Our Changed Circumstances Are an Opportunity for Learning
The International Society of Automation (ISA) President Eric Cosman will be featured on the ISA Interchange blog monthly with a column directed toward ISA members around the world. Eric’s column will speak to current membership priorities, challenges, news, and perspectives. We invite ISA Interchange readers to engage and dialogue with Eric, and if you aren’t currently a member of ISA, visit www.isa.org/join to learn more about membership.
Fellow Society members;
By now I am sure that you have heard about the Executive Board’s decision to cancel all face-to-face events for the remainder of 2020. While this has presented us with some serious challenges, it is also an opportunity for all of us to learn about how we can work more effectively in our various committees, sections, divisions, and assemblies. As we adapt to the restrictions placed on us by the pandemic, we will no doubt develop new skills in communications and collaboration. I encourage everyone to look for opportunities to share what you learn with your colleagues. We will emerge as a more effective organization.
Many of us have years of experience as members of teams that have operated using teleconferences and web meetings. As I reflect on my work experience, I remember leading one of my first virtual teams as early as the early 1990s. At that time, the best tools available were email and the telephone. Collaboration tools and technology have advanced considerably since then.
Too often, when we discuss how we can better communicate, the focus shifts immediately to selection of the “best” tool. We have all been in conversations where the primary subject was which tools are available and “best.” Is Zoom better than GotoMeeting? How about Skype for Business? The reality is that there are scores of such tools available and for the most part, all are quite capable of providing the needed capabilities. Some tools will recede or be retired, and others will emerge over time. The irony here is that tools are not the most important consideration.
For webinars, webcasts, and podcasts, the emphasis should be on identifying, developing, and delivering relevant content. The delivery vehicles or media may—and probably will—vary according to the circumstances. The key is to be flexible. For group meetings, we should focus on practices, techniques, and behaviors. The basics of planning and conducting an effective meeting are the same regardless of medium. They include the preparation and distribution of agendas, respect for diverse opinions, and engaging all team members in discussions. However, there are some important differences to consider. Whether a webinar or a more interactive meeting, virtual gatherings are not just regular meetings occurring in a different medium.
In virtual meetings, it is very important to connect to others on a personal level, particularly if there has not been face-to-face interaction previously. It is becoming more common to use the video option in addition to audio, as it allows people to see visual cues and expressions. Because it is hard to see the entire group and get a read of the room, it is important for the meeting leader to engage members individually, encouraging them to participate and offer ideas and opinions. This can also limit the multitasking that we have all seen when only using audio.
Webinars and broader communications also require a bit more planning than if the session were conducted face to face. It is very important to allow participants to pose questions, and for the answers to those questions to be as timely as possible. If they cannot be addressed during the session, then there should be a list of questions and answers provided as soon as possible after the event.
These are only a few tips that can help improve the effectiveness of virtual gatherings. I am sure that many of you have tips of your own based on your experience. There are also countless articles, blog posts, and guides available on the Internet.
I trust that you would agree that our Society provides us with a valuable forum for learning and professional growth. This learning should not be confined to technical topics. As we all gain experience in how to work effectively in teams and committees using virtual tools, I encourage you to share what you have learned with your colleagues. What works well? Have there been experiments that have not been as successful? Just as we have focused on safety by holding a “safety moment” at the beginning of meetings, perhaps we can use a few minutes at the beginning of team calls to share our ideas and experiences effective virtual interaction. This allows us to learn from each other, which should be a hallmark of the Society. Be willing to share and be open to learning. Even the most challenging of situations can provide an opportunity for personal growth.
I look forward to the time when we can resume face-to-face meetings and events, but until then, I am personally committed to making our virtual interactions as enjoyable and effective as possible.
As always, you can contact me at President@isa.org with your thoughts or questions on this or any other topic. Stay safe and well, and I look forward to continuing this dialog throughout 2020.
Eric C. Cosman
2020 ISA President
About the Author
Eric C. Cosman is a chemical engineer with more than 35 years of experience in the process industries. He is the founder and principal consultant at OIT Concepts, LLC. Eric contributes to—and has held leadership positions in—various standards committees and industry focus groups. He is a member of Control Magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame as well as an ISA Life Fellow. Eric has served as ISA’s vice president of standards and practices, and he is a member of the ISA Executive Board. He was a founding member of a chemical sector cybersecurity program team focused on industrial control systems cybersecurity, and he was also one of the authors of the chemical sector cybersecurity strategy for the U.S. Eric is a founding member of the ISA99 Committee on Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS) Security, where he currently serves as the co-chair, in addition to serving as the co-chair of the MESA Cybersecurity working group. Eric speaks and writes on topics ranging from automation cybersecurity to systems architecture development and industrial transformation, and he is the author of the cybersecurity chapter of the ISA Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge (3rd edition).