Driving Innovation Midst of Global Disruption

How business growth, impact, and empowerment can be created through data collection, data sharing, and creative collaborations.

By Faisal Hoque

Businesses are very much like individuals so far as change is concerned: If things in the past worked reasonably well, anything new can come across as unknown, untried, and unsettling.

In other words, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That may be so, but the reality is that the drivers of change are opening up significant new opportunities for businesses of all sorts.

Prior to COVID-19, remote work was a privilege enjoyed mostly by executives and freelancers. Because of the pandemic, however, masses of workers who formerly held desk jobs at a corporate headquarters now work from their living and dining rooms—a more mainstream and pervasive reality than ever before. But businesses also stand to enjoy a varied array of positive outcomes that, to a certain extent, have had to be force-fed upon them.

COST-EFFECTIVE CANDIDATES

Be it through need for less office space, equipment, travel expenses, and other associated operating costs, businesses are poised to pocket significant savings by decreases in the protocols and necessities of what was formerly “business as usual”. In fact, one company can save more than $10,000 for each remote worker who telecommutes to work 50 percent of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics Telework Savings Calculator. Obviously enough, those saved funds could go elsewhere, from increased employee benefits to expanded public outreach, which, as will be examined, is becoming critical amid shifting consumer interests and priorities.

Another plus is increased access to applicants, particularly well-qualified ones. A company that is open to remote work arrangements not only may boost the number of applicants it can consider—since location is now less of a consideration—but also stands to attract applicants for whom remote work arrangements is an enticing, if not somewhat mandatory, benefit. As we write this, businesses of all sorts are challenged to find employees, let alone topflight talent. A capacity to come into contact with a larger range of applicants who may be able to work in some sort of alternative arrangement could be a competitive boon to recruiting efforts.

However appealing remote work can be on any number of levels, implementation of any sort of flexible work arrangement need not happen as quickly and haphazardly as it had to amid COVID-19—nor should it.

It’s important for businesses to systematically develop and present a culture that not only showcases commitment to remote work arrangements but also details the philosophy and guidelines that underscore a flexible work program. First, to attract top talent for remote employment, it’s important that a business or organization’s digital presence is every bit as top of the line. Remote work applicants situated far away from a business have only websites and other online features with which to gauge a company. A shoddy website or an inoperable one can send the wrong message to would-be employees.

The increasing use of remote workers also affords businesses the unique opportunity for crisis planning. In times of natural disaster or some other similar event, remote workers can help keep things operating as normally as possible. To leverage that to the utmost, companies should devote significant time and energy to developing a thoughtful, comprehensive emergency work plan, including which remote workers are equipped with certain tools, the hierarchy of command during emergency situations, and other protocols and policies so that remote work systems can continue to operate as effectively as possible.

FROM CRISIS PLANNING TO SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS

The peripheral issue of combating climate change is another point of opportunity for business and industry, albeit in something of a convoluted manner. As has been addressed, on the surface, greater availability of remote work arrangements has reduced industry’s carbon footprint. For instance, pollution rates in China dropped by nearly 11 percent in the first half of 2020. Given many workers’ enthusiastic embrace of remote and flexible work arrangements, estimates hold that the United States could reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses permeating the atmosphere by tens of millions through broad-based acceptance of alternative work arrangements.

Given individual consumers’ growing prioritization of a company’s green persona, doing right by the climate affords businesses a readily available means to portray themselves as climate-aware, proactive citizens. That has been shown to boost consumer appeal considerably in terms of buying decisions and loyalty—a critical element of client empathy and awareness of customers’ mindsets and priorities.

In fact, that appeal is rather overwhelming. According to a survey of more than 1,000 consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom, 96 percent of people feel their own actions, such as donating, recycling, or buying ethically, can make a difference to the environment, with half characterizing that as a significant difference. That staggering percentage also includes consumers’ interest in buying from companies that display ecology awareness, even down to the use of recyclable shipping labels and packaging.

Some companies have already announced aggressive plans to reduce their carbon footprints beyond the issue of work location of employees.

  • IKEA: The furniture manufacturer has pledged to become climate positive by 2030 through steps ranging from shifts to 100 percent renewable energy to in-house design of products with a focus on sustainability, including recycling and remanufacturing.
  • Outlery: With more than 40,000 global backers to its overwhelmingly successful 2019 Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.2 million in two months, the company’s mission to save the planet by helping to eliminate single-use plastic utensils has proven successful beyond its founder’s dreams.

Closely tied to business’s social message is the development of a culture of “good work,” where workers understand the ultimate impact of their work on the world around them—an opportunity that reflects changes in employee attitudes and priorities.

Publicly, companies are putting their money where their mouths are with regard to focused philanthropic giving, such as:

  • YouTube’s $1 million pledge to the Center for Policing Equity
  • Glossier’s donation of $500,000 to support racial justice organizations and another $500,000 to Black-owned beauty brands

Companies have the chance to broaden how professional “success” is defined to create ethical, aesthetic, and social value in addition to economic and material worth. Again, businesses that maintain that kind of level of support for social causes and movements over a long period of time will stand to benefit most from positive consumer response.

LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

With the introduction of new technology, many businesses and industries are identifying completely new ways of serving existing needs and markets. That’s particularly true with agile, innovative companies that, with access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can improve the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.

The increased presence of data in all its varied forms is yet another stark opportunity for business. Foreshadowing this trend, British data scientist Clive Humby coined the phrase “data is the new oil” in 200612— today and in the future, that means the key to surviving and thriving is harnessing as much data as possible and maximizing its usage to remain competitive. According to the EU Business News, during the period from 2010 to 2018, global patent filings for smart connected objects rose by an average annual rate of 20 percent—“most notable in the areas of connectivity and data management.” Clearly, business notices the enormous opportunity in a tsunami of information and data that needs to be handled and used in the most effective manner possible.

Training is an ideal example. Traditionally a one-size-fits-all arrangement, technology such as sentiment analysis tools—software that analyzes text conversations and evaluates the tone, intent, and emotion inherent in spoken words—will make it easier to identify each customer service rep’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing more personalized training to better each employee’s performance. Employees who need to sharpen their technical skills will be able to do so, as will tech-savvy workers who need to improve softer, more interpersonal skills.

More opportunities for business growth, impact, and empowerment can be created through data collection, data sharing, and creative collaborations so entities can better connect with the marketplace, address consumer preferences, and save money on travel and hardware costs. This powerful trend preceded many current powerful disruptors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Business education programs are already responding to the need for top-tier data handling and analysis skills. For instance, DC-based Georgetown University has launched two new specialized degree programs—one a master’s degree in management that focuses on technology and innovation, and an MS in business analytics that prepares leaders to understand and use data to make value-based decisions.

Overall, business and industry have the opportunity to serve as examples of the sort of comprehensive and genuine change that’s possible during a time of enormous disruption. The business world has the power and influence to truly dive into systemic causes for racism, gender inequality, and bias and to take both internal and external steps to address them.

© 2022 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.

This article is adapted from the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today best selling book LIFT by Faisal Hoque.

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