Finding better ways forward
Before Covid most companies with international interests had several people flying and traveling to other offices and locations to attend meetings, lead initiatives, or train others. While most of us have pretty much remained “grounded” in our countries without the option to travel, company activities continued (as far as it was possible). Something seems more obvious now than perhaps in 2019: We are getting pretty good at training, meeting and mentoring remotely using technology and internet connections. Yet, when we can, will we continue previous practices of sending our leaders and experts to remote locations on a regular basis like we did before? It is said that Ireland lowered carbon emissions by at least 6% during 2020 and some companies have seen business travel costs more than halved over 2020!
Some challenges that companies try to address by flying in leaders and experts from HQ:
- We do not have people in all locations with the right experience and skills and HQ experts are needed to support local teams on a regular basis.
- We are not exactly sure what the true status of projects are and we would feel more comfortable having one of our trusted staff regularly visit remote locations.
- We are not sure that local people understand our strategies and truly commit to realizing performance targets, which means someone needs to visit with them on a regular basis to ensure they do understand our strategies and then review with them how their efforts support these.
- We are finding it tough to source local people with the right skills and experiences and those we can find are too expensive in terms of compensation expectations.
- The local people speak a different language and their English language skills are not great, which makes it hard to know for sure what they are trying to convey during our calls. We need to see the project/work to understand more clearly what is really happening there.
- The local people may not be forthcoming with bad news relating to projects in remote locations and they may possibly favor being cordial over risking our dismay.
The list is not exhaustive, but it does highlight some of the opportunities to find better ways going forward to avoid going back to the level of business travel we previously considered normal.
The term Glocal means to Think Global and Act Local and it is said that Akio Morita of Sony Corporation was the first person to use the term which became popular in the business world in the 1990s. How to think about the big picture and over-arching strategies goals and still be sensitive to local conditions and needs when you implement those big picture ideas? A balance would have to be created and it would be an ever-adjusting type of balance which is not fixed in place. To incorporate (for example) shifts in local legislation or new diversification strategies from HQ. Finding a way to keep this balance in place may lower the need to return to pre-covid business travel levels.
There are at least three ways to address this:
- Focus leadership development in a few key areas,
- Better teams – adjusting selection and development of staff, and
- Better use of technology – making more use of technologies to facilitate remote collaboration.
Having the judgment, problem-solving and decision-making skills to navigate in the space where one has to constantly balance global strategies and goals with local situations and conditions means leaders have to be comfortable with ambiguity, be constantly on the look-out and actively engaged in learning new skills and understanding how others have succeeded or failed in addressing what lies before the leader. Learning how to proactively include all team members including those who are “different” and to do this successfully leaders at HQ and remote locations need to understand their own biases and stereotyping. This will ensure that the skills of the entire team is leveraged in achieving performance goals. Lastly, leaders also need to have the ability to easily shift their perspective from global thinking to local acting and back in order to maintain the balance needed for the decision they need to make at that moment.
Working on a diverse team with some team members in remote locations is something we have learned to do successfully over the last year. And this new skill has brought opportunities to get better results through teamwork without having to be present in an office or with the entire team. Will we ask – does this person have to be in the office every day of the week? Or will we consider hiring talent where we find it without feeling he or she needs to be relocated to HQ in order to be an effective member of our team?
To help existing teams be more inclusive and effective some specific or additional training may be needed around diversity. This training can include developing an improved understanding of cultural differences and perspective differences (for example among provinces or states in a country). It often comes down to increasing awareness of own biases and stereotypes that may have settled in our perspectives about groups of people who are very different from our own backgrounds.
Recruiters and hiring managers also have to start including additional skills in requisitions to fill vacancies. Skills like additional language skills – not only English – experience such as having lived and/or worked in a country other than their home countries.
When creating teams to work on performance improvement projects (action teams) – why not include people from different functions, locations and cultures on the team? It is a great way to increase your internal network of employees collaborating and communicating across locations.
All of these aspects can help a team become more global-minded and inclusive while making smarter choices working on local projects which impact broader strategies or targets in the company.
In addition to tools for video-conferencing, there are tools which can help monitor progress or quality without having to travel to a location.
1. Hololens2: click this link to see short video of what it can do across various industries – there are ways for clients and HQ personnel to connect with someone using this technology at a remote location.
2. Realwear: click this link to see a short video of how it can be used to get input and advice from a person located remotely.
3. Some locations use drones to get an understanding of general progress on large construction projects and provide overall updates to managers at HQ. Drones can also be used to inspect hard-to-reach places safely.
4. Use a centralized electronic storage solution for files meaning all local files can easily be viewed from remote locations without needing to travel to a site.
While working smarter in these ways is also a way to lower pre-covid GHG and carbon emissions, many employees appreciate the flexibility of remote working options and combined with lower business travel needs it adds to having a better work-life balance. The amount of quality time spent with families and friends has also increased for most. All of which adds greatly to employee well-being. Looking for ways to leverage what we have learned by having to work remotely during 2020 can benefit companies and employees in greater ways than we may be able to realize now.