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Conferencing post-COVID-19

How will the new normal affect conference centres in residential estates?

By Tessa Buhrmann

, |

Conferencing post-COVID-19

How will the new normal affect conference centres in residential estates?

By Tessa Buhrmann

, |

Whether you have a fully kitted out home office or are just working from a cleared section on the kitchen counter, you’re likely to have had numerous virtual meetings by Skype, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting or Zoom. And by now you’re probably sick of the virtual thing and longing for some human-to-human face time. But regardless of what we want or need, the normal we once knew is no more, and a new normal awaits.

The new normal

As an estate manager, this is likely to change the way you operate, be it your management meetings, group meetings or – if you have a dedicated conference venue – how (or whether) you will continue to rent it out for events, launches and meetings. Going forward, technology will be key, as will a continued focus on sanitation, hygiene and physical distancing – words we have become somewhat familiar with.

Use of technology

Lorin Bowen, from Lorin Bowen Business Events, and the Gauteng Chapter Leader for SAACI (Southern African Association for the Conference Industry), says: ‘COVID-19 has changed everything and suddenly we are being forced into the world of virtual. I think that this has given us the idea and guts that it can be done, and so, looking post-lockdown and COVID-19, I believe that virtual will continue.’

So, if virtual is to continue, what can you as an estate manager do to ensure that you are up to speed (literally)?

  • High-speed and stable internet is a given, and if you don’t have it yet it should be top of the list.
  • Appropriate hardware, such as laptop computer, microphone, speakers, camera, etc. – remember that the better the equipment is, the better the online experience will be.
  • Software of choice – there are a variety of conferencing tools available, some free and others paid/licensed services. Choose something that is both efficient and user-friendly.

Once all the technology is in place, be sure to familiarise yourself with how everything works, and allow time before the start of an event or meeting to make sure everything is functioning correctly.

‘The big challenge for organisers, venues and other business event suppliers is to work out how to do virtual well, because – although the technology is there – if it isn’t executed properly it could be an epic failure with costly consequences,’ says Lorin.

Health requirements

It will be critical in a post-COVID-19 world to protect the health of conference delegates and presenters. This will require that you closely follow the advice and recommendations of governmental health authorities and institutional health officers.

The Heritage Environmental Management Company has developed a standard for the hospitality and meetings and events industry called COVID-Smart, which deals with issues of hygiene and sanitation, and offers practical best-practice advice for the control and management of bacterial and viral outbreaks in general.

Hardly surprisingly, this advice includes:

  • regular sanitising of all surfaces, water jugs, glasses, etc.
  • availability of disposable face masks and hand sanitiser for guests
  • ensuring that personnel always wear appropriate protective equipment
  • limiting delegate numbers to 50% of the venue capacity to ensure appropriate social distancing.

‘While travel and tourism will take some time to recover, the meetings and conference sectors could be revived in the short term as commerce gets back to business. But the emphasis by delegates and participants will now become focused on health and safety, and industry must be seen to be making real efforts to minimise transmission of this virus, and other pathogens, and address consumer fears,’ comments Greg McManus, Managing Director, The Heritage Environmental Management Company.

Boxes ticked, now what?

I’m sure we will all agree with Lorin when she says that ‘nothing can take away from the physical interaction of attending a client or team meeting where we are able to read body language, and it certainly is easier to bounce ideas off each other when you are sitting in one room. Nothing beats meeting up with colleagues from around the country or even the world …’

It’s all very well having this technology at your disposal in a marvellously sanitised space … but it’s the people that make the difference. So, what can you offer to get them into your venue in this post-COVID-19 scenario?

  • Have national virtual events and/or meetings by partnering with venues in other provinces. This way travel is limited to within regions, and delegate numbers are reduced but, by using technology, you can still host a national (or even international) event. And (at least the local) delegates can gather and chat around coffee during the breaks.
  • Offer your facilities to smaller businesses and industries in your neighbourhood that are unlikely to have their own facilities – start by chatting to the business owners in your estate.
  • Coworking spaces are the rave globally – consider this as a new use for your conference space. With more of your home owners likely to be working from home, they may appreciate a workspace away from the hustle and bustle of family life. It also offers a space for like-minded people to share ideas and inspiration.

With a little out-of-the-box thinking and some additional resources, your estate conference venue can fit into the ‘new normal’ with admirable flair.

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