A little while back, I referenced the interesting invitation I received to deliver the closing keynote for a Unilever group that was meeting in London. Instead of traveling to London (Windsor, to be precise), I was asked to stay put and speak from home -- an apt invitation, given the topic: virtual working.
Thus ensued one of the great collaborations I've been part of. Karl James, who runs The Dialogue Project, was facilitating the meeting. He's the person who "sourced" me and who served as the liaison to the Unilever folks. He, in turn, introduced me to Jacobina Plummer, who runs Unilever's "Agile Working" program, a sophisticated company-wide approach that is critical to the global enterprise's ability to achieve its aggressive environmental goals, reported on here in Environmental Leader's recent article:
More than half of Unilever’s factories achieved the goal of sending no waste to landfill in 2012, prompting the company to speed up by five years its goal of zero waste to landfill by 2020.
By the end of 2015, Unilever’s 252 factories worldwide will not sent any non-hazardous waste to landfill, the company announced today.
To understand the scope of what Unilever is doing, read Mike Prokopeak's July, 2011 article in Talent Management, "No Office, No Problem." Here you can see how one company has designed its environmental goals alongside its workplace policies such that smaller real estate footprints and less travel to and from the office go hand-in-hand.
In all my years working in this area, Unilever is the first company I've run into that has married these two aspects so comprehensively. Typically, companies set their environmental goals without paying much heed to what this will mean for the overall way of working. Or they send people home to work -- with a laptop and not much else. This systemic approach bears study, if not downright mimicing.
But back to the point of this piece. First I spoke with Karl (via Skype between London and Boston); then I spoke with Jacobina (via Skype and gotomeeting between Christchurch, New Zealand, and Boston). I next interviewed four people who would be attending the conference where I was to speak: one near London, one in Pretoria, South Africa, one in Istanbul, Turkey, and the last, a Brazilian woman, who happened to be in New Jersey (she said she was considering driving up to Boston so we could meet face-to-face but the timing didn't work out). The only one of these meetings that had to be rescheduled (other than the one where I managed to doublebook calls so I guess that makes two) was the one where the person was closest. She got stuck in traffic. And I did a Skype session with the woman who would introduce me that day and frankly I have no idea where she was when we spoke -- Switzerland, maybe?
After gathering input for the talk, Karl, Jacobina, and I spoke again via gotomeeting (great video fidelity, by the way). I followed up by drafting my presentation, which the three of us then went over slide by slide using gotomeeting. Karl and Jacobina both had suggestions, which I incorporated before sending the next and practically final draft -- were it not for the fact that such careful preparation was done onsite that I got a last-minute request, about 45 minutes before we went live, to revise one more slide that didn't project properly.
The night before the event, we did a dry run -- at midnight UK time, meaning that the folks there were up past 1 AM. Wifi in the hotel was overloaded as all the attendees had finally gone back to their rooms, which meant we couldn't get a steady video signal. Ultimately, they turned wifi off during my presentation and the signal was nearly perfect.
OK, so what was so special about this? I always vet my presentations with clients and usually have a back-and-forth to fine-tune. This was the most global preparation I've ever done and I say this having done quite a number of these virtual presentations. And by the time we were done with all the preparation, Karl, Jacobina, and I felt like a team. The image here is of Karl during our runthrough right before we went live last Wednesday, with me in the lower right of the projection.
Nicely done, one and all.