Flex-work, Answers and ESG

Appearing in In The Black magazine, August 2022

Going Remote: How the Flexible Work Economy Can Improve Our Lives and Our Cities
By Matthew Kahn
University of California Press, $45

One long-term consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, says urban economist Kahn, will be fundamental changes in the way work is done, with work-from-home becoming a standardised, permanent model. Kahn is interested in the larger social changes flowing from WFH, and he believes that the benefits can be maximised with some thoughtful planning. A major advantage is the reduction of commuting time, although long-term WFH might also mean some expenditure on home workspaces. The economies of the inner cities will take a hit as many of the smaller business that service metropolitan office populations will simply not have enough customers. Some corporates will entirely move out of the expensive city core.

Suburban areas and second-tier cities, however, will do well. Companies will have to invest in suitable communications technology and there might be a need for manager re-training to ensure that remote employees remain engaged and focused. Kahn is writing about the US environment but what he has to say is relevant to most developed economies. He concludes that, on balance, WFH can significantly improve the standard of living for many people by expanding personal freedom but there will be a significant period of adjustment, which will be dislocating for some.

Answer Intelligence
By Brian Glibkowski
Emerald Publishing, $61

Glibkowski is a management academic and consultant who specialises in communication strategies, and in this book he seeks to move beyond the usual sender-receiver method of conversation. Too often, he says, answers do not recognise the real purpose of a question, which can be frustrating for both sides. His primary research dealt with how experts in a field communicate, and from that basis he identifies six categories of answers: story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure, and action.

His overarching belief is that each of these answers can be structured to incorporate the issues inherent in a question, thereby providing “answer intelligence”, or AQ. It can be developed with practice, he says, and he examines the concept in chapters dealing with sales, interviews, coaching, and related topics. He underlines the importance of knowing the discussion context, and illustrates his points with contributions from people in business who have used his methods. But it is not always clear how AQ could be broadly utilised, and the complexity of it would make it difficult for fast-moving conversational sessions. Nevertheless, Answer Intelligence offers an interesting framework and, with the companion self-assessment and training app, would be useful to those who wish to upgrade their communication abilities.

Transparency in ESG and the Circular Economy: Capturing Opportunities Through Data
By Cristina Dolan, Diana Barrero Zalles
Business Expert Press, $50

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are now central to corporate activities which range from capital raising to regulatory compliance to recruiting talented people. A fundamental problem, however, has been the difficulty in collecting information on company ESG performance and how it can be improved. Dolan and Zalles, who between them have skills encompassing technology issues, cybercrime, sustainability and international banking, believe that the past decade has brought a new set of tools into the area. The emergence of ESG-related reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative have provided basic metrics but the real breakthrough has been with various corporations that have refined the standards into actionable data.

Dolan and Zalles examine a number of cases where companies have done this, noting that the response from the community and regulators has been generally positive. But they acknowledge that the use of data to measure ESG outcomes is still at an early stage. Emerging technologies like blockchain and IoT are likely to open the door to more reliable metrics. Dolan and Zalles tie this together into a series of lessons, providing a useful roadmap for companies that want to lift their ESG game but are unsure how to proceed.

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