Our Day One of the New Reality - COVID-19 blog | Deloitte Australia has been saved
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We came together virtually because we had to—and the experience revealed new opportunities for productive engagement and human connection.
My Deloitte Australia consulting colleagues and I shared the mix of trepidation and curiosity that’s common when venturing into unfamiliar territory.
An annual meeting had been scheduled to take place in Melbourne, with everyone looking forward to two days of plenary keynotes, group breakouts, and face-to-face conversations with friends and new colleagues.
Then, within two COVID-19 weeks, the world had changed—and we had to pivot. The decision was quickly made to go virtual and embrace the agility that we continually talk about with our clients. Adaptation, resilience, and connectivity, we’re fond of saying, are key to business success in the digital age, but now we were being forced to embrace it on a scale we had never attempted before.
Plans were swiftly put in place to run our meeting with a compressed agenda via a remote conferencing cloud-based platform that combines video, chat, mobile collaboration, and other functions. There was no time to fully test the platform in advance for an online event with hundreds of participants. Would we be able to replicate the sense of being together in one place and make it feel like the real thing?
The answer, of course, would depend upon each participant’s expectation—after all, what exactly is “the real thing”? Meetings, events, and conferences are designed with multiple objectives. Those run to strict agendas often leave participants with lists of tasks and accountabilities but lack the creative freewheeling and brainstorming that can produce the most valuable outcomes. Conversely, meetings geared toward generating inspiration and collaborative thinking are wonderful to sit through but can leave people thinking: “What just happened?”
The ideal experience simultaneously informs and engages, making people feel valued for their presence and contribution. The magic happens by getting the best from a blend of personality types, skills, and fields of experience. Great meetings are also architected for varying cadence and follow a natural ebb and flow by mixing 40-minute keynotes with interludes of unstructured conversation, shorter presentations, showcases for digital media, and breaks for in-person exchanges. When done right, they facilitate a sense of unity and powerful alignment.
So, in the case of the Deloitte Australia meeting, could all that be achieved online, across several time zones?
The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating us toward a future we have been anticipating for years.
The meeting commenced with a range of video screens filled with faces of colleagues across Australia in their home and office environments. Some wore ties; others wore T-shirts. Most were connecting from living rooms, hallways, and studies; others joined from well-lit offices or studios. Several quickly figured out how to use the app’s feature to change their screen backgrounds, and appeared on screen in front of artwork or landscapes like the Golden Gate Bridge, or posed, grinning, alongside political or historical characters.
In the onscreen chat feature within the presentation screen, friendly compliments, banter, and greetings among participants unfolded even as the Australian consulting leader began her opening remarks. And from there, it went swimmingly; the experience of the following hours was, by common assent, surprisingly positive. People were able to listen to presentations while commenting out loud through a push-to-speech feature or typing their ideas, suggestions, and encouragement in the group chat box. During one light-hearted training session on how to use the app, dozens of colleagues discovered its real-time annotation feature and began scribbling graffiti across the slides being shared. Participants were also able to reach out to individuals through the platform’s private chat channel for tangential or more detailed private conversations.
As a first-time experiment for our group, the experience, according to many, was a revelation. Some participants thought it was at least as effective as a traditional, in-person meeting. One observed: “If we were in a room, we’d all be listening to one person speak—and to hear feedback, the presenter would have to stop talking. Here, we can all participate, processing the information and sharing our thoughts without losing the thread. Even the presenter can keep an eye on what’s resonating with colleagues and address questions without breaking stride.”
In a world where many are used to multitasking on various devices, the experience of following content as it was delivered and simultaneously sharing ideas and takeaways with colleagues proved engaging and productive.
And indeed, the heady realisation of participants was that the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating us toward a future we’ve been anticipating for years. Enforced remote and virtual work, using multilayered interactive technologies, has given us a glimpse of an agile future we have talked about but that always seemed just out of reach.
Now, it’s here. And—notwithstanding the reason we got here faster than planned and the circumstances in which it is happening—it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, it’s better than we imagined.
This blog was originally published on the Wall Street Journal - 25 March 2020, 3:00pm.
David is Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for Deloitte’s Consulting practice (responsible for marketing, brand and eminence programs), and Leader of DTTL Marketing Strategy. Previously he was Deloitte Australia CMO for 12 years. A partner since 2005, David is a founding member of Deloitte's Global Brand Council. Before Deloitte he worked in journalism, communications, brand consulting, music and photography in Australia, Spain, the UK and US. He’s held positions at Landor Associates, BEA Systems, iXL and PWC. His work has been published or broadcast in the Financial Times, London Times, Chicago Tribune, La Vanguardia, The Guardian, The Australian, Journal of Brand Strategy, ABC Radio, and BBC Radio 4. David was named Australian Marketer of the Year 2012 by the Australian Marketing Institute; he has also won two Cannes Lions for his work on Deloitte's Great Barrier Reef valuation, a New York Telly Award, an IABC Gold Quill, and awards in the global IPPA Photography Awards 2017 and 2018.