teams in the organisation. Connection is key.

Clubhouse, which is a social audio platform has been an amazing success in bringing audio to life and boost connection. The notion of community, congregations and belonging are powerful concepts in improving mental health and wellbeing – and building communities where people can share their experiences and talk about their feelings of disconnection. Loneliness is not just an individual problem; it is a systemic issue.    “Unlonely Planet: How healthy Congregations Can Change the World “ by Jillian Richardson provide tips to find joy and meaning.  

Capsule environments create opportunities as well as challenges to shape a different future.      These transformative spaces create welcoming and trusting places and spaces.  Sharing with strangers and being brave empowers belonging.   Conversations with strangers allow us to share things about ourselves, to create moments of connection, to listen deeply, a chance to reflect and collaborate.  How can we create spaces that allow people to share their wisdom and have more diverse leadership?    

Professor Kandola sounds an optimistic note

“As we come out of this  pandemic, there’s a kind of a sense of joy that we can start making proper connections with people again. We will look back on this time as an enormous challenge for everybody. And the satisfaction that we will get is by realising that we met this challenge and that we got through it as individuals and clearly connected as a society. But more importantly as individuals, as families and as colleagues, we got through this. We’ll look back on this enormous unprecedented  challenge and  recognise that  we got through it.  

Binna Kandola edited “Free to Soar: Race & Wellbeing in Organisations”.   Binna is the author of “Racism at work: The Danger of Indifference”



Paula: 00:00:00 Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh. Where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you will walk with us in this adventure. Our guest today is Professor Bina Kandola. He’s the author of “free to soul, race and wellbeing in organizations”, and we will be talking about the joys and wonders of working in a capsule environment. I’ll tell you a bit about professor Binna Kandola. Binna is particularly interested in the study of gender bias and unconscious bias in organizations and the value of difference. His most recent book “Free to Soar Race and wellbeing in organizations” in which he edited, explodes the relationship between race and wellbeing in the workplace. Bina is on the Asian power list of 2020. He’s a business psychologist and the co-founder and senior partner of Pern Kandola. Welcome to “TesseTalks”. And because this is a podcast, is there anything in the bio that I missed out on? Because you have so many credentials, like, I didn’t know where to start and where to end.

Prof Kandola: 00:01:36 That was a wonderful introduction and a very generous and thank you very much. And it’s a great pleasure to be here.

Paula: 00:01:42 Thank you so much. I’m going to turn over this to Tesse because I know she’s itching to ask you some wonderful questions that she’s been thinking about for some time.

Tesse: 00:01:51 Yes Binna, I am so excited to be in this conversation with you. I’m such a fan. I’ve followed your work for over 25 years, following not a stalk I have to say. I’m so excited to have you here, and I’m sure our listeners will be so excited as well. I am star Treker, Voyager name it, Dr Who that’s me. And when you gave a talk and you mentioned the capsule environment, I was away with excitement. So I’m really curious about how the notion of the capsule environment in this pandemic world and beyond becomes relevant? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Prof Kandola: 00:02:31 Thank you Tesse, thank you for very warm very lovely remarks, very generous. The capsule environment, this is just something that I just became interested in maybe 15, 18 years ago, but quite a while ago. It’s kind of an interest and I reading papers around and it’s just something I developed. I never thought it’d be relevant to the work that I did. Cause I worked with people in offices, in factories, in many locations that we’re very familiar with until last year. And then all of a sudden the whole world went into lockdown because of the pandemic. So in the United Kingdom, as in many other countries in the world, we were confined to our houses. And we were living and working in our homes and with the schools closed down with the same group of people around us, 24 hours a day. And it quickly occurred to me as many people in the world. I am living in a capsule environment. Now the capsule environment, the definition is that these are environments that are isolated and confined, and typically the external conditions are harsh and dangerous. Now, I’m looking out this window in my room, now, when I’m talking to you. This view of the room is very familiar to me and it changes with the seasons, but it’s very familiar. And yet over the course of the last year, that view outside of my window, it’s not harsh but he’s dangerous. And it wasn’t safe for me as for anybody else to go into it. And I thought we’re in this capsule environment, and the typical features of a capsule environment is we are socially isolated. So with the same group of people, there’s confinement, clearly we’re mostly laid out for a certain amount of time each day. And there are sensory restrictions. And by that I mean, normally before the pandemic, you would go from your home, you might have had breakfast with your family or interacted with your family, at least. And then you might’ve gone to the railway station, bought a ticket, jumped on a train, gone to your destination, got off the train, walk to your place of work, having grabbed a coffee along the way. And then you get to work and then you’re interacting with your colleagues at work and what we hadn’t realized is it’s all very mundane everyday routines, probably even annoying you know, the boring. But denied them we actually become aware that when we moved from a house, the railway station from the railway station to the train, from the train to our place of work. All of those are exposing us to different stimulate different people, and we’re having different interactions so that the interaction you have.with your family in your house is going to be different from the person at the railway station that you bought the ticket from. Different to the interactions you have with people on the train, the one person in the coffee shop and your colleagues. We are having to adapt and it is that sense of adapting, which we’re missing now. And it’s those sensory restrictions now we’re craving it actually. I want to get back to the office, I want to get back to that commute. The other thing is the capsules environment tend to be quite unusual and they tend to be extremes. The thing that captures your imagination, that the type of environment are things like. The international space station or space mission, so you’re into star Trek. Star Trek is a great example. They are all on that giant spaceship with the same people living and working in that same environment. And of course they can’t go out because it’s space until they reach an Alien planet. It’s a nuclear submarines, it’s a polar ice cap expeditions. These are the types of places where the research has been carried out. And of course the other type of environment which people will know more readily I think. The Big Brother household. Cause that’s a capsule environment and we’re watching them all the time. And then some of the stresses and strains that people feel in the capsule environment we can watch on big brother.

Tesse: 00:06:08 I really love it. Paula you have some questions to ask. Cause when I said this to Paula, she was saying, whoo hoo. So Paula go for it.

Paula: 00:06:17 Yes I did say a woo-hoo, because unlike both of you, I am not that much into Sci-fi and movies. I’m the sort of person I can watch a movie or TV show at the beginning and be happy that, oh, I did watch that. I can watch it in the middle or watch it at the end. I don’t watch anything from the beginning till the end. Bad trait but that’s me. So when I heard about you and what you talk about and listen to the whole capsule environment. I started thinking and I’m like okay, so we are going to be talking about leaderships and board. So what relevance does this have to boardroom practices? And what are the benefits and the strengths? Or what are the strengths and probably weakness of the capsule environment? Does that make sense?

Prof Kandola: 00:07:00 Yeah, no it does make complete sense and thank you. I think leadership in relation to the pandemic that’s what we’re talking about. And what we need to remember is for the sake of argument, I know there’s a lot of people who have had to go to work, key workers and this sort of stuff. But actually there are lots of people, even they have to maintain social distancing and observe the rules and as far as possible stay clear of other people. When it becomes relevant to leadership is about what the impact this way of working has had on us. And we can see from the working capsule environments. For example, that people on internet looking at the research that NASA has done looking at people on missions. And the longer the missions go on the longest, certain things seem to happen in terms of the social relationships between people. And one of the things that happens is that people start to, because of that lack of sensory stimulation. Start to narrow down the people they’re communicating with. They start to restrict the amount of information that they are sharing and they start to develop stronger relationships with a smaller group of people. Now from what I’ve heard organizations from research we’ve carried out, that has been going on. Because we’ve been working on this now for a year and it becomes a leadership issue. Once you start limiting you start creating a very strong in-group and that means you’ve got many people who are feeling excluded from the workplace. And we did some research. It started actually in November of 2019, when coronavirus was just this thing that was happening in China. It was nothing to do with us. And so we started this research that looking at people’s job satisfaction and motivation and a sense of authenticity. And then we went back to that group of people in June of last year. So we will kind of monitoring them without realizing it, we’re about the early stages of the pandemic. And you can see the impact this was having on their job satisfaction on their morale and motivation and their sense of identity too. Essentially, what we found is that everybody’s job satisfaction has gone down. Those are working, those who are furloughed. We found that the pandemic and lockdown had a greater impact on parents than it did on people who weren’t parents, or it didn’t have any caring responsibilities at that time. And it was worse for mothers than it was for fathers. We found for minorities that if minorities felt excluded going into the pandemic, they felt more excluded during the pandemic. That younger workers are actually very concerned about the training once they’re past this space. Older people, nearly 50% of older people in the United Kingdom well either furloughed or had their hours reduced. It then had an impact in  terms of their plans for retirement. Disabled, people were getting this is native from the UK. A quarter of.People with disabilities are concerned that there will be a burden on others. They’re also concerned about their employment prospects. So there’s all sorts of things that happen and in addition to that, we’ve created a new identity, which is that of furloughed. I mean up until February of last year, I don’t think i’ve ever used the word furloughed. Now you use it every day don’t you? And we’ve created this other distinction between people working and furloughed. And we know from the research we’ve carried out is that there are animosities one side to the other. So there’s all sorts of issues to the point I would make to your question is, and it is a great question is that we need to look at all of these things, because this is the impact the pandemic has had and this is clearly a leadership issue. And we need to start looking at inclusion and making sure that diversity and inclusion needs to be at the top of our priorities now. If we are going to we cover, if organizations are going to recover from the impact of the pandemic on the performance of each organization. So that’s why I think it’s a leadership issue. So it’s a bit long-winded, but that’s why I think it’s a leadership issue.

Tesse: 00:10:54 Yeah not a tall long-winded at all. It’s very very relevant. Don’t you think Paula?

Paula: 00:11:00 Yeah certainly thank you for clearing that up, I took a lot of notes as you were talking. It makes more sense. And I can see the interaction between what you’re saying and how it is really impacting the lives of individuals and businesses, the culture and the environment yeah.

Prof Kandola: 00:11:18 And then there’s going to be, as we all start coming back and returning to the workplace, these are things that we have to address. They may have, it will happen organically, because we the people adjusted to that. But it will happen more slowly if it’s not done more consciously.

Tesse: 00:11:35 Yeah, cause you segwayed into something that I was going to ask anywhere and you went in there seamlessly. And it’s like with people with the lockdown now easing off in the UK and people are going back very gradually are going back into the workplaces in a physical sense and face to face interaction is beginning to start more. I’m very curious about your thoughts on how the hybrid situation can be created around return back to work. A lot of offices I suspect including a lot of my clients, they’re going to continue a mix of work from home and physical spaces as well. How can this notion of the capsule environment and some of the interactions that have occurred or not occurred as the case may be, begin to be explored in looking at inclusive leadership and inclusive spaces.

Prof Kandola: 00:12:30 That’s another great question, they are. I think what we’ve got, so our starting point needs to be. We’ve had this phenomenon, it was known as psychological closing. So we’re starting to reduce the amount of information we’re sharing the richness of the information we’re sharing and the numbers of people that we are interacting with all right. The other thing that happens the longer term, the longer that we stay in a capsule environment, and this is from Naval institutes have cut out this research as well as organizations like NASA. There’s also something that happens and involved with which is known as displacement. So you see, you start to restrict and it becomes a smaller group of people communicating with. And then if this tight knit group that starts to form because of the way we’re working. If there’s any conflict in the group, what they found is in this research is that sometimes the group won’t deal with that conflict in amongst themselves, they will start to blame other groups. So rather than deal with that conflict and the tension within the group, they start projecting to other people, it’s their fault, they’re not helping us, they’re not supporting us. We start to see those other people as opponents, rather than as colleagues and as partners. So if we go back to work in kind of the physical way, at least a hybrid approach and the people that I formed a bond with, those are the people that I say, yeah when are you in the office next? I’ll be on a Wednesday. I’ll be on a Wednesday with you. So actually those bonds that are formed once we were in lockdown, if they are continued when we’re physically in the workplace again, it means that these divisions are going to be greater. So the obvious answer to that is to make sure that these aren’t the only groups I’m interacting with. Then we start to mix it up and we start consciously looking at the way groups of teams can be working together. But also what leaders should be doing is encouraging their teams, their individual team members to be networking with other teams in the organization. So not just a team network with other people, individuals need to be networking with other individuals as well. Because we know that when we have meaningful contacts with one another, that’s what breaks down barriers creates empathy, reduces bias. It has so many benefits.

Tesse: 00:14:40 I really love that thought. I mean, something that comes to my mind, as you talk about the interactions and teams. I’m thinking about organizations that have black workers groups, or women’s groups, or other sorts of intersectionality  and type of groups. How would this notion of inclusion do you think? Does it have a twist on it that there might be able to position what they do as teams and groups? Would they be able to have another way of seeing how these, I call them networks.

Prof Kandola: 00:15:10 They are called networks and employee resource groups and I’m sure you  and Paula , know yourself. People have mixed views about these, some people see it as a good things, some people see them as problematic when it comes to inclusion. I don’t see them as a problem or a solution, actually. I see them as a symptom. The reason these groups exist is because individuals in those groups don’t feel included. And as a consequence you actually find the biggest function that these groups serve is actually, they’re a safe space for individuals to talk about their experiences. And so when you are experiencing forms of discrimination in the workplace, whether it’s on race or gender or LGBT or whatever it is. And you find it hard to talk about what your experience to your colleagues. These groups enable you to have a safe space to talk about things and to recognize that it’s not just you, who is going a bit paranoid. Now if people felt genuinely included these groups wouldn’t exist right? So I think they’re a symptom of something else. And as you’re suggesting Tesse, these groups, network groups, employee resource groups are a fabulous resource for organizations now. So what are the issues that your membership is facing? When you talk to those groups, listen to them, learn from them. And actually, what can we do as an organization to foster a sense of inclusion now to make sure that the individuals who are members of these groups actually feel more included. In addition, so there sorts of advice aren’t they? And the other thing we can do is encourage these individual resource groups. And this is another point you were making Tesse. You encourage the individual groups to come together collectively start to share in their experiences. Because you actually find them actually that’s how we feel, that’s exactly how we feel, yeah that’s how that’s what happened to us, this is how we feel now, this is our concern. So actually you then get a sense of what each individual group feels, but also you can move that up as well actually, in terms of an organization. These groups are experiencing the same things they’re concerned about their careers, they’re concerned about speaking up about how they’re feeling, they’re concerned about having beat on furlough. Having been more likely to be in a furlough, are they more likely to be made redundant. So actually what do organizations need to do in terms of their processes? There are all sorts of things. I see them as you suggested Tesse. I see them as a really really central to helping us devise our strategies.

Tesse: 00:17:25 I love it I really do. Paula, you had some thoughts on this.

Paula: 00:17:30 Yeah so as I listened to Binna talk and I mentioned that these organizations have to address these new challenges that are arising mainly because of the Pandemic Because some of these things have bubbled up because of the Pandemic. I was wondering for an organization that understands the significance of the capsule environment. Is it too early to say, well how much is it affecting the fortunes of these companies or these organizations?

Prof Kandola: 00:17:58 Well, some of the organizations that  are clearly the internet companies there have been winners and losers, and there’s a lot of people in the middle who have managed to survive. And the winners are organized with the internet companies have clearly you know every year they grow by 10 years. Last year, they’ve grown their revenues. They might’ve expected over a decade. There are lots of organizations and a lot of teams I think. This notion about creating the sense of inclusion is important for every team. In fact it was Google that did the research 10 or nine years ago now. They looked about 120 plus teams in their organization looking at what was the difference between the high performing teams and those that weren’t so high performing and the number one factor was psychological safety. The sense that people could speak up without any consequences to their status, to their self-image or that to their careers. And they’re able to challenge, and then obviously in a respectful way. And to put their points across without fear of the consequences. And of course that enables all sorts of things to happen and that enables greater innovation. But it also means that the anxieties and tensions that people don’t block performance to the same extent that they normally would. I think it’s important for every organization. I can’t answer your question directly unfortunately about the impact. Some organizations have just succeeded in respective as a culture because of the nature of the business, because of the sector that they’re in.

Tesse: 00:19:27 Well, I think to a large degree you have touched on the answer. Because one of the things that has happened with me in the last few weeks in particular. I’ve been attending quite a number of webinars and seeing what others are doing. So meetups have taken a whole life form of their own. And I think that meetups would not have been the thing that they are now, if there hadn’t been this kind of lockdown which is global. Another thing, there was a woman who wrote a book called the “unlonely planets” and it became a best seller and she’s become a big celebrity based on that. And the whole movement around people who are lonely and isolated, how they can be unlonely by building communities of interest and communities. In her books she calls them congregations, Shall we called them congregations. And this whole thing again, of people the agile community whether they’re Google or Microsoft or whatever they are. They are bringing people together in a way  that they wouldn’t probably have come together in those numbers. So clubhouse, which is a social audio platform has been an amazing success in bringing audio to life and people connecting. So I think the benefit  of what you’re talking about, about people overcoming isolation and looking at mental wealth issues have become quite real. So the typology, the  ecosystem of connection or belonging, it’s kind of bringing those threads together. So you know as we close, I’m just thinking about whether you have last.

Prof Kandola: 00:20:54 Thank you for that. Is that enough to pull out my

Tesse: 00:21:03 I can send you it misspent evening. I can actually send you some of these things. Cause it’s just, it’s so exciting because the whole notion of community and congregations and belonging and all these things are things that are really helping communities to go together. And so you know, as we kind of wrap up on this. I’m just thinking about any thoughts on anything inclusion cops about anything that has just come to mind as we’ve had this. I feel excited. Paula is looking at me, saying there she goes again, you know. I’m so excited, I’m so thrilled, my favorite Professor any last thoughts?

Paula: 00:21:38 Actually I’m just listening and marveling and yes. I mean cause you kind of segwayed on what the professor said which is you know. We’ve had, depending on the industry. I mean we’ve had. Explosions and new innovations, you know, spring up because of the pandemic, of course because I am into this space. Clubhouse is an amazing audio social group these days and I was even listening to a podcast and which they interviewed the founders of clubhouse and blowed over. I mean they didn’t think it would blow up like this but the pandemic did that. So yeah. So any last thoughts? Sorry Tesse i’m taking your words from you.

Prof Kandola: 00:22:15 I’ve just been making notes of what the two of you have been saying actually. What did they do bear in mind? All the research has been done on capsule environments and it does impact on people’s wellbeing. And other forms of capsule environment, where the shippers have been damaged to the ship and they end up in an island somewhere, and there is danger that you’re living and working with the same people trying to figure out how to get out of this thing. When people have studied the autobiographies of individual, the diaries of individuals who’ve been in this environment. They find that once they’re out of that situation and all the stresses and the strains that invariably people look back on it  as a really positive experience. I kind of feel that we’re heading in that direction as well. As we come out of this in the sense of. There’s kind of a sense of joy that we can start making proper connections with people again. You can’t think we already looking back on what happened in order to make our lives better for the future. And I think we will find actually that we will look back on this as a challenge, as an enormous challenge for everybody. And the satisfaction that we will get is by realizing that we met it and that we got through it as individuals and clearly collected as a society. But more as individuals, as families and as colleagues, we got through this. And we’ll be looking back on that there was this enormous challenge, like unprecedented and we got through it and there’s clearly tragedies that have occurred. So I’m not trying to minimize that. But people will look back and think boy that was something. And it changed me as an individual for the better.

Tesse: 00:23:47 Do you have any tips for people who have lost people and you know, they’re coming out of this with three or four members of families less than when they went into? Any thoughts for them?

Prof Kandola: 00:24:01 Yeah yeah. It’s just terrible and they. I mean clearly what you two have just been talking about the sense of community that makes sure that you are connecting with others, that you are. It’s difficult for people who don’t show their feelings, but find a way of talking to somebody about what you’re going through. Cause bottling it up is one form of action and that’s a form of action that doesn’t work for you. Then you’re going to have to talk to somebody else and it may be members of your family, it may be close friends, it may need to be somebody independent, like a counselor. For many people actually being able to talk this through. And as you said actually, the two of you just said it. Actually that there are communities where people can share their experiences. I love this expression about congregations, I’ve come across that. It kind of gives more spiritual elements. People need to do that, particularly those who are more used to being more private, they’re the ones who need to consider whether that’s an approach that it’s working for them.

Paula: 00:25:06 And that may be a topic that we probably can invite you on to talk about. Being on a time constraint, because you got to go. But this has been fascinating. As we are wrapping up here I just want you to tell people where they can, where you can be found online? Do you have any social media handles or you have a website? How can they find you? Because this has been so interesting. I know people are going to want to find out more about you.

Prof Kandola: 00:25:30 Yeah. Most of my social media activities on LinkedIn and I’m on LinkedIn has been  Binna Kandola of  how Tesse and I met. Yeah we’ve been exchanging messages for quite a while actually.

Tesse: 00:25:40 Almost a year

Paula: 00:25:43 Oh really.

Prof Kandola: 00:25:44 We’ve had some great conversations and the LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter, but I don’t do so much on Twitter. My handle is @binna and the busines s website is pearnkandola.com. But most of my posts and things appear on LinkedIn.

Tesse: 00:26:02 Wonderful. I have to say they’re wonderful posts and I’m just in awe of the work that you do. You change, you transform, you guide you guard, and you give people hope. Paula over to you.

Paula: 00:26:16 Yes this, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. All good things have to come to an end. Doesn’t mean that we won’t have another time to talk with you so I can say all good things come to an end then as well. So to our listeners, I’m sure, I know that you enjoyed this episode. So please make sure that you head over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or anywhere else where you listen to a podcast and please click subscribe. If you loved what you heard which I’m sure you did, please write us a raving review. And if you have any questions or topics you want us to cover related to leadership and governance, send us a note. Remember your topic can be personal as well as professional. And if you want to be a guest on our show, please head over to “tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” to apply. Thank you again, professor Binna Kandola, this has been a pleasure having you on “TesseTalks”.

Prof Kandola: 00:27:17 Thank you

Tesse: 00:27:18 I have just had a bucket list met. I’m cool with it. I’m so happy.