I #ChooseToChallenge the view that the remote work environment is an “aberration”.

The importance of this year’s “International Women’s Day” cannot be underestimated. More than ever, we need to celebrate women’s achievements and highlight the fact that, far from diminishing, the pandemic has caused gender inequality to intensify. At WorldCC we recognise many incredible women working in the field of commerce and contracting through our Inspiring Women Program.

When we celebrated IWD in 2020 little did we know what the year ahead would bring, particularly the hardship that it would create for so many women around the world.   The pandemic has brought many existing challenges into stark relief, and there is no doubt that it has accelerated our thinking and our actions in areas such as environmentalism, sustainability, social value and the use and impact of technology.  What it has also done, as well as creating a global public health crisis, is both highlight and deepen issues of inequality. Women, alongside the poor, elderly, disabled and migrant populations, have borne the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic.

A report from McKinsey Global Institute estimates than women have been left more than 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impact than men. One reason for this is that the virus has increased the burden of unpaid care for children, the elderly and the sick, which is disproportionately taken on by women.  The situation is compounded by existing gender inequalities.  The report calls for urgent action to prevent the deepening divisions between male and female employment opportunities and to maximise global economic health.

Alongside this narrative is extensive discussion around the future of work and the workplace.  The pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote working, and businesses certainly seem to be grasping the opportunity to reimagine how and where work is done.  Many employers are consulting with their workforce and devising hybrid remote working strategies for the longer term.  This approach will inevitably expand access to talent, increase employee satisfaction and reduce real estate costs. What it will also do is contribute to workplace equality by providing a flexible and adaptable working environment.  

There are notable exceptions to this approach, a recent example came in the form of a statement from David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs.  Mr Solomon pointed particularly to the impact on business culture. “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us.  It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”

I confess to being, perhaps naively, somewhat taken aback by this statement. Culture is something that I focus on extensively in the context of my role as CEO of World Commerce & Contracting.  We are and always have been a global team working remotely – does that mean we can’t have “an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture”?  Far from it!  We have spent significant time over the last five years on our culture and engaged the support of an expert in organisational culture, Kevin Brownsey.

Kevin rightly points out that “culture is first and foremost about shared beliefs, translating into common behaviours that drive outcomes”.  There are in fact very few elements of culture that require an office environment to support it – those who argue creativity and spontaneous idea generation can only happen in the office simply have to look at what has been achieved in the last year to recognise that this is certainly not definitive.  I can equally testify to the creativity and spontaneous idea generation of the WorldCC team.

The more worrying aspect of employees being marched back to the office is the effect on inclusion and equality.  A flexible work environment is by its very nature an inclusive work environment, one that recognises and supports a greater integration between home and work, doesn’t automatically discriminate based on disability and recognises the importance of the triple bottom line. Insisting on employees being in the office surely creates a level of exclusivity that operates completely counter to the diversity and inclusivity statements and goals of most organisations, including that of Goldman Sachs.

There are also other significant opportunities that come from a remote work environment should we choose to embrace them, not least the opportunity to think far more creatively about the networks we work with and within.  Far from narrowing horizons, the pandemic has afforded us the opportunity to really broaden them, to connect with people from all around the world – people who previously we would have assumed were out of our reach.   

Interestingly, Kevin also observed the following “I have been amazed by the relationships I have formed in the past 12 months with clients whom I’ve never met.” And from conversations that I have had with members from all over the world, there is certainly an overwhelming sense of emotional closeness despite the physical distances that we have had to accept.  As I reflect at the end of each working day I am often amazed at the diversity of people with whom I have communicated – multiple countries, multiple industries, multiple perspectives and viewpoints – something I find motivating and inspirational.   

There is understandable focus on young people and their need for direct contact and mentorship. That said, even pre-pandemic, many younger workers expected greater work flexibility including the freedom to work outside the office. The hybrid future discussed above means ensuring workers are equipped with the skills to navigate a career that includes remote working and recognises the infinite possibilities that this presents in the context of developing networks and acquiring knowledge from far more diverse sources. 

What is not in dispute here is the general need for people to meet and socialise again, but that is not about creating corporate culture, it’s about human beings fulfilling a basic need to be social.    

I #ChoosetoChallenge the view that the remote work environment is an “aberration”. I do so for all the reasons set out above and specifically in relation to the impact that this view will have on gender equality in organisations and to inclusion more broadly. 

I believe that companies that shout loudest about the need to get back to the office are companies who already struggle for trust and consequently doubt that productivity can be maintained with homework. According to an article in the New York Times Mr Solomon is stated to be instilling an increasingly hierarchical culture, replacing the traditional partnership culture that has previously existed.  Several senior executives are reported to be leaving Goldman including its top lawyer and one of its black female partners. In the end, people can also #choosetochallenge by voting with their feet! 

My call to action therefore, is for all those who care about opportunity, fairness and equality to raise their voices in support of a more flexible, adaptable and modern working environment. 

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If not now, then when?

This week marks the week that we formally launch our new brand, World Commerce and Contracting. These are exciting times. These are challenging times. And together we are rising to that challenge.

Our change of name is a reflection of this expanded mission and ambition.

Time and again over the last six months I have listened to our members talk about the need for change. Time and again I have heard them express the view that if ever there was a moment for us to embrace fundamental change in our ways of working and in our underlying commercial models, it is now.

IACCM was founded by our President Tim Cummins 21 years ago, and today the association has grown to 70,000 members from all around the world. The diversity of our community is something I am immensely proud of and indeed I believe that it is only through that diversity that we can even begin to realise our mission of improving the quality and integrity of trading relationships. It is only through diversity that the ambition for change will be realised.

Our change of name is a reflection of this expanded mission and ambition. Building on the amazing success of IACCM’s 21 years, World Commerce and Contracting provides the platform to create and sustain the standards needed in our troubled world.

Commercial and Contract Management have rarely been more important, more critical to the challenge of economic and social needs. Not only is there a desperate need for economic recovery, but we all sense the urgency for social recovery – for a rebalancing of opportunity and inclusion. In a recent interview with Halla Tomasdottir, CEO of the B Team, we reflected together on the importance of building a new economic model, one that is sustainable, trusted and strong. Halla herself commented on the power that she sees lying in the hands of our community. These changes and improvements truly do depend on your work, the work of every commercial and contracting expert. It was an inspiring interview which you too can listen to by joining us and many hundreds of our members at our VIBE Summit starting on the 21st September 2020.

We believe there is no better time to make this progressive move as a community and we are proud to confirm our strong position as the leading commerce and contracting association.

World Commerce & Contracting – safeguarding all that is best from our past and promoting all that is needed for our future.

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Social Distancing or Physical Distancing? The power in a word.

We have adopted the language of “social distancing” and yet is this really the right description?  

At a time when the need to isolate is causing great angst amongst many and a continued focus on impact to mental health, this description surely is inappropriate. What we are being asked to do is to ensure appropriate physical distance between us all to protect our family, friends, colleagues and ourselves against infection from this virus.  So, we should start talking about “Physical Distancing” instead.  

Equally, it is going to be increasingly important for us to focus on how we do “socialise” in our new and increasingly physically isolated existence.  As someone who has been working from home now for many years, someone accustomed to travelling extensively and being away from home, I am quite used to connecting with my colleagues and my family and friends over video calls and social media.  For many people, this is a new experience and one that they are having to navigate day to day.  

Schools are closed and parents are struggling to make sense of how to keep children occupied at home. There are hints and tips popping up all over the internet and initiatives from virtual choirs, to online drawing lessons. It’s heartening to see!

Across our IACCM Team we have a number of parents, located all over the world, with young families similarly grappling now with how to manage and juggle the even more intense competing interests of family and work. They know that they are fully supported, and we will get through this time together.  One of the fabulous initiatives that they have instigated for their children is a modern-day version of Pen Pals – IACCM children all over the world will be connecting over Teams and chatting about their day, sharing their experiences, having fun and socialising in spite of the physical distance between them!  

Just this week, one of my very favourite people, someone I have had the privilege to meet through my role at IACCM, after responding to a question I had posed to him concluded his email with the following words:

“If this goes on for as long as some think then at some point, I suggest you and I grab a coffee or glass of wine (depending on the time of day!) over Facetime or Skype – sound like a plan?”

It is very definitely a plan!  So, Physical Distancing, Yes.  And virtual socialising is very much continuing, offering exciting new connections and ways to connect!  

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