I was 26 years old when I went on my first overseas corporate trip. I vividly remember the excitement of shopping for business attire and feeling that the door to the big guys’ clubs had been opened for me. (Yes, it was always more guys than girls on these trips). I was a natural at the lunch discussions about the “frequent flyer” status and upgrades and was accepting duty-free requests from those who were not fortunate enough to travel on the company’s expense. The Marketing department was divided into those who flew to attend events and meet customers, and those who stayed home. There was no question for me where I wanted to be.
Years and miles after, I paid my dues to the tradeshow halls of the world but this distinction and inequality have not passed, well at least, not until recently.
MWC Barcelona was the first global event canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the rest of the industry events followed like falling domino blocks. These tradeshows are key to industry growth, involving networking with potential customers, partners, and key players. No doubt, this need will not be going away but will need to be handled differently, creatively.
The first reactions to event cancellations were live broadcasts on multiple online channels by companies such as Huawei, and YouTube online launches by Sony. So, while there were no Happy hour cocktails and F2F meetings, the news was still getting across, launches were being made and better yet, more people were privy to this information. Even those who did not travel this time.
Training, which was another reason for travel, is also undergoing a significant change. A recent Business Insider survey indicates that companies are going to use VR to mirror real-world training conditions. With extended reality tools, more employees can sharpen professional and technical skills, with hands-on tutorials previously available in the workplace setting only. Also, a wider range of meetings can be held remotely in real-time using VR for complex meetings such as prototype designs. This is a huge benefit in terms of costs but even more so in terms of breadth of knowledge.
It seems that the forced-upon isolation, has in some ways, achieved the opposite effect and brought individuals closer, and closer to data, a key principle in the democracy of the workplace.
In the modern workplace, or at least the one familiar to me, the tech workplace, companies are striving to achieve democracy. This begins with equity compensation, through management’s transparency about the company’s strategy and financial health, to giving a choice of assignment hours and place of work. There are of course other democratic principles, but these stood out to me when observing the current situation. The corona pandemic has a disastrous economic impact, but let’s adopt a silver lining perspective that appreciates the contribution the outbreak may have on corporate culture. Professional development will be more accessible, the information will be available first-hand with no bias or subjective filters, customer feedback will be provided exactly to the right address, corporate processes and activities will be more forthcoming and workplace flexibility will be respected and encouraged.
There is an opportunity for a more engaging and inclusive environment, let’s embrace it.