Mike Osborne is Birmingham City University’s Events Manager and holds many years’ experience in the events industry. In this blog he shares his thoughts on the challenges of leading a virtual team and what the future might hold for the event management industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I work with a team of four at BCU and make an effort to get them together on a video call every morning essentially to check that everyone’s OK – not just with their workload but with all of the other challenges that this situation has brought with it. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different so for me, as a manager, it’s more important than ever to take this into consideration when working with the team day-to-day.”
Structure and routine
“A big part of successful event management involves planning, structure and taking care of the detail. I’m doing what I can to keep some kind of structure to how the team and individuals are operating but taking into account the uncertainties and changing situation. Personally I still like to set my alarm clock every day as if I was going in to the office because I find that keeping a regular routines helps me to stay focused. My approach is also to take one day at a time during this uncertain period because it’s difficult to plan into the medium and longer term future with any certainty.”
Adapting to a developing situation
“As the COVID-19 pandemic started to rise to prominence back in March, my team went through the initial process of working with event organisers internally and externally to cancel, postpone or reschedule events that we had booked on campus through to the summer period. We’re just in the process now of extending this as the lockdown continues. Many people contacted us pro-actively about their events so we were able to work with them quite quickly on changing their plans.”
Utilising transferable skills
“Adapting to the current circumstances has been one of the challenges facing many teams and managers. Even though we have no live events to manage, the team have been far from idle. What we have found is that the transferable skills that the BCU Events Team possess has come to the fore and I now have team members supporting a range of projects across the University. As the University considers the operational challenges of a new academic year from in September I’m keen for us to use our skills in supporting BCU open back up and welcome staff and students by utilising our expertise in areas such as room layout plans, people movement, general visitor management, communications and signage.”
Change the workflow
“One of the other things that we have done within the team is to move around our workflow for the year and bring forward some of the project work that normally gets done over the summer period which is usually our quieter time. One of our tasks for this year was to re-visit the team’s operations manual and polices so we’ve brought this piece of work forward by a couple of months. This has not only given us a focus for our activity but will put us in a stronger position when things begin to change later in the year.”
What the future holds – keeping links with the industry
“What the future holds for the events industry is a difficult one to predict and I’m sure it’s the same in many other sectors. One thing for certain is that the events industry in all its forms is going to face some challenging times. I’m keeping a watching brief with industry colleagues and monitoring developments so that when things start to change we’re in a good position to follow the lead of the key players. My gut feeling at the moment however is that this may be some way off. Even when the potential for events and gatherings returns there may still be a great deal of uncertainty about whether people will want to attend – it’s very much a ‘wait and see’ situation.”
The ‘new normal’?
“Many organisations are currently adapting to the use of different online platforms to deliver meetings, training sessions and events as there are very few alternatives. Will this become ‘the norm’ when face to face events are allowed once again. I think yes and no is the answer. Digital platforms work really well in some scenarios but I believe that there will always be a place for face-to-face engagement events. It may just be that there’s a different balance between the two and potentially new ways of the different approaches being employed together in event delivery.
“For my own team the use of digital platforms has provided an opportunity to develop a new skillset and is something that we’ll continue to embrace into the future.”
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