It’s certainly no surprise that, in the age of Covid, companies have undergone a major shift in the way they handle conferences and corporate events. For the last few years, companies have been canceling or delaying in-person events that they had planned sometimes years in advance in order to prevent spreader events.
Most businesses had turned to hybrid or virtual events to ensure engagement and attendance, but these came with their own challenges, including a high rate of no-shows. So today, even though Covid cases are again on the rise with the highly-transmissible BA.5 variant, wreaking havoc with up to 30% of those who contract Covid suffering from Long COVID symptoms, CEOs and HR are continue to plan for in-person events in the near future.
In-person events don’t need to be spreader events.Today, armed with new data, insights, technologies and protocols you can hold in-person events with considerably improved certainty that you won’t sideline your organizations team and productivity for the short, or long, term.
As Covid-19 continues to be a pressing threat to normal business functions today, how do companies decide when and how to return to in-person events? And what are some best-in-class strategies companies can use to deliver improved confidence both for leadership and for attendees that your event will not sideline a portion of your team for weeks or months with illness?
In-Person, Virtual or Hybrid?
There’s an increasing tone of optimism in corporate event planning these days. According to the Professional Convention Management Association, about 31% of companies as of February 2022 had been planning to hold in-person events in the near future, up from 24% in December 2021. Now, in August 2022, masks are no longer mandated in many regions, a segment of the population is convinced Covid-19 is no longer a serious threat, and the event business is ramping up. Whether it’s sales events, B2B conferences, or internal meetings, many event managers and companies are clearly making a push to get back to in-person events.
In-person events continue to be popular because they’re effective. Organizations gain significant advantages with in-person engagement, be it community building for the corporation, productivity gains, or the in-person mentoring and collaboration that drive innovation. And some 68% of B2B marketing professionals believe that live events are one of the most effective ways of generating leads. What’s more, live attendees are more likely to pay attention: less than two-thirds of online attendees stay with any session for more than 20 minutes, and the no-show rate is higher for virtual than for in-person events. Essentially, corporate America is starved for community and collaboration.
There are, of course, many good reasons companies might choose virtual or hybrid events over live events. The main one is safety during Covid. Indoor gatherings are still the riskiest setting for spreading Covid. Indoor gatherings that bring attendees from across the county or globe increase the risk even further.
Cost is another factor. Paying for a live venue when you don’t know how many people will attend is financially risky. And canceling live events, often planned years in advance, can involve high fees. On the other hand, creating an infrastructure for virtual or hybrid events can incur its own significant costs.
Ultimately, salespeople and event planners alike recognize that, although virtual and hybrid events have certainly shown their worth over the past few years, there’s really nothing that beats the engagement power of a live event. All that’s left is to ensure best-in-class safety so you don’t end up making things worse, for your employees and brand, instead of better.
While cancellations due to Covid were considered nearly inevitable early on in the pandemic, venues have become somewhat less forgiving now that Covid is becoming a fact of life, so re-negotiation tends to be a better option than cancellation. Venues, of course, have also been affected by the pandemic, and they’ll likely be willing to collaborate on finding a solution that appeals to both parties.
Instead of canceling, you can renegotiate attendance expectations, which means you won’t be required to pay as much and the venue doesn’t have to worry about staffing. Another option instead of cancellation is simply postponing an event, but postponing can be risky since we don’t know the direction Covid will take in the future. On the other hand, if you do postpone, that can give you time to plan and re-negotiate without adding a lot of extra cost.
Sometimes, you can renegotiate force majeure clauses. Force majeure applies to many eventualities that might interrupt your event plans, including natural disasters or in some cases pandemics. Such clauses can help you avoid lawsuits for breaching a contract due to Covid. Force majeure can’t cover every eventuality, though, so it’s always important to have a legal expert help you negotiate contracts.
Covid testing and best-in-class safety
Always keep safety in mind when planning your event. What are the regional health regulations for your event? Do you need to require masks or limit attendance? Planning ahead of time and informing attendees about your policies will help them feel safer attending in person.
Will you require proof of vaccinations for live events? About 61% of event planners say they will. But the question “Are you “Vaccinated”, or “Fully Vaccinated”?, we’ve come to learn, is the wrong question. “When were you last vaccinated?” delivers a more meaningful answer since protection is being found to last just a few months instead of a lifetime as earlier guidance noted. Others would prefer to see a (highly accurate) negative test, since even vaccinated individuals can contract and spread Covid, especially if they haven’t received a booster in the last six months.
Those who want negative test results over proof of vaccination would generally prefer a lab-certified PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to an at-home rapid test, since PCR tests are significantly more accurate at around 90%. For client organizations who believed “traditional rapid lateral-flow antigen” testing was adequate for corporate indoor events, the FDA has effectively called foul recommending repeat or serial testing following a negative result on any at-home COVID-19 test, whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms.“ If you want any degree of certainty that people aren’t bringing the virus into the workplace, you must either administer these tests on a regular basis to ensure a higher probability of an accurate result, or you must ditch home tests in favor of more accurate options like PCR or new ultra-high accuracy microfluidics tests (M-Ag). The problem with lab-based PCR tests is they take a while to return results. As an alternative, there are also newly-developed, lab-certified rapid microfluidics tests, such as the ones provided at organizations like AllClear Healthcare, that let you get PCR-level accurate results back in minutes, making point-of-care (POC) testing much more reliable. There are also new rapid expeditionary PCR tests which have a run-time of 30-min.
Of course, you’ll need a way to keep track of who has been vaccinated within the last six months or whether attendees tested positive or negative. Monitoring software coupled with mobile testing options allow you to perform on-site testing and health screening and keep track of results.
Establishing policies and informing attendees is all well and good, but there are no absolutes in medicine, say my medical friends, and there’s always a small chance of a false negative: someone who has tested negative but in reality is carrying the virus. What do you do if someone tests positive shortly after an event or during an event? If your event is international, that person and anyone exposed to the illness won’t be able to travel. They may need to quarantine at a hotel or similar venue. It’s important to discuss this possibility with the venue ahead of time in case an extended stay is necessary. By planning ahead, you can often avoid any surprise fees.
Corporate events require thought and planning, but they’re a useful and often necessary part of networking, marketing, and promoting corporate unity. Professionals are increasingly ready to get back to face-to-face meetings, and you can now safely plan corporate events with the right testing and monitoring strategies to deliver on the productivity, innovation, growth and community indoor events promise.