We Will Meet Again

May 21, 2020

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and as we are now well into week 8 of lockdown, I think it’s particularly relevant to UK citizens, irrespective of whether you’re on furlough or still working. Both groups need support, potentially in very different ways. CIPD has some great resources to support Mental Health wellbeing for individuals and employers (www.cipd.co.uk).  It’s too early to really know what impact Covid-19 has on mental health, but think about all the factors that may play a part in this:
social distancing, self-isolation, family bereavement, job security, anxiety about returning to work. It’s vital that employers support employees more than ever and encourage a culture where its ok to admit “I’m not ok.”

For me, the key to this and I’m by no means an expert, is connectivity. As a race, we are sociable by nature and making those connections are so crucial at this current time. At Conference Care, like many UK companies we have several our team currently on furlough and it’s vital that we keep the connections alive, whether it’s formal updates or informal zooms chats or even the ubiquitous quiz. Equally, for those members of the team still working, keeping their spirits up, when there are almost no events being planned is just as important.

Which leads me into the theme of this blog …..

“We’ll meet again,” sang Vera Lynn. It became an anthem for World War II and has more recently become a strap-line for those of us involved in the event industry. The next line, “don’t know where, don’t know when,” pretty much sums up how many of us who work in the industry are feeling at the moment.

The government plan gives 4th July as a potential re-opening date for hospitality-based businesses. But what does this mean, not so much on a practical level for business but more on a personal level for members of the public wanting to once again attend live events, whether at the theatre, a sporting event or as a conference delegate?

Why do we meet? A rhetorical question, but for me education, entertainment, to enjoy travel, for food and beverage, for networking. The answer for most people is likely to be a combination of all of the above. From studying to working in the hospitality industry for more than 25 years, I have so many great memories that attending meetings and events have allowed me to experience. My personal favourite was whilst at IHG and I had the pleasure of being involved in the GMs’ conference in Cairo. The evening entertainment was dinner at the pyramids, with Katherine Jenkins singing, just 10 yards away. What an event!

So, what happens next and how does the industry we all love, begin to recover?
It’s going to be complicated, that’s for sure. At Conference Care we are seeing some robust plans from venues and hotel brands as to how they are making their venues are safe and secure. At the same time, I also hear some large organisations such as Facebook, making decisions to cancel all events of more than 50 people until 2021.

So, if you are an event planner who will organise face to face events in the near future, how will this impact on your planning? Well, aside from the health and safety considerations, there will be new questions around logistics, such as room capacities due to social distancing (for example, if you’re booking a meeting for 20 people, do you need room that would normally hold 100). A further important consideration within all of this is that much used phrase is “duty of care.” More than ever, employers will have a wider duty of care to employees, whether that’s ensuring that they have a suitable working environment once we can all return to our offices, or in the context of meetings and events, ensuring that it’s a safe and secure environment to attend as a delegate.

Matthew Syed wrote an interesting article in the Times, where he posed the argument that the traditional face to face meeting is an inefficient use of time and resources. The counter argument to this for me is that as humans, we are social beings and physical contact is a natural part of how we communicate with each other. Added to this, from a personal perspective, whilst Zoom and Microsoft teams are fantastic resources, I do feel more drained post-call and have definitely developed Zoom fatigue and look forward to being able to meet in person again. That said, it’s really interesting studying peoples’ bookshelves and artwork in the background.

A wide-ranging study by over 190 organisations in the Arts across the UK last week also backed up the support for live events. Over 80,000 people responded and 74% of the respondents stated that live can’t be replicated by watching at home. Watching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s amazing productions on the small screen has been enjoyable, but there is far more pleasure watching these events in a theatre. It’s the whole sense of occasion that people crave for.

Personally, I am in agreement with the 74% of course, but let’s start to think about the practicalities of once again attending a face to face meeting: –

Anxiety about leaving the house and basic need to stay safe – I’m lucky, I have my family and our newest addition of Charlie the dog. This has meant during the height of lockdown; we’ve had a legitimate reason to get out of the house and exercise. I’ve also not necessarily had the benefit of online shopping so have had to join the snaking Tesco queue and do the weekly shop. (not sure about anyone else, but my four teenage daughters are eating me out of house and home. At the moment, every shop feels like a big Christmas shop!). As a result of this, I’m fairly relaxed about stepping back into the real world again. But consider those that live alone and have had to work from home for the past 8 weeks or been placed on furlough. The office has historically not just been a place of work but also somewhere to socialise. Taking this away has meant that for some people, they literally might not have left their home for two months and whilst their physical health has been maintained as a result, it might create a real anxiety about once again stepping out and mixing with people in busy spaces.

Childcare – the debate continues about when schools will return. The government is not mandating all pupils must return to school, and decisions are being made by local education authorities. Some schools may open in the next couple of weeks but with reduced capacities and on a part-time basis. Liverpool education authority has stated that they are not ready to re-open schools, so there is a real possibility that some pupils won’t step back into a school until September. The government have also stated that parents won’t be fined if their children don’t initially return to school. Imagine if you’re planning to attend an event, as an organiser or a delegate, how do you manage childcare? The answer for many of us is traditionally grandparents. Given the current pandemic, this can’t and won’t be an option for many of us, so here’s the first logistical challenge.

Travel – I have a car so could travel safely and in isolation to an event, depending on the location choice. But what if I had to use public transport? Train companies are talking about a capacity of 10% based on social distancing and seeing the TV coverage of tubes in London, they are already incredibly busy (can you socially distance on a tube in rush hour?). So, we will have to plan far more carefully and leave more time to get to an event.

Arrival at the event – Registration done in advance, temperature check before entering the event, where’s the toilets and how long do I have to queue? Just some of the new pre-event considerations that will have to be discussed at the planning stage.

Event networking – Yes, of course we can still do it, but only from a safe distance of 2 metres. How effective will that be?

Food and beverage – goodbye hotel and venue buffets (not everyone will consider this a bad thing) and hello boxed and plated meals. Tea and coffee breaks will need careful management and disposable items could again be on the rise, so the whole issue of sustainability comes into focus.

These are just a few things to think about. I’m sure there are a lot more considerations. I’m exhausted just listing these few. If you’re reading this, you’re probably involved in the Hospitality industry in some form and the important thing to remember, is that this is what we do. We will find a way. We will collaborate, we will innovate. And yes, despite all the challenges listed, like many of you I still look forward to meeting face to face.

At Conference Care, we’ve built up a wide-ranging file of what the global hotel brands and independent venues are doing to make their venues safe. Typically, the plans go into pages and pages of detail. These venues want to see meetings held again and are pulling out all the stops to do so. Seeing these plans gives me confidence to attend an event as a delegate. What we need now is for that wider confidence to spread throughout our industry.

We know that if you’re event planner or a venue, your role just got a lot more difficult, but not impossible. If you’re a delegate, there are lots of considerations to think about. If you’re an events agency, this is when we prove how we truly add value.

Most importantly, we must all collaborate to protect an industry worth £70billion a year to the UK economy, and we must find a way to re-ignite our passion for live events.