Good afternoon! For 18 months, we've been hearing stories about how much the business world has changed, but talking about change at such a global scale sometimes means that the details of what's actually different across industries can get lost along the way. This week, we asked a cross section of the Braintrust to think about the pandemic-inspired changes that were specific to their industry, company or role and the staying power that those changes have. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Product Officer at AccuWeather
Product development hinges upon the ability to ideate, create and innovate by tapping into a variety of disciplines and perspectives within a diverse team. The tactile tools of sticky notes through to the scribble of a Sharpie; group ideation that was fueled by the chemistry (and fun) of physical presence has forever changed since the pandemic.
The remoteness is an obvious outcome; however, this process change is underpinned by a remote-first mindset shared by all team members. Digital tools, such as a virtual whiteboard, can certainly facilitate the brass tacks of brainstorming; however, the cognitive awareness for leaders to elicit the most creative, spontaneous and innovative ideas is critical. The simplicity of collaborating in the same room, enabling a free-flowing discussion and group activity, has been superseded by bringing a little physicality to remote settings. Everything from encouraging virtual sticky notes to providing tablets and smart pencils to emulate the experience of a room, through the delivery of pizza or happy hour supplies, it's been incumbent on leaders to replicate the power of camaraderie to ensure creativity isn't stifled with just "another video call." Inclusivity is also key in this process — all virtual or all physical — avoiding the disproportionate experience for team members who could be disadvantaged (or disenfranchised) by an inconsistent brainstorming experience.
Chief Transformation and Digital Officer at Novant Health
We made the ability to transform a core competency for Novant Health. Before the pandemic, the world was already changing around us — including emerging patient and payor appetites, politicized societal attitudes, evolving regulatory requirements, a volatile M&A environment, and radical advances in science and technology that will and should change the way we think about all aspects of healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the last major disruptor our business will face.
Our commitment to thriving in rapidly changing circumstances — to successfully transforming ourselves, over and over — expanded every leader's remit at Novant Health over the past 18 months. But it changed my job more than expected when "Chief Transformation Officer" was added to my Chief Digital Officer title for our $8 billion integrated healthcare system.
This explicit focus on the art of transforming ourselves — particularly those transformations driven by advances in technology and science — stretched us in ways that were unexpected, but welcome. It's important to create the space to learn and to grow even in the midst of great challenge — or perhaps especially in the midst of great challenge.
As a result, we now use data to predict major health events before they happen, expand intensive care and high acuity care into non-traditional spaces, reduce wait times — and eliminate waiting rooms — through advanced scheduling solutions, use new modalities (drones) for precise on-demand distribution of supplies over a 15-mile radius, treat stroke patients in a third of the national average time and offer robust virtual visits with full vitals taken through advanced sensors in the home. These advances happened during the pandemic, but we're not done; we'll never be done. Knowing when and how to pivot, to remake ourselves, to rethink our processes — it's now our core competency, and our patients and communities will benefit.
Changes in how everyone uses buildings are forever altering how I think about real estate technology and embrace disruption as an executive at a world leader in real estate. Since the start of the pandemic, I have joined the company's new leaders in disruptive "power in the platform" leadership rather than the traditional "power in position," embraced strategies to view risk as an enabler rather than a barrier and encouraged our teams to think less transactional and more transformative.
The accelerating trend of people wanting more flexibility when they return to an office — coupled with organizations' need to optimize portfolios, create better collaboration spaces and enable a better experience — has forever changed my job and my impact on the industry. My 35 years of experience in working with hundreds of companies and people in CRE to bring innovation and technology to real estate has created the opportunity for me to become a "techvangelist." In this role, I get to challenge and inspire thinking on the intersection of the digital and physical workplace in client meetings, real estate and technology event keynotes, media interviews and on social media to help the broader CRE industry make the most of their transformations.
Vice-President Strategic & Scientific Communications – Philip Morris International
PMI committed to a smoke-free future before 2020, but the global crisis made that mission even more urgent. Over the last 18 months of uncertainty, we learned to create space for facilitated discussions fueled by good questions, invited wide participation across all levels and departments, retrained our focus on authenticity and consistency and encouraged everybody to take ownership in innovating the culture of our business. To us, this is a more active approach, and PMI is just at the beginning of this long journey.
This philosophy, a complementary transformation inside our workplace as we redefine our business outside in the marketplace, mandates an approach that is open to adaptation as times change or trends shift. It is not specific to one particular process — old or new — but, rather, it helps us set the standard by which all processes can be evaluated and measured. It helps to ensure that the way we work is an engine for the best ideas to emerge, for a consensus of loud and quiet voices, for a direction that is both inclusive and dialogue centric.
It means keeping the needs of our staff, our customers, and the communities we are a part of in front of us at all times. The pandemic forced us to slow down and listen more closely. In challenging times, business leaders can doggedly stay the course, or they can take the opportunity to help shape the chaos into a better future for everyone.
The way I work with founders has changed forever post-pandemic. One of our core values at Emergence is that we aspire to be the most important partner to the founders we serve. As such, quality interactions are critical. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of those took place in longer IRL sessions. Post-pandemic, I've obviously ramped up my usage of Zoom but also complemented these more in depth synchronous sessions with much higher volume, lower-touch asynchronous interactions. Specifically, I have a Slack Connect channel with each of the founding teams I get to work with. This allows for a rapid exchange of ideas (I message with each company almost daily) and enables others on the Emergence team to more easily help companies across our portfolio.
Over the past two years, there's been a shared awareness (regardless of role, industry or sector) about the significance of community and connection for us to thrive. More importantly, what we cultivate in our personal lives carries over to our professional lives. So, the renewed attention and engagement that I have shown my family and friends translate to more personalized, authentic conversations with my colleagues.
As we continue to navigate the dynamics of the virtual workplace, the need for genuine connection and mindful conversation will be essential to a sense of community at work.
As such, I have been holding more one-on-one meetings with my team members, even if they are over video. These serve as "blended" opportunities to discuss day-to-day life as well as critical business challenges. And to mitigate digital fatigue, I have been encouraging walking meetings to inspire fresh perspectives and spontaneous ideas that can be brought back to the wider team or the company at large. This is a practice I will be sustaining even as we move towards a new model of work post-pandemic.
Kevin McAllister (
@k__mcallister) is an associate editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.