Even during the most uncertain of circumstances, positive outcomes can be derived. In the meetings industry, this has presented itself in the form of virtual meetings. As we look beyond this new reality, some new facets of our professional lives will have cemented their place in our workplace. Will telework be among them?
The outlook of event meetings and conferences is being altered for the duration of 2020 and possibly beyond. With many in the meetings industry having catered to the virtual attendee, coordinators are already familiar with the nuances of hosting online meetings and events. Budget restrictions and full schedules hadn’t always enabled attendance, so many meetings professionals adapted by hosting hybrid events, where virtual participants reaped the rewards by attending from afar. For meetings professionals, virtual events are more of a pivot than an outright disruption to business.
Sustaining Current Operations
Ensuring viability is dependent upon the application of effective technology. Fortunately, teleconferencing software has continued to prove reliable, multi-functional, and plentiful. While many companies rely on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, a plethora of capable options exist beyond these. Google Meet, Cisco Webex, GoToWebinar, and OnlineEvent are hailed among some of the most widely-used meeting platforms with corporate endorsement. These are operating well and business perseveres.
Optimizing Virtual Meetings
While the rings, pings, and vibrations of devices can pose distractions for on-site conferences, the competition to retain the virtual attendee's attention is even more fierce. Fortunately, advancing technologies permit presenters to incorporate more avenues for participant engagement. Virtual audience polling, quizzes, and even happy hours can be incorporated into meetings. Best Practices
Being equipped with the proper technology is an essential start. But when planning an agenda for a virtual audience, the following considerations are equally imperative:
Virtual moderators are beneficial meeting multitaskers, assisting with introductions, engagement, and time-management.
Establish and communicate an agenda with clear objectives and deliberate goals for each session. Providing a schedule ahead of time allows virtual attendees to properly arrange their professional and personal schedules.
Preempt technical snags with IT-assistance for unstable internet connections, faulty audio and video feeds, or issues in need of immediate addressing.
Ensure attendees are familiar with the available tools and features, to include entering a conversation, muting and unmuting, and the rules for participating in Q&A sessions.
When scheduling sessions, be mindful of attendee locations. Consider including meeting transcripts and media playback options, which allows the freedom to read and/or watch content when a particular time is inconvenient for virtual attendance.
Schedule breaks for meals, personal needs, and general screen fatigue.
There’s always room for improvement, so follow up with participant surveys to ensure an effective and impactful experience.
Advice for the Virtual Attendee
While conducting meetings from home often lends itself to a casual atmosphere, professionalism still remains prominent. Corporate dress code hasn’t experienced a vast shift—at least, from the waist-up. Walmart's Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Dan Bartlett, notes an uptick in sales for both women and men's tops.
But don’t neglect your bottom half. The embarrassing gaffes of several professionals have found themselves subject to news stories and memes. This includes ABC correspondent, Will Reeve. His lesson in humility was due to a misaligned camera, revealing a portion of his bare, pant-less legs.
Screenshot courtesy of CNN.com.
It is also vital to familiarize yourself with the technology being used. Seeking comic relief, a supervisor applied a filter in Microsoft Teams that turned her into a potato. However, she was unable to disable the setting and much to the amusement of her colleagues, had to conduct the meeting disguised as a spud.
Screenshot courtesy of Time.com.
Silver Linings Worthy of Acknowledgement
The Environmental Protection Agency cites transportation as the greatest source of greenhouse emissions in the US. However, a home-based workforce has resulted in a significant plunge in our global carbon footprint, with major cities, like Rome and Madrid, reporting nearly 50% reductions in nitrogen dioxide.
In 2019, 4.3 million Americans averaged a roundtrip commute of 90 minutes, with New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, topping the list. According to President of Global Workplace Analytics, Kate Lister, “American workers are currently reclaiming almost 230,000 commuter hours each week,” thanks to remote working technologies. Lister believes this shift will stretch into the future. "Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021." Financial Implications
Chief Financial Officers across a myriad of industries have noted the fiscal value of remote workers. Zillow and Facebook have approved policies allowing employees to work remotely through the end of 2020, while Amazon and Microsoft have extended through October (with the possibility of pushing that date further). Nationwide offices in Gainesville (FL), Harleysville (PA), Raleigh (NC), Wausau (WI) are transitioning all staff to work remotely. Whether loosened restrictions on remote work or entire workforce conversions, additional corporations will likely follow suit. Employee Loyalty and Productivity
Approval to work remotely allows employees to remain safe in their own homes with their families nearby. And that gratitude may be reflected in their performance. Bloomberg reports employees working three hours more per day.
A New Landscape for Virtual Meetings
Although the virtual workforce is not ideal for the conference industry—and certainly no replacement for in-person interaction—the shift hasn't been as restrictive as many anticipated. When equipped with the right tools, engaging audiences with innovation, and exercising flexibility to our current situation, the meetings industry can not only succeed but thrive.