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How Dow has kept innovation humming during the pandemic

October 27, 2020, 8:30 PM UTC

Innovation has suffered for many corporations during the coronavirus pandemic, as they’ve struggled to replicate the creativity that flows from collaboration in a physical office space.

But Dow CEO Jim Fitterling doesn’t think the company has lost that innovative spark, and he has seen positive signs at his company despite the difficulties remote work presents.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to take advantage of digitalization,” he told Fortune CEO Alan Murray on Tuesday during the Fortune Global Forum.

To demonstrate, Fitterling spoke about how the company has continued to run pilots this year by live-streaming experiments to customers—normally those customers would observe in person. As a result of this continued innovation, the company won five R&D 100 Awards this year, the most of any company in the industry.

Fitterling acknowledged the downsides of COVID-19, highlighting the challenge of not being able to see customers face-to-face and read body language. But that hasn’t dampened his optimism. 

“I’ve seen a lot of good things happen in innovation,” he said, pointing to 187 webinars the company held with customers during the second and third quarters, which drove traffic to the Dow website.

Fitterling also discussed another welcome by-product of the pandemic: It has brought company management a lot closer to its people. 

“All of our leaders have a better sense of what our employees at the front line are dealing with on a day-to-day basis,” he said, referencing changes the company is making regarding work practices, flexibility, and mental-health care and childcare options.

Fitterling believes this sort of empathy will continue after the crisis ends.

“I just don’t sense that [we’re] going to move back to the old way of doing things,” he said. “I think we’re going to a new normal.”