How do you tackle the difficulties of working in a global economy in a post-COVID world?
That was the question dominating the discussion this week in a webinar hosted by the Maryland Smith Center for Global Business.
Four alumni from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business offered their perspectives on global business during the event, “Distinguished Speakers in International Business Series: Global Competencies for the 21st Century Workplace,” describing what they expect work to look like in a post-COVID-19 world, and offering advice to current students.
CGB hosted the event in recognition of International Education Week, a worldwide initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education that aims to celebrate international education and exchange.
The four speakers were Marisa Beardsley ’05, manager for international trade compliance at Northrop Grumman; Chris Steadley, MBA ’12, the global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Gartner; Vandy Gyandhar, MBA ’01, a senior global program manager at Amazon Web Services; and Matt Kurlanzik ’06, executive director of global public policy for Asia Pacific for The Walt Disney Company, based in Singapore.
The robust, hourlong discussion covered a wide range of global topics, including the competencies that comprise a global mindset, the important and evolving work being done worldwide in diversity, equity and inclusion, and meeting the grand challenges posed by the climate crisis.
When asked about what workplace changes caused by COVID-19 will be permanent, nearly all the panelists agreed that some meetings will continue to be virtual, but that there will be a need for face-to-face meetings to return.
“The personal touch is important, and face-to-face won’t ever go away,” said Beardsley. She said during international travel restrictions, Northrop Grumman used virtual platforms, including virtual reality, to showcase products and capabilities to clients and those technologies served as a serviceable replacement during quarantine.
Kurlanzik agreed, saying virtual meetings can serve as a meaningful complement, but not a wholesale substitute for face-to-face interactions. “Being able to develop trust is important, and Zoom can’t replicate that as well as a physical space,” he said.
Steadley agreed that company travel will continue to play a reduced role for organizations, amid the continued adoption of virtual meetings. While some corporate events will be high profile and important enough to continue to warrant international travel, accommodations for individuals who will continue to telecommute will be important to ensure that everyone is still included.
Gyandhar reflected on the impact of the pandemic on everyone’s work lives. At AWS, she said, her team was busy before the pandemic, and “we got super busy” at the onset of the pandemic. “I think we overcompensated initially, you know. We were working almost 24-7, back-to-back video conferences. There was not much of a distinction between personal time and work time,” she said. “It was rough.”
But teams and organizations adapted, quickly. Managers and leadership began to recognize the impact the work was having on our people and the burnout that was resulting. “I think going forward, managers of global teams will be more strategic with video conferencing, meetings and being more respectful of non-work time and time zones,” she said.
The panelists emphasized a slew of other changes – disruptions that the pandemic caused, from how we shop to how we receive medical care, and the collaborative tools that organizations use.
Steadley said he anticipates ways that organizations will work harder to bring together their remote and in-person teams, finding ways to level the playing field and include all team members.
The panel also offered advice to students in the virtual audience: be adventurous, leverage your skills, and take time to travel and learn about other cultures.
For students who are interested in doing so, Rebecca L. Bellinger, executive director of the Center for Global Business, said, study abroad programs offer the perfect opportunity to broaden one’s horizons.
The webinar event was supported in part by a Title VI grant program known as CIBE (Centers for International Business Education) administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
– By Phillip Reamer. Reamer is a 2023 MBA candidate and Smith Fellow originally from Sykesville, Md. He worked for three years in the horticulture industry before beginning his MBA studies, most recently with Walt Disney World’s horticulture team.
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.