Fifteen years ago, author and three time Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Friedman taught us all that the “World is Flat.” While globalization is a double-edged sword, it can provide opportunities for solidarity most recently witnessed in the response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and a certain degree of unity in the shared experience of this pandemic. We know that COVID-19 has certainly created health and economic disparities that shine a light on underlaying inequity that’s been there all along. While this pandemic continues to wreak havoc, it has simultaneously presented an interesting paradigm shift in business processes that points to Friedman’s prescience in the business world. COVID-19 is a global phenomenon, albeit experienced very differently by different groups of people– that has brought increased awareness of the opportunity for digital connectedness – that we may have never seen before.
In Stuart McLachlan’s first #goingliminal piece, he described this time as “not the ‘new norm’ but a place where newness can begin and a better place can be revealed.” I found an example of the “better place being revealed” within a recent strategy development project for a US headquartered company. This is the sort of work that we love to do – engaging with leadership across a global organization to align on opportunities for change that can benefit both sustainability and business values. It’s also work that requires trust, relationship and detailed connectedness to business strategy – all elements that are hard to establish remotely. In fact, I’ve often said, “strategy can’t be done over a phone!”
We kicked off this project in mid-March, at the height of our uncertainty regarding what the pandemic would do to our global economy. We initially thought we would have to cancel because of the COVID-19 related travel restrictions. Our project plan was to spend several intensive days with the executives in person. Changing the minds of high-level decision makers is already challenging, and it’s always felt impossible to accomplish without connecting in the same physical space.
But, now is the time “where newness can begin.”
We decided to move forward due to the importance of the work, implementing an expanded set of video-based conversations. We had participants from Thailand, Germany, Japan, India, the UK and the US, all connecting over video using a platform that gives all faces the same amount of space on the screen, a physical representation of a level playing field. I could feel the shift happening. People around the world who traditionally may not have always been equally involved in these interviews could now be actively involved. We have always included global participation on these efforts, but the collective willingness at all levels in the company to use video allowed for much better interpersonal connectedness, building a sense of team much more effectively than audio only conference calls. The video calls gave the non-US leaders the opportunity to contribute in new ways instead of just listening in. As a result, the project turned out to be more effective, more useful, and more valuable than we originally envisioned.
When we talk about the decisive decade for sustainability, we talk about how extreme change must be met with extreme adaptability. We all need to be operating in a very different world 10 years from now – how are we going to navigate this change? Will we look back to 2020 – a year with so many challenges, pandemic and beyond – as the year we started to really lean into our digital toolset in a way that brings our flattened business world closer together as a more equitable global team?
Like many others during these past few months, we are trying to anticipate where the world is moving, and what we can contribute as we continue through this liminal space. We are grappling with how we can evolve rapidly to meet the needs of our clients and make strides on sustainability topics, in the safest manner. As we #buildbackbetter and create a world that prioritizes action for climate change and equality among other things, we understand that small changes, like the adoption and acceptance of remote video conferencing, can be transformational and shouldn’t be overlooked.
John Heckman, Executive Director
All opinion pieces were first shared on LinkedIn.