As the number of individuals receiving the Covid-19 vaccinations increases, the closer we are to gathering at member meetings, educational programs, conferences, and events. This past year of constrained in-person events and the rise of virtual activities to stay connected has shown us some changes we should retain from this experience.
We need to put the human experience first, not the maximization of profit. We need to make cleanliness, safety, and access at the forefront. Some of the simplest things have actually supported a positive experience, like making a reservation for a swim lane at the pool. You know you will get to swim and be able to complete your workout without interruption or a crowded swim lane. Even following a “defined traffic pattern” in a grocery store is safer for everyone: parents with kids, persons with disabilities, and really all of us distracted while shopping.
Stores have never been cleaner since every touched surface is being wiped down between customers. I have really appreciated the grocery carts being cleaned. Pre-Covid I saw my grocery store clean its shopping carts once a year in the parking lot with a power washer. I want the daily cleaning of grocery carts to continue post pandemic, please!
A number of changes made during the pandemic, like historical societal changes, benefit not just one part of the population. Curb-side service for retail and groceries should continue for the immuno-suppressed, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and busy parents. It is convenient for the customer, and the store continues to be able to serve all customers.
Businesses need to reexamine their footprint in case of another crisis. How quickly can your business adapt to reach and serve your customers in a crisis (fire, health, weather, floods, etc.)? What is the amount of square footage needed by your business to be profitable? How can you diversify your service and products to maintain and serve your customer base? For a quality and healthy customer experience, and worker experience, should you crowd people into a small space just to make money? For example, can you spread out the restaurant seating, providing more distance between tables, thus also making it safer for the wait staff to serve customers? Customers will pay more for a pleasant, healthy, and safe place to eat. Another thing I liked about health and safety changes was food preparation workers wearing masks, ensuring the food they were preparing was safe.
Access to buildings is important for all members of society, from the parent pushing their child in a stroller, to the skier who broke their leg, to the veteran who uses a wheelchair. As society began cleaning every surface other humans touched, doors and door handles became a focal point. While some accessible doors had a “button” you could push to open the door, that button too needed cleaned. Automatic doors are better, as they open for all. The door companies should be marketing this upgrade. Let’s make the majority of doors automatic doors so no one has to touch a door knob, and employees do not have to continually clean door knobs.
Member groups who hold monthly meetings have adjusted all year with virtual meetings and classes, and can continue that outreach. As I blogged in March, the future of conferences will be a hybrid of online and onsite. Offering online participation at member and educational activities and events even when on-site expands the participation options to members, keeps members safe during bad weather, if ill, or out of town. Online participation options also allow a group to expand beyond a county, state, or region. It opens up the opportunity to bring in talented speakers from afar at less travel costs. Speakers will appreciate the online option, as many have gotten used to and like presentations from home. Conference presentations are so much more invigorating now for speakers without having to fly in a cramped airplane, spending time and money to travel to the presentation, the travel costs to the speaker and the sponsoring group, and the potential impact upon the health of the speaker. Whether speakers are virtual or on-site, they should be paid for their presentations. A virtual presentation speaking fee should not be less than an on-site speaking fee. The prep, research, time, and knowledge of the speaker are the same to create the presentation. The event planner saves money by not having to pay the travel costs of speakers who are presenting virtually.
Vendors and exhibitors at conferences have a year of income to compare the years spent at events and this past year not at events. If business was sustained and improved without traveling to a conference, and paying for staff time and travel, why would they return to the “old way?” The return on investment for vendors and exhibitors shows vendors, and event planners, the exhibitor/event planner relationship is overdue for change. Vendors are tired of being charged high exhibitor rates, and get very little return on their investment. Businesses will re-examine their conference participation, and event planners will have to adjust their pricing and add value to the exhibit fees. The technology over this past year has begun to create virtual exhibit halls and expanded connections of vendors to attendees through technology. Vendors are using technology that can be used on their own digital platforms as well as an event virtual vendor area. Event planners will have to work with exhibitors to help them protect the health and safety of their employees, the attendees, and their bottom line.
What else would lead to a healthier, safer, considerate, resilient society? I like:
- Six feet of distance between people in all lines: at the grocery store, retail store lines, airport lines, ticket lines, fast food lines, etc.
- Restrictions on the number of people permitted in buildings at one time, often posted per fire code; we need this for health safety as well.
- Six feet of distance between vendor tables and exhibits at events. And enough space in vendor areas that attendees can have a healthy space between other attendees. (Hint: small hallways will no longer suffice for exhibit tables.)
- Gym showers cleaned after each use.
- Appointments to reserve a swimming lane at the pool.
- More space between airplane seats, theatre seats (I will pay more for a ticket if I have room for my entire body to comfortably utilize a seat).
- Regular mask wearing during the typical flu season.
- Windows that open in work places, schools, and meeting spaces for fresh air.
- HVAC system filters changed/cleaned more often to reduce the re-circulation of dust, viruses, etc. throughout the building.
- Reassessing the one-way traffic flow of humans at events and in facilities for convenience and health and safety.
- Food workers wearing facial masks while cooking food.
- Sustaining curb-side service for immuno-suppressed and persons with disabilities in retail and food service.
- Workers should participate in cleaning their own work space. I do not want employers blithely “spraying disinfectants” throughout the work space, especially when no one has read the product label, and a disinfectant contains a fungicide. I do not want to inhale fungicides.
As I look to return to events, conferences, and monthly member meetings, as a participant, speaker, and exhibitor, I will be seeking some of these changes for me and for the safety and health of fellow attendees. All of us need to change how we interact with each other, with business, at events and social gatherings in order to be able to return to a social world. When we experience another pandemic we will be better prepared to protect ourselves, our families, our members, our work, and our communities.