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Why virtual meetings will help us achieve Net Zero

video conferencing
(Image credit: Image Credit: / Shutterstock)

The combined challenge of the ongoing pandemic and the growing climate crisis has had a profound transformational effect on our society, giving way to a variety of trends that are set to reshape the way we live and work for years to come. But perhaps the most lasting impact of Covid-19 will be how it accelerated the race to reach Net Zero. 

Perceived by some as just the latest buzzword in the fight for climate action, ‘Net Zero’ is actually shorthand for ensuring that all human-produced carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere via technological and natural means. Since the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign was launched by the United Nations, a total of 19 countries plus the EU have committed to hitting a Net Zero target, with deadlines ranging from 2030 to 2050. 

While there is no set way to achieve this target, governments have been offered a helping hand by the most unlikely of sources, namely COVID-19. With the global pandemic forcing us all into lockdown, companies across the globe have had to migrate their workforces online but from the comfort of their homes - and with unexpectedly beneficial results.

Introducing virtual meetings 

Part of this migration involved looking at three key areas: how employees will communicate, where they will work, and how they will keep working effectively. However, we have seen that when using traditional collaboration tools, employees are frequently left frustrated, stressed and exhausted from the limitations of asynchronous tools and the struggle to replicate the office environment virtually. Desktop collaboration has been great, but these media are inadequate to handle collaborations on complex tasks, with inefficient processes and inadequate spaces to work effectively. There is now an urgent need for tools that enable virtual meetings that simulate face-to-face interactions and unify the entire team, enabling them to better prepare for any situation that arises. 

Helping to simulate a ‘round table’ meeting - rather than just showing faces on a screen which is slow, rigid and often unproductive - virtual meeting media are now becoming increasingly available. Their effect is to create a very wide ‘cognitive bandwidth’, close to that achieved by face to face meetings with artifacts, which is especially important during these unprecedented times and beyond. Combining people’s interaction and enabling thinking in an environment designed to recreate a natural meeting will create a virtual space to work on complex tasks synchronously, allowing for improved team alignment and better productivity.

The developing virtual meeting media ensures employees are able to quickly adapt to working remotely in a way that will not affect business continuity. When using tools that mirror face-to-face, natural meetings, the team will benefit from increased flexibility which makes it easier for them to adapt in both the short and long term. In addition to the operational advantages, according to the European Environment Agency, lockdowns during the pandemic had some direct, short-term, positive impacts on our environment, especially in terms of emissions and air quality, since air travel and daily commutes had been minimized. So if these results were noticed over the course of a single year, what can be achieved if we try to maintain this new status quo?

Achieving Net Zero targets

BEIS states that we need to achieve a target 35 percent saving of current greenhouse gas expenditure in transportation. According to BEIS, a car kilometer with one passenger produces 171 grams/km, whilst rail produces just 41 grams/km, making rail travel more than four times more efficient. However, due to COVID-19 and social distancing, rail passenger miles are not forecast to recover for around four years.

Recent Government reports revealed that at least 35 percent of car journeys are for business travel. In addition to this, international business travel is one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions., using Government statistics, has ranked UK aviation at 6.4 percent of carbon emissions, of which a massive 6 percent is from international flights, and that the sector produces a whole 0.1 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The reason for business travel and commuting is to gather in an office for meetings and share knowledge around the projects that the team is working on. With the improvements in virtual meetings and the increased cognition that is now provided, a very large part of these journeys can be obviated. With national lockdowns having forced remote learning, which has proven to be successful, many people are now calling into question the necessity of hundreds of millions of business journeys and the associated major Net Zero gain.

Building an Intelligent Mesh 

Business leaders can also deploy these new virtual meeting media to connect knowledge centers around the country or the world, to create a ‘mesh’ that resembles the human mind, with the knowledge center as the neuron and the new rich collaborative medium as the synapse i.e. a brain. Alongside this, they can create a ‘smart agile organization’ by using rich virtual meeting media, allowing a seamless flow of knowledge using any intelligence residing inside the company and increasingly outside of the organization.

In essence, innovation mesh is the integration of people and digital data in visual form, into a natural collaborative environment, closely replicating face-to-face meetings. It goes further than simply the ability to catch up over the phone or on a video call. The latest virtual meeting media enables knowledge sharing, allowing team members to sit over the synchronous collaboration tools when there is a project or innovation issue, and find a suitable solution with ease. In such meetings, the quantity of information that individuals can hold mentally and through visual stimuli hugely influences how much they understand and contribute to a meeting. 

Driving Net Zero Attainment  

Many organizations are committing to Net Zero without a firm idea as to how this might be achieved. Looking ahead, businesses must identify travel patterns for commuting and work travel, and examine their post COVID-19 work requirements. Following this, they can deliver a program that maximizes the use of virtual meetings for measurable greenhouse gas reduction.

The home-working solutions achieved during the pandemic should also be extended to consider the benefits of using virtual meetings, not only for Net Zero reduction but to enable an ‘agile knowledge sharing’ organization. The agile organization wins by sharing knowledge through a new generation of rich virtual meetings, immediately without travel, allowing faster decision-making, greater innovation and knowledge flow, plus tangible cost savings.

Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive, nuVa Enterprises

Jocelyn Lomer is a Chartered Engineer (MIET) with over forty years’ experience in telecommunications and software. Since 2000, he has owned and run SMEs specialising in virtual meetings, including nuVa Enterprises, becoming an expert in digital transformation and collaboration.