Sector - Consultancy

Virtual Meetings Key for Digital Transformation

Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive at  nuVa Enterprises explains how enhanced virtual meetings are a key element for digital transformation and Net Zero attainment in the construction industry as we move into 2021.

Powerful forces of change are sweeping the construction industry catalysed by Covid-19 and consequent changes in working practices allowed by digital technology. These fundamental changes are coupled with digital innovations and the drive to Net Zero that will further solidify shifts in working practice and dominate business activity over the next decade.

Business leaders should remain aware of the environmental factors at play and be able to manoeuvre their organisational design to meet the needs of the future. The Climate Change Act of 2008 committed the UK to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. In June 2019, legislation increased that target to 100%. Although it is unclear precisely how these legal targets will be enforced, the UK Court of Appeal ruled the Heathrow Expansion as unlawful insofar as carbon reduction was inadequately considered.

Link between digital transformation, climate change and virtual meetings

Examination of the Greenhouse gas emissions proportions will set the overall environmental scene that organisations will operate under. This analysis coupled with the digital capabilities available will allow the organisation to manoeuvre effectively and position not just for efficient green operations, but for the ‘agile knowledge organisation’ of the future.

Research from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy found that transport is currently the largest emitting category and must therefore be the principal target for carbon reduction. Examining this data, it’s evident that 78% of the carbon expended is from transport, energy supply, business and residential. The energy supply category is being targeted by wind and nuclear, plus carbon production from coal is in rapid decline, with residential not currently, (apart from home working) being business related. This means remote focus can be applied to transport and business carbon expenditure. This is where the biggest Net Zero contribution lies and it is currently more important than energy supply.

With transportation as the largest emitting category, it’s important to consider the detail contained within that vertical which is defined as road, railways, road transport, domestic aviation, shipping and fishing, which all accounts for 28% of the burn. According to BEIS/DEFRA, a car kilometre with one passenger is 171grams/km, whilst rail is 41grams/km. Clearly rail is nearly four times more efficient, however due to Covid-19 and social distancing, rail passenger miles are not forecast to recover for around four years. When the rail service returns to normal, we can expect similar figures to 2018. Notwithstanding rail business miles are a major contributor to carbon expenditure but four times more efficient than car miles.

What’s more, according to the Department of Transport data less than 50% of rail travel is for business purposes, that is commuting and pure business rail journeys. This is a huge figure and is ripe for major reduction, excluding international air travel, which is another major carbon source.

It has also been found that at the very least 35% of car journeys are about business travel. Car journeys constitute 90% of road traffic and in 2019, cars and taxis clocked 278.2 billion vehicle miles at 228.2 grams per mile, which is equal to 63,485,240 metric tonnes of carbon consumed. Therefore, using virtual meetings to reduce this load is a prime target for businesses.

Going virtual

Without further drilling down into precise figures, we can see that business travel is one of the major contributors to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, with carbon representing 95%. In this case, how then can we reduce business travel and what is business travel actually about?

Fundamentally, business travel and commuting is about gathering in the office to share knowledge around the various projects that we are working on. It is about knowledge exchange and for reasons of face to face meetings with artifacts (documents and these days CAD) is preferred. A ‘natural meeting’ is preferred due to millions of years of evolution, meaning our bodies and minds have evolved to socially collaborate and these important human factors should not be underestimated for we interrelate in many subtle ways.

Current remote collaboration media does not emulate this required natural meeting and this is why we become uncomfortable and suffer from the so-called ‘ZOOM’ fatigue, for it is a strain upon our minds to meet in this unnatural way. It is called ‘cognitive reluctance’ and in plain language, it is a hassle and quite tiring.

A new generation of virtual meetings is now available, that understands how we work and engages our minds in a most natural way. This and other emerging remote meeting media now allow us to share knowledge in this knowledge economy, immediately without travel, sharing the most complex documents and apps, such as complex BIM models.

Transforming the drawing board

Construction is obliged by the Climate Change ACT to halve their greenhouse gas emission, focussing on reducing carbon emissions by 95%. Advanced virtual meetings are one of the key areas for reducing CO2, for it is no longer necessary for key knowledge workers to assemble at the PMO and it is 100% possible to obtain project progress through shared applications all around the Programme without any travel at all. Knowledge can be ‘beamed in’ from anywhere. These benefits can be measured in reduced mileage and actually faster decision making. Similarly those rail journeys reduced by using virtual meetings can be used to free up railways to carry more freight, taking the freight traffic away from the roads with their high carbon spend.

Advance virtual meetings do not just reduce carbon, as their implementation is a vital stepping stone toward digital transformation, for it is the interface between the ‘world of digital apps and documents’ and the world of people. This is digital transformation in action, allowing immediate decision making from anywhere in the world, collaborating over visualised Big Data. In the terms of knowledge flow for innovation, the broader reach to external knowledge is simply revolutionary.

Digital champions and environmental leaders need to not only consider energy supply in their calculations, but also the major impact that advanced virtual meetings may have in meeting their Net Zero targets, as well as aiming to set the framework for the ‘agile organisation’.

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