Looking back to November 2019 where we heralded the fact that 2020 would be the opening to the decade of sustainable business, we could not have predicted nor envisioned the pandemic that would consume the world’s attention just a couple of months later. Lives and livelihoods have been lost; many have had to reinvent themselves in order to survive.
This also applies to the corporate world; those enterprises which have not only survived but flourished are those which have been able to sense and respond to the end consumer’s needs quickly. In essence, those which had already digitalized were able to adapt in real-time to run their operations largely remotely, leveraging digital twin technology, or remote working for service-based enterprises. In some cases, organizations completely reinvented their businesses and took advantage of the situation to create a second line of business.
Those which were considering their digitalization strategy have moved rapidly from baby steps to giant leaps for mankind in order to remain competitive and be resilient for the future.
An excellent piece I recently read included an extract from Lucien Alziari, CHRO of Prudential PBIP +1.8%. He described how, in normal times, transitioning to a 97% remote workforce would have required “an 18-month project…with six risk committee meetings, governance sessions, various work streams, etc. At the end of the project the conclusion would have been, ‘We can’t do that. It’s too risky.’ Amid the pandemic, though, that goal was accomplished in 24 hours.”
Now that’s resiliency in action!
The pandemic, however, has given people and businesses alike pause for thought: as carbon emissions plummeted overnight and footfall on the world’s cities fell silent in global lockdown, Beijing saw clear blue skies overhead and the west coast of the Peloponnese saw turtles nesting on their beaches for the first time in decades. There was very visible proof that global warming was not a conspiracy theory.
Yet governments and corporates are rightfully now grappling with the correct balance between #buildbackbetter and avoiding the worst recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
And herein lies the opportunity: in order to be resilient for the future, it is not possible to deliver a digital agenda without taking into consideration the environmental, social and governance implications. There is a symbiotic relationship between digitalization and ESG strategies: one delivers the other, with one pocket of spending.
Let’s take a couple of examples: anytime, anywhere working. Companies which are truly virtualizing are beyond Zoom and ergonomic stools and are moving towards recreating the same experience of collaboration regardless of location. Augmented reality; Miro boards; neutralized backgrounds and; next-generation conferencing tools combined create a seamless experience whether you are in the office or on a kayak. Early adopters are automatically cutting down the need for office space; redefining the ‘in-person meeting’ and thereby cutting down on travel costs.
These savings are material enough to make any additional digitalization investments a self-funding business case. What it also does is create a symbiotic relationship with the ESG agenda, by reducing Scope 2 and 3 emissions, thereby delivering against their E of the ESG strategy – at no additional cost to the business.
Other companies may choose symbiosis in different ways and rather address the S -Social: gifting disused meeting rooms to complementary startups or non-profits for the greater societal good which could help develop a new partnership or revenue stream. Lockdown startups such as London’s office timesharing marketplace, Space 3:2 has seized upon this opportunity. In a similar vein with Governance: digitalization of the workforce provides a broader definition of the workplace, thereby opening work up to previously restricted talent pools, such as return to work parents; the disabled or; those living in remote locations – delivering on Diversity.