Building social connection over physical distance

31 Mar 2020

When we made the call to take TRANSFORM 2020 online, we were only 10 days out and the world was changing in ways none of us could fathom.

As we steeled ourselves for a masterclass in agility and adaptability, we expected some technical hiccups and logistical challenges.

We expected goodwill from our members, optimism from our partners and bravery from our board. After all, our stakeholders are known for leadership.

What we didn’t expect was to nurture an even richer dialogue, uncover even deeper insights and foster even stronger connections over cyberspace.

As AMP Capital’s Chris Nunn reflected: “I’ve been attending [GBCA conferences] since 2011, and I think this was the most engaging program… Thanks for showing everyone how to do social distance learning and community so effectively.”

Our transformation of TRANSFORM showed that, while we are currently physically apart, our industry is socially connected.

We beamed in our speakers from around the world, with six split screens attesting to the genius of our technicians and the enthusiasm of people for this new format. Photos shared on social media showed delegates watching while dogs slept at their feet or children played in the next room.  My personal thanks to all our speakers and partners for being so generous with their time during these events, and to our landlord, International Towers, for supporting us in delivering a fully connected GBCA broadcast studio in just days.

As the program rolled out, the questions from the online crowd were more thoughtful than I’ve seen at a conventional conference, and those who couldn’t make it will be pleased to know that tradition was upheld on that front: Aurecon’s Jeff Robinson one of the first.

What we all witnessed was a pivotal moment in how we engage, connect and collaborate.

At the GBCA, we’ve been preparing for this pivot for some time. Our education team has been hosting online webinars for years, and we now choose live hook-ups over long-haul flights to cut our speakers’ carbon miles.

We have also built a flexible working culture over many years that made an online conference an easier proposition. When we flipped the switch on remote working two weeks ago, it was literally ‘flipping a switch’. (And a big shout out to our former CEO Romilly Madew for her early leadership on this front!)

Our biggest challenge with remote working has been to boost our focus on wellbeing. But our Market Transformation team took to the task in characteristic form. They hunted down world’s best practice and then codified that into a set of guidelines. After all, they are the Green Star team!

What does best practice remote working look like? Virtual coffees each morning, an online role call with cute gifs, shared stretch classes, buddy phone calls and more. This resource is freely available to anyone who wants to enhance how their teams collaborate in the online world, but if you need some extra help making the transition, please reach out to our Senior Manager of Membership, Jeff Oatman. We are here to help.

In the meantime, TRANSFORM sends another clear message:

We must look beyond the current crisis. In opening TRANSFORM John Brogden noted that ‘this will end.’ His Landcom colleague Pamela Hanrahan, pointed to research that suggests Covid-19 won’t be an excuse for organisations to shelve their sustainability strategies. In the aftermath of the GFC, she highlighted that companies that recognised sustainability was core to their long-term success were more likely to seize a competitive advantage.

Events are moving quickly, the catastrophic 2019/2020 bushfire season seems longer than just months ago, but the sense of urgency it created must not be lost as we grapple with those new challenges before us.

As our Chair, Mirvac CEO and true visionary Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz said at TRANSFORM, “nobody would be willing to walk backwards” from sustainability because “it just makes good business sense”.

Our industry’s inventiveness and innovation will rise to the surface during this crisis, Susan said, and with time “the sustainability drum will beat more loudly.”

The GBCA will continue to beat that drum with you our members. The Festival of TRANSFORM, as we’ve dubbed it, isn’t over. We’ll be rolling out more webinars that our delegates can join over the next few weeks. And we will continue to pivot our services to ensure we continue to support you in your sustainability journey through this challenging time.  We thank you for your ongoing commitment.

In the long-term, we believe TRANSFORM will leave its imprint on the industry and show everyone “we can do this”.

While there is no ignoring the current Covid-19 crisis, we are also presented with an opportunity to rethink the way we work. As sustainability specialists, we do this every day. So, let’s use these skills to help everyone through these transformational times and build a better, more sustainable future.