EN editor Saul Leese caught up with Kerrie Kemp, regional operations director, Informa, to share ideas on how to deliver operations remotely.
Your events have been postponed, and you’re facing an unknown amount of time in lockdown, working from home whilst simultaneously trying to juggle all your other personal commitments. Today it’s the Covid-19 pandemic, tomorrow it could be something completely different.
Disruptive scenarios aren’t new for those of us in the events and exhibitions industry. Whether it’s extreme weather conditions, disrupted transport or a public health crisis, it’s the unexpected that pushes us operationally towards innovation.
There is nothing like a crisis to test our professional and personal limits and bring out our sense of community spirit. More often than not, we come out of the other side with fresh resolve, a replenished bank of knowledge and expertise, and a renewed vigour for doing things more efficiently than we have before.
It’s important that we focus our energy on positive, productive tasks that we can control and influence rather than on those we cannot, so that when the time comes to resume, we are as prepared as we can be to pick up where we left off.
Below, I share four key areas which my operations team and I are focusing on right now in order to make sure we’re post-pandemic ready.
In this current environment, recognising that things are different at present, and creating a new routine and structure, has proven invaluable. Everything from your commute, exercise regime, children’s schooling and how you buy groceries has changed, and planning your working day with all of these considerations is vital, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for disappointment each time you don’t achieve what you needed to.
I have found that scheduling 30 minutes focus time at the start of each day (thank you Microsoft Insights!) to plan my top three priorities for the day / week / project has helped me to cut out the white noise that often comes from my inbox, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams etc., and ensures I achieve what I need to. I also put the item I want to do the least first, a great mind trick I have found effective to ensure that I don’t keep putting that H&S regulatory review to the bottom of the pile.
Striking the right balance of regular communication to maintain a connection without getting ‘Zoom-ed out’ is also important. In lieu of face to face contact, holding weekly huddles where everyone from an office/team/ project group dials in with their camera on (yes you can wear a work blouse/shirt with jogging bottoms!) and shares their priorities for the coming week, allows people to feel connected. It also gives each team member a sense of ownership around what they are working on and provides a vital space to share knowledge and experience amongst peers.
We have tried to maintain where possible the same communication techniques with our venues, contractors and freelancers, replacing (rather than cancelling) all previously scheduled event planning meetings, quarterly review meetings, external working groups and such with virtual meetings. This has allowed us to continue to stay engaged with our industry colleagues and peers during this time, understand their current challenges and provide support where needed.
It’s been great to see people in their own homes with the occasional guest appearances from children, partners, pets and the odd delivery driver! It really drives home that we are all fundamentally in the same boat: we’re not going through this alone.
I think we’d all pay good money for a crystal ball right now to know when we are going to be onsite next! I think it’s essential to start scheduling now what your resumption could look like operationally, and to continue to review and realign that plan over the coming month.
Consider the following points:
Resource Allocations: are your freelancers or preferred contractors going to be available when you need them?
Event Project Plans: with much of the industry likely to be operating on a condensed timeframe, diarising deadlines with event teams and contractors now to ensure availability later is essential.
Process Review and Refinement: how many times have you wanted to address your signage process? Now’s the time! Discussing new ways to work as a team and creating supporting documents will be invaluable in months to come.
Review Your Exhibitor Manual: which forms/processes do you really ‘need’, and which can you remove to help your customers navigate easily through the complex task of arranging their participation at an event?
Working Groups: how your team share knowledge, experience and best practice can be what sets them/you apart. Divide your team into groups, give each group a focus and encourage them to work together to find new solutions and ways of working.
Resumption Measures: no one knows what these are going to be for certain, so try to prepare for all eventualities. Start brainstorming thoughts and ideas now to give you a head start in the future, and make sure to include your external contacts, too. Different perspectives from different disciplines both within and outside of the exhibitions industry will give you a lot to consider and bring to the table at your next event meeting.
Personal Development and Wellbeing
Whilst undoubtedly there are some days where even getting showered, dressed and logged on can feel like an accomplishment, it’s important to seize the days when the opposite is true. For many of us, the time gained from a lack of commuting means that we have more time to consider our longer-term goals and development needs.
Many companies have risen to the challenge with free online content and webinars. Ones I am personally using are ‘Ops in Lockdown’ (www.opsshaper. co.uk), The Healthy Work Company www.healthy-work.com and, although not free, a fantastic benefit at Informa Markets is having access to LinkedIn Learning www.linkedin.com/learning.
From an operations perspective, I’d recommend focusing on courses on resilience building, major incident training, crowd management techniques, change management leadership, mental health, stress management techniques and project management principles.
Finally, consider adding some more social elements to your diaries to help with personal and colleague wellbeing. Here at Informa Markets, we have book clubs, mentor/buddy programmes, virtual water cooler/beer trolley huddles, town halls, newsletters, and virtual exercise classes to keep us all motivated.
I hope this has been a useful insight into my approach to operations during a pandemic. I for one can’t wait to dust off my safety boots and hi vis and get back onsite. After all, we’re operations professionals – what’s your superpower?