By Ryan Hamilton
You glance at the clock in the top right-hand corner of your computer screen. It reads 1:27 PM, and you realize that, once again, your post-lunch work is about to be interrupted by another meeting. Of course, not a physical meeting. Rather, another Zoom call to add to the frequent barrage of virtual meet-ups that have consumed much of your days since the pandemic struck.
While you relish the lack of a commute and the flexibility associated with working from home, you can’t help but acknowledge that the influx of emails, Slack notifications, Zoom calls, and meeting invites has paved the way to fragmented workflow over the last few months. Perhaps more than anything, you’ve come to miss the in-person strategy sessions with colleagues which, oftentimes, laid the framework for some of the company’s most innovative ideas. The rapport you share with your team is still discernible across digital mediums, but it’s not quite the same. Sometimes, you simply wish the initial “Can you hear me?” and “I think you’re on mute” protocol of a Zoom or Google Meet call could, once again, be replaced with an in-person, collaborative exchange. Sometimes, you wonder if you’ll ever get the hang of workdays defined by video meetings, digital chats, and after-hour emails.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s all bad news. For countless businesses and industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the way we conduct business. This is, after all, the ‘next normal’ and, in some cases, the changes that have been ushered in represent a long-awaited improvement to standard processes and technological readiness. In the coming year, companies may finally realize the opportunity to shift away from the confines of corporate real-estate and adopt a more hybrid model in the long-term, one which leverages both remote and in-office work. Flexibility and adaptability will become the norm, and employees across industry verticals will receive a crash-course in modern technology and communication platform best practices. And surely, the time gained in the absence of a long, traffic-jammed commute to a city office is a welcome change from the traditional model.
However, as we look to the future, we must ask ourselves: what will meetings look like in a post-pandemic world? Is going all-in on virtual solutions and communication processes the answer? Or, alternatively, can companies strike a balance between both online and offline protocol, to once again tap into the power of in-person strategy sessions?
The answer is a resounding yes, and hotels will play a pivotal role in helping companies to safely leverage small meeting space for precisely this purpose.
Meetings Still Matter: Here’s Why
The post-pandemic world invites the opportunity for exploration into a hybrid model, encouraging companies to consider what works and what doesn’t, to strike a productive (and safe) working balance for their company culture.
Studies show that, of the 34% of workers who are currently estimated to be working from home, many will not go back. Moreover, 74% of organizations plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently, and it’s estimated that when the pandemic is over, 30% of the entire workforce will work from home at least a couple times a week. Studies show that in-person meetings generate about 13.36 ideas versus a virtual meeting, which generates 10.43, and 85% of people believe face-to-face meetings contribute to stronger, more meaningful business relationships.
A recent op-ed helped to examine the potential set-backs associated with a reliance on virtual meetings and communication tools, noting that these tools can result in a ‘surfeit of information’. The article noted that, on average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite. Understandably, keeping up with these conversations can seem like a full-time job. Over time, a tool that was meant to streamline workflows, might in fact, make it harder for employees to get work done.
Research reveals that face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those sent by email, and that a physical handshake promotes cooperation and influences negotiation outcomes for the better. Not only that, but 8 in 10 executives prefer in-person meetings to virtual contact.
The take-away is rather apparent. While these digital communication tools will play an undeniably integral role in the day-to-day operations of businesses, they are not a complete, one-size-fits-all solution. Moving forward, companies will still require in-person, small meeting sessions to inspire meaningful collaboration across teams and, more importantly, help to mitigate internal processes that negate productivity.
The Role of Hotels in a Post-Pandemic Meeting Landscape
Fortunately, venues and hotels are positioned to play a key role in the recovery of the events industry and the resurgence of offline company meetings. Although large-scale conferences and events will, most likely, remain off the table for the rest of the year, small meetings demand an environment that hoteliers can control and safely maintain for attendees. Corporate meeting and event planners can rest easy knowing that the hotel of their choice has a team (and newly heightened safety protocols) dedicated to curating a risk-free meeting space for attendees.
Already, hotels have begun extensive preparations for the return of most guests and event attendees. To ensure a safe on-property experience, The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) recently introduced ‘Safe Stay’, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols. In addition to the AHLA, the World Health Organization recently published comprehensive guidance on the “Operational considerations for COVID-19 management in the accommodation sector”, while Marriott International launched its Global Cleanliness Council.
To this effect, hotels around the globe are taking all recommended precautions to ensure their newly elevated cleaning standards and safety protocols will mitigate any guest concerns in the new landscape. Understandably, cleaning measures will act as a primary differentiator between venue spaces, and hoteliers should be equipped to field any and all COVID-19 related questions from prospective planners. These precautions include, but are not limited to the use of a designated ‘Cleanliness Manager’ (or team), extensive sanitization procedures, touchless technology in place of physical touch-points, physical barriers where needed, and mandated use of PPE for employees and attendees. As a preventative measure, many hotels will also employ thermal scanners, designed to screen employees and attendees for COVID-19 symptoms, and will ensure staff are trained extensively in contract tracing procedures.
Turning to Technology
While the industry faces a ‘new normal’, hoteliers are utilizing innovative technologies to keep guests safe and the business profitable. Innovation has also become incredibly important as the world moves into recovery mode.
Hotels are expected to get creative, ensuring the safety of guests, without neglecting their engagement and the desired objectives of the meetings at hand. There is now a concerted drive towards a more modern, user-friendly and interactive meetings and events bookings and management.
With more pressure and less staff, the meetings and events management at any size hotel can benefit from a next-gen cloud-based sales and catering platform. But not all systems fit the bill right now. The far more affordable, yet full-featured STS Cloud is emerging as the preferred option for all types of properties and venues. The technology replaces more expensive legacy systems designed to streamline and automate time-consuming tasks such as RFPs, bookings and room block management, contracts, BEOs, reporting, sales activities and much more. Hotel staff are freed up to focus on what matters most – driving revenue and client needs. With the right events and meetings management solution in place, hoteliers should feel empowered to plan and execute small meetings with ease, even in a post-pandemic world.
Organizations that want to survive, and eventually thrive will need to find ways to adjust to a changed world. And as history has shown us — if there is any industry up to the task of upholding newly reformed standards and adapting to the “next normal’, it’s the hospitality industry.