The rapid shift to virtual events has revolutionized the way event planners operate in 2021, but what of the parallel shift to working from home? In many ways, remote working itself has had a marked effect on how (and how well) planning teams operate.
Event planning has long been known as a hands-on, people-centered job. Interpersonal skills are considered a must-have. How do professionals who thrive in this kind of environment fare when faced with a remote working arrangement?
As with everything else the pandemic has brought to events, the solution will invariably involve technology. Covid has motivated unprecedented progress in virtual event technology over the last year, and under the same pressure, event planning teams can expect to discover new modes of communication, collaboration, and project management using the latest technology.
We spoke with UK-based event planner Juliet Tripp, Deputy Head of Global Events for Chemical Watch, to get the inside story. From her perspective, it is the day-to-day relationships between colleagues that have been affected most. She shared some of her team’s struggles and coping strategies, while also shedding light on the question of whether event planning will be among those jobs forecast to stay remote indefinitely.
The Pros and Cons of Remote Event Planning
Although some event planning positions may be more conducive to a work-from-home setup than others, Juliet Tripp’s experience will undoubtedly speak for many. With the exception of only one colleague, her entire team of 10 people worked together in the same office prior to the pandemic. Now, all of their planning happens within a Google Workspace and through remote channels of communication.
THE CHALLENGE OF MAINTAINING OPEN COMMUNICATION
Tripp explained that working together in person made it easier to troubleshoot and exchange ideas efficiently:
“One of the advantages of working in person is the constant stream of communication it allows — just the ability to be able to pop into a colleague’s office, or even turn around to chat. It’s the little things that we can resolve in an instant when we’re together.”
While email and internal messaging systems like Slack can allow colleagues to touch base throughout the day, there is something to be said for the advantage of having physical cues to gauge a convenient time for a chat. In person, everyone can see if a coworker is in the middle of an important call or deeply focused on a pressing assignment.
In a remote office culture, there is more of a tendency to delay addressing small issues for a scheduled meeting time (and consequently an additional need for these meetings, which often involve multiple people who have to listen to requests and inquiries that have little to do with them). According to Tripp, this method of communication can become somewhat of a bottleneck.
THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD OF A FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE
This reliance on set meeting times is in some ways symptomatic of a larger scheduling shift. Whereas physical office hours demanded a set 9-to-5 routine for everyone, the work-from-home system can accommodate individual scheduling needs.
Tripp’s workplace is no exception to this rule. As an early riser, Tripp has begun starting her day earlier than many others, while another colleague arranges her schedule to accommodate home-schooling for her children.
From Tripp’s perspective, this shift in workplace culture is a natural fit for the deadline-oriented focus of event planning:
“[Event planners] have never had typical hours. Sometimes we have to do 20-hour shifts. In general our work is project based. If we can do the work well while meeting deadlines, the job doesn’t need to be confined to a 9-to-5 standard.”
On the other hand, this dynamic can make it harder to set clear boundaries between work and homelife. For Tripp, the sense of being among the fortunate few to have retained full-time work during the pandemic only adds further pressure to make herself available at all hours.
Moreover, the increase in meetings can impede more focused work that needs to be done, making it take longer. While some, like Tripp, have resorted to dedicating time outside the 9 to 5 to the nuts and bolts of event planning, she mentioned that a local law firm is trying out a novel approach. They’ve introduced the concept of “Wellness Wednesdays,” a mid-week break from distractions during which all internal calls are put on hold.
An Increased Reliance on Tech and External Support
Major disruptions inevitably require innovative solutions. Just as the pandemic forced years’ worth of progress on virtual event technology into a matter of months, the new work-from-home model demands much greater reliance on digital communication and project management tools — and a whole new set of workplace norms.
There are many types of technology designed to facilitate efficient communication between coworkers — Slack being among the most prominent. Paid project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Basecamp are often used in combination with free collaboration tools like Google Workspace (Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms). Particular configurations and technology stacks will largely depend on the team dynamic and workflow structure, and these tools may initially be a hard sell for a professional class that tends to thrive in a social setting.
However, being relegated to dispersed home offices will force many planners onto the bandwagon, which could create a strong incentive for event technology platforms to begin to fill some of the gaps. Event management systems could become a valuable source of standardization within the industry once the developmental pipelines of event tech providers are no longer clogged with virtual event features.
Project-management software and messaging systems could help to open the lines of communication and generate greater transparency around workflows, but these systems also require an adjustment period. Colleagues need to establish protocols for tracking their individual progress on projects, as well as best practices for when and how to message coworkers.
Further, it’s not only event planners who have needed to modify their technology suites for remote working. Destinations, venues, and other suppliers and service providers have had to meet them halfway as event planning teams lean into these partnerships for support. For example, to accommodate event planners unable to see new venues in person, many venues and DMCs have created virtual tours and site visits.
It is not just the live event experience that has been turned on its head. The work that goes into planning a successful event has also been thoroughly transformed.
Lines of communication and scheduling protocols have all shifted course in record time. While event professionals are used to thinking on their feet and developing air-tight plans, many are accustomed to a face-to-face environment. Their logistical strengths will undoubtedly pull them through these challenges, but it remains to be seen whether the work-from-home model will continue to dominate once it’s no longer a necessity.