The meeting and events industry sustained a tremendous hit beginning in March 2020 with conferences, conventions, and special events being canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 spreading throughout the world. As experts learned more about the pandemic, event dates continued to be pushed back once the reality became clear that COVID-19 was not a short-term public health emergency. In addition to masking and social distancing mandates, federal, state, and local restrictions on gatherings of most sizes forced planners to rethink and redesign if, and how, events could be reimagined virtually until in-person events could be resumed.
I traveled to Orlando, Florida recently, for my first conference travel in over a year. I attended the AMC Institute Annual Meeting, held at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Opportunities for professional development have always been important to me. Having started a new position with Nonprofit Resources, LLC (NPR) mid-May, this was an opportune time to meet and learn from leaders in the association management industry that I’m brand new to! Because my position is fully remote, it was also the first opportunity to spend some quality time with and get to know four members of my new work team at NPR. Meet my team here!
As I anticipated and prepared for the trip, I wondered how it would feel to be back among a large group of people. Would I feel safe? Would I feel comfortable enough, with the protocols in place, to focus on the content and make the most of the networking opportunity?
The answer was a resounding “Yes!”. The emphasis on and attention to safety for conference organizers and attendees was evident starting with pre-conference communications leading up to, and through, the meeting. Protocols were in place to address safety and wellness. Forms were filled out in advance and an app was used to check in and answer questions about our general health at the beginning of each day. Temperatures were checked in the registration area as we arrived, and stickers were added to our badges once we were cleared.
The fact that Nonprofit Resources had always operated remotely made it uniquely positioned to continue operating seamlessly through the pandemic with minimal need to “pivot”. This work model eliminated time spent on the many conversations around developing policies to ensure the safety of teams and how to move operations remote when offices were initially abandoned. It became clear from the conversations happening throughout the conference that having a fully remote work team also eliminates the need to give bandwidth to current questions and policy discussions going on within the companies who want to get their teams back to their traditional office spaces. No surprise, many are getting push back from the teams that have experienced the benefits of working remotely.
After a year of rapid-fire transitions and pivoting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are discussing plans for a return to “normal”… sort of like a reset to factory settings. There may be a temptation to make these transitions quickly with the rollout of the vaccinations, the first sign of relief from climbing case counts, and the elimination of masking and social distancing mandates. Yet, rather than rushing back to the comfort of how things were B.C. (before COVID), it is an ideal time to pause and consider the results of this last year.
Dr. Matt Poepsel of Predictive Index, was one of our speakers and he spoke to the changing work environments. He stated that employers would need to approach decisions from a space of flexibility rather than rigidity and shared some statistics around the state of employment:
- One in four employees expect to stay remote for the remainder of 2021
- 81% expect employers to support that expectation
- 68% of executives believe that employees should be in office at least 3 days a week to maintain the culture
Dr. Poepsel shared that hybrid work is here to stay, like e-groceries, tele-health, and nesting. With hybrid environments, come the discussions on how to promote fairness within the organization and avoid an In-group versus Out-group dilemma. He suggested providing virtual tools and two-tier training, a combination of in-person and virtual, and ensuring you have a good technology infrastructure. Another recommendation was that organizations “get into the hotel business”…wait, what? He went on to explain that leaders should think about the amenities you might provide to entice people to want to be in the office. Getting creative and providing convenience will be key to agreement and engagement.
I was speaking with a colleague on this topic and he shared that they’ve announced to their team a return to office policy that will take affect after Labor Day. Giving folks the time to think about and plan for the new work policies helps people prepare for the shift. His organization believes that at least two days, with one being Thursdays, in office is important to maintain culture. He also shared a new policy (amenity) that will provide staff that come in 3 or more days per week with a dedicated office, while those coming in 2 days will find an available shared space to work from. My response? Three or more days it is! We all love our own space. This is exactly the flexibility and creativity Dr. Poepsel was referring to.
Several conversations between attendees also centered around filling open positions and the scarcity of experienced candidates. Dr. Poepsel shared that we may see a “Turnover Tsunami” as many employees surveyed said they intend to leave their current employer when it is safe to do so. This phenomena can be felt as you scan through LinkedIn and see all of the announcements of workplace farewells and new job announcements.
As we move through the coming months, employers have an opportunity to rethink and reshape how and where work gets done. This is the perfect opportunity to take the time to have discussions and listen intentionally to what employees need. Finding ways to be flexible, rather than rigid (ie. “but, this is the way we’ve always done things”), will help identify what matters most to them. Understanding their needs and creating positive experiences around them will lead to a more engaged and successful relationship for all.
Is your team pushing for a hybrid or fully remote work policy? Do you have questions about how to provide some flexibility while maintaining culture and productivity? Contact us to discuss how we can help.
Hope to see you soon!