International Connectivity in the Age of COVID

by Monty Hagler

One of the defining traditions of being a partner in the Worldcom Public Relations Group is gathering every spring with more than 100 other agency leaders to share best practices, collaborate on projects and jointly fund research projects such as the Worldcom Confidence Index, which deploys artificial intelligence to analyze sentiments from 54,000 global CEOs and CMOs.

Worldcom Zoom call

As with all other traditions over the past year, the 2020 Worldcom meeting scheduled in Malaysia was cancelled and our recent 2021 global meeting was held virtually. Partners logged onto Zoom from nearly every time zone and there was robust discussion on important initiatives as we reconnected with old friends and welcomed new partners.

RLF Communications joined Worldcom in 2010 because of a compelling need to help our clients understand local markets in other parts of the globe and access a broader variety of resources to accomplish their business objectives. Those needs have only increased over the past decade as we become an even more global society. I’m currently serving on the Global board and as chair of the Americas region which stretches from Chile to Canada. I learn something new in every conversation, every interaction I have with my partners, and that makes me a better counselor and strategic advisor to my team and clients.

The annual meeting and regional meetings in the fall are important because Worldcom is made up of more than dots on a global map. We know, trust and value our partners. I’ve met with virtually every agency head, and spent time getting to know them and what they represent. I count on them to respond when I reach out. And they know they can count on me.

Because of the pandemic, one of the biggest shifts taking place is discussion about physical offices and remote working. Virtually every large company in the US has kept employees home for nearly a year, and many of them have no plans to bring staff back to the office for at least another six months. Many studies, such as a recent McKinsey white paper, are showing that for highly skilled professionals that utilize technology, there will likely be a permanent shift in how, where and when we reengage in office settings.

We cannot and should not try to put the remote workplace genie back in the bottle, but I believe there are significant drawbacks to moving to an all-virtual workforce in industries where in-person collaboration, cooperation and trust are the glue that holds the work together. The longer we create distance between teams, the more cracks are going to appear in the system. We found that to be true at RLF after 3 months working remotely, which is why I made the decision to bring everyone back to the office in June. We social distance in meetings, we wear masks when sitting close, we have glass panels between workstations, and we sit in separate rooms for client calls. But we are together to brainstorm, debate, laugh, plan, encourage, proofread and engage. It makes a world of difference. It makes us better for our clients and each other.

One of my favorite Harvard Business Review articles by Alan Webber back in 1993 drilled the point that in a knowledge economy, the most important work is conversation. Something important is lost when conversation only happens at a distance, no matter how easy it is to meet virtually through Zoom, Teams, Meets, Slacks and other such platforms.

For my part, I look forward to reconnecting – face-to-face — with my Worldcom partners when it is safe and appropriate to do so.