In normal circumstances, planning corporate events is one of the more rewarding aspects of a PA’s role, but not so in 2020/2021.
With ever-changing COVID-19-restrictions, keeping across the red tape and regulations has been no mean feat and on top of that there has been the ‘will it or won’t it go ahead’ cancellation stress.
This week, the vaccine or immunity passport has been hitting the headlines once again as one possible way back to staging live events. The Government is currently reviewing the scheme under its roadmap out of lockdown, but what would this mean for those in charge of planning events, such as PAs, within a business?
PRACTICALITIES AND MORAL DILEMMAS
Some have branded the idea ‘discriminatory’; others believe it to be ‘inevitable’ and the only safe way for the world to open-up again. The business case for vaccine passports is gaining momentum, as are the petitions against them.
Ordinarily, I would throw my full weight behind anything that would allow the events industry to open up again, letting us get back to doing what we love.
For a PA with event planning responsibilities the question of whether corporate companies should be asking staff for a vaccine passport before they can attend business events is complex. On the one hand, for the psychology of delegates, vaccine passports could provide reassurance. And I can easily see why some companies may prioritise assurance of safety over anything else. It could provide all involved the peace of mind that the event is safe.
That said, I do have some moral and logistical concerns.
In terms of large-scale events which is seems can return in the summer, it would put pressure on the security and event management team to identify anyone who doesn’t have an immunity passport. And if they are identified, what then? Communication would have to be very clear about the fact that a passport is a prerequisite for entry. And plans put in place as to how to manage a person that became difficult – less likely in the corporate world compared to a concert or sporting event, but a possibility nonetheless.
Then there is the issue of what would happen if a COVID-19-positive delegate did slip through the net. What if somebody were to contract Covid-19 at an event? Where would the blame lie? Would there be a legal implication? As the event planner, PAs would have to be extremely hot on collecting and storing personal data records for years to come, all in line with current GDPR legislation.
VACCINATION PROGRAMME DIFFERENCES
The ethics of a scheme, that segregates those who exercise their right not to be vaccinated or who are simply further down the vaccination priority list, is another difficult issue.
Depending on the date of the event, differing rates of vaccinations amongst age groups could pose a problem. For example, if as a PA, you were organising a work recognition event, ahead of the time that all UK adults have been vaccinated, would there be different rules for different age groups? Some able to mix, others segregated? What if a certain percentage have had only one dose?
Social distancing and other virus control rules would surely still have to apply across the entire event. Many events include delegates from all levels of the company – would this continue? I am sure some businesses will consider smaller, ‘less risky’ events for management which defeats any team building objectives across the company?
SUPPLIERS AND INTERNATIONAL GUESTS
For an international event, with vaccination programmes happening at differing rates, there will also be a knock-on effect. Many of the companies I work with have offices across the Globe. Do you split your team? Some allowed to attend, some not? Some attending virtually, while others enjoy the experience of a live event? Difficult decisions.
Logistics aside, the biggest question for me is whether asking a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status is an infringement on their human rights? The freedom to choose our lifestyle, including whether or not we want to be vaccinated, should surely be just that – a choice. Restricting freedoms such as whether a person can attend a work event, be it recognition and reward or training/personal development, based on their vaccination status, could be a dangerous route to a more discriminatory workplace.
SO, WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
One option is to delay events until the vaccination programme is complete. Yet for businesses that have been on pause for well over 12 months, it’s understandable why patience is running thin.
We’ve already mentioned COVID-19-control methods such as social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering all of which are straight forward to implement – most people are now accustomed to following the rules.
In the months preceding the winter lockdown, outdoor events were gaining traction, with fresh air being another way to prevent the virus from spreading. Having organised a number myself, I have to say they are no second-class option. Far from it! Being outdoors brings energy and gives a corporate event a point of difference. With summer approaching I can see outdoor corporate events being popular.
Another option is rapid or lateral flow testing. The pandemic has seen many businesses pivot and many job roles adapting to new ways of working. The thought that PAs and event planners would have been asked to oversee mass testing for a highly infectious disease at a business event might have sounded laughable just a year ago. Yet there is the potential for this to happen.
For me, this idea is easier to implement than the vaccine passport and less morally flawed. Testing would offer real time reassurance of a person’s COVID-19-status. It is open to everyone at the same time, not staggered according to age or nationality. And it gives people who are nervous to take the vaccination another option.
Overseeing this element would be about adapting testing into the flow of the event. Making sure communication is clear that a negative test is a prerequisite for attendance and ensuring that attention to detail is as high as it usually would be with the right staff in place to ensure testing is done properly.
Whichever option the Government chooses to make events as safe as possible, what this week’s proven is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Corporate events are set to return! And life as we knew it is within reach. Whatever challenges we face as professionals bringing corporate events back onto the agenda, I am more than happy to face them.