Blog Post

How Open Water is setting the Gold Standard for people and culture change in a virtual world.

When we cheered in the New Year with joyful anticipation, little could we have imagined the extraordinary changes that lay in store for 2020.  When Covid-19 struck, Open Water coaches were due to fly out to deliver face-to-face engagements with leaders and their teams in overseas locations. Like so many, plans made were paused.  But unlike many organisations, Open Water was in an unusually strong position to react to the changes that followed. Through behaviour development and organisational culture change rooted heavily in the principles of emotional intelligence, Open Water has helped organisations manage changes affecting their business and people, for over a decade.  

Open Water turned the spotlight on itself and decided that to best serve its clients; it must quickly accelerate its own change and create a world-class online delivery experience that transformed it from a face-to-face provider with a growing virtual provision, to a fully-fledged digital learning and development facilitator – with phenomenal success.


With the world rapidly learning to rely on video conferencing and remote working, it was only natural that some Open Water clients were at first unsure if a digital platform could deliver the same impact as the conventional face-to-face format.

When Sonal Bhatia, VP of North Am Medical Affairs, Pfizer Rare Diseases, first considered doing a virtual workshop with her leadership team, she admits: “I did not know how that would work, I was quite sceptical”. Following their session, she reveals:

 “When we actually went through and experienced this workshop, I was very, very impressed. Firstly, the time went by so fast. And secondly, there was so much energy and passion from all of my colleagues and all my leadership team, on camera! We went into virtual rooms to workshop our ideas and come up with a list of things we wanted to do differently. I walked out, just feeling that passion and energy! This workshop genuinely energised me, and gave me that purpose, that motive, of ‘I know what we’re going to do’ and my leadership all felt that way.”

Adrian Heywood, Open Water Senior Consultant, adds: “We have strong data that our web sessions are very different and engaging indeed. After most web sessions, there is always one senior person in the team who will send an email saying, ‘Wow, we weren’t expecting that!”

Other laudatory testimonies have poured in. It transpires the digital forum is no hindrance to powerful output; it is, in fact, quite the opposite. Clients who have seen and felt the difference, are diarising new programs and are rolling them out across departments. 


Adrian explains how Open Water is achieving such a powerful impact over the digital forum: 

“A key factor is our people. By default, in our business, we have to be elevated communicators, so we already have the advantage of knowing our people engage meaningfully over any platform. They undergo constant development. They are learning an array of new specialist presentation and engagement skills for the digital arena, and how to maximise the use of technology. It’s an incredibly exciting time.”

The ‘people’ Adrian refers to are an experienced international team of psychologists, coaches, business consultants and learning and communication specialists, all imbued with Open Water’s own ‘special sauce’ of emotional intelligence that the company instils internally and coaches externally. They are a formidable help in challenging times such as we are in now.  Over the longer run, their skillsets underpin the crucial ingredient for long-term invested relationships: building trust. 

Cultivating trust in a virtual world seems like a difficult challenge. Adrian makes the interesting point that digital delivery can actually have advantages over physical: 

“When watching a speaker in person, you generally don’t see them up close or engage profoundly. But, with ‘lens contact’, when their face is beamed directly to yours on a large screen, and every expression is readable, it is far more powerful and personal than seeing a distant head and shoulders. Close eye contact can build a deep level of rapport. If the speaker is genuinely open and vulnerable, that is certainly an important component in building trust.”

Webcam interaction can come with risks, of course. We have seen examples of someone’s child or pet unwittingly gatecrash in a virtual meeting at home. Far from being a negative, Adrian explains:

“It’s another era. Dress codes have largely gone. Children or dogs might stagger in – and when it happens, no one should be embarrassed, it’s a fantastic opportunity. Catching glimpses into people’s lives – their family, interests, books, photos, are great conversation openers and bond builders, and can really play a part in building trust and rapport.”


Open Water’s move to digital was not as extreme as it might at first seem. It was already developing its digital capacity well before Covid-19 was a term we were familiar with.

Open Water launched its social learning platform Open Water Learning (OWL) in 2018. The company observed that using social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn was an increasingly important part of the modern global workplace. It saw an opportunity: to create an engaging and intuitive social platform for teams or leaders undergoing Open Water programs, where they could connect, engage and share contents and ideas. They sustain learning and reap relationship benefits – now more important than ever, long after their program is over.

Hot on the heels of the success of OWL, Open Water was exploring avenues for delivering its programs over a digital platform, when Covid-19 hit. It was the accelerant the company used to propel itself fully into the virtual world. 

Adrian explains: “It was a question of putting our heads together to work out an aligned strategy on the rapid expansion of our digital capability but not at the expense of quality; quite the opposite, we wanted to create a truly excellent, industry-leading digital provision”.

Serious investment followed into cutting-edge technology and the design and development of Open Water’s showpiece studio. 

The studio is effectively a scaled-down, bells and whistles, online broadcasting studio, replete with state-of-the-art filming, sound and light equipment. Presenters are filmed not just from the shoulders up, but full-body and from various angles – all designed for maximum engagement. When asked if Open Water is setting a new gold standard for virtual delivery, Adrian is quick to reply:

“There is absolutely no question about that. We know from client feedback that what we do is amazing, and I’ve not seen anything like it, at all. In terms of what we are doing, we are unique – well as unique as one can dare claim to be.”

Tim Hylan, Vice-President, Internal Medicine Field Medical Director Group at Pfizer is one of those leaders who is driving renewed purpose with his remote team – with Open Water’s help. He gave feedback on a recent online workshop.

“You were terrific and really delivered even beyond our already high expectations.  So much great feedback on our end! Everything went so smoothly, especially with the virtual breakout rooms which were so professionally done. Together with the stories, exercises, examples, and knowledge of Pfizer you already had,  it was a  memorable experience.  You have such a wonderful delivery; it makes everyone want to listen to you and stay engaged.  I knew the group would really enjoy it, and it seems as though they did. You and your team truly have the gift.  I know the insights you provided us around self, others, the team will be actionable for all of us.”


Nobody yet knows what the new world, post-Covid-19 will look like, but there is no doubt the pandemic is transforming how companies will use digital technology in the long-term. 

With agility, innovation and capability, Open Water has positioned itself at the very forefront of its industry, with client-centricity firmly in mind. Adrian concludes:

“Setting a new bar for digital delivery means we are exceptionally well placed to deliver an outstanding experience for our clients. During this pandemic, we feel privileged to know we are helping clients like the NHS, Roche, Meridian, Pfizer and Alexion, find purpose, clarity of direction and unity in these extraordinary times. 

We have actively precipitated our own ‘brave new world’ so that we can function productively, efficiently and with efficacy as industry leaders, now and into the future”.

Open Water supports organisations who need their people to have clarity around their purpose and goals, and want them to trust each other and work together cohesively. If you would like to discuss your organisational change challenges, we’d love to hear from you.