Sep 23, 2021 | Fiona Nevin

Are in-person events worth the effort?

For me, the pandemic has provided a renewed appreciation of social contact and large gatherings. With a hiatus of at least 18 months since most of us were last at events ‘in real life’ , I didn’t realise how much I’d missed the experience of getting ready, travelling somewhere other than my spare bedroom and actually sharing a few hours with other humans.

That said, the experience now is somewhat different to ‘before’. Although things have started to open up, we continue to find ourselves in a somewhat alien (or at least different) business world adapting to constant change and having to learn as we go. I remember the days of playing fast and loose with events, with last-minute considerations like “I wonder if I’ve double booked for that networking lunch”, picking and choosing the best platforms for that week’s needs, changing plans at a moment’s notice because something else had come up. Oh, how I laugh now to think that such a carefree approach ever existed.

As I made arrangements to attend my first ‘in person’ event in Coventry last week, I found myself planning as though it were a military operation and not a Built Environment Conference where sales deals might be brokered if the absence of a handshake could be accepted and overcome. I stepped rather tenderly into our new world, contemplating questions like “is this safe?”, “realistically, what might the turnout be and is it worth the risk/effort?” and “would I like to wear a green pass which would be seen as an invitation to chat, or red to indicate stay away!” As it turned out, the extra planning was well worth it. We expand our learning through connection with others and until I experienced that again, I didn’t realise how starved I’d actually been.

It was just brilliant to meet old work friends and make new connections. I have missed the incidental snippets of (usually pure gold) information that you just can’t get from a video call with a group of people. I’ve missed too, knowing what hot industry topics are being discussed most fervently amongst colleagues.

Aside from the physical precautions now in place, another shared feature of the events I have attended post-pandemic is that they are variations on a theme. That theme is around encouraging us to becoming more responsible by looking after ourselves and our planet. In the construction space where I spend most of my time, the messaging threads now all lead back to ‘building back better’ with ESG and sustainability reporting taking centre stage. That wasn’t the case even two years ago before the pandemic hit.

The effects of Covid have been life changing. The time away from ‘business as usual’ for most of us has given us space to revaluate what’s important and refocus our business and personal goals. The lines between work and personal life have blurred with the widespread introduction of home working and this has impacted our values. The sustainability agenda has accelerated faster than it might otherwise have done, but we’re still behind where we need to be. It’s no longer enough for companies to talk about Net Zero Emissions and Social Value, it’s time to show the evidence of impact.

What Covid has done is highlight the fact that life is short and we need to make our impact while we’re here, as positive as it can be. Both as individuals and at a company level, it’s made us reflect and re-evaluate what matters and I believe it will be a much-needed catalyst for positive, lasting change. It’s certainly helped me appreciate the importance and value of human, in-person contact, and I’m already looking forward to my next event with eager anticipation!

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We expand our learning through connection with others and until I experienced that again, I didn’t realise how starved I’d actually been.


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