Back in the room: what do we need to think about?

Increasingly our clients are thinking about holding events face to face – back in the real room rather than the Zoom room.

As facilitators, our risk assessments for events were usually straightforward. We have been doing a lot of thinking about how to handle the new situation arising in the UK where citizens will no longer have to abide by a full range of specific rules but are being asked to use ‘personal responsibility’ to make judgements about risk from Covid.

The question is: how do we organise events to enable individuals attending to exercise personal responsibility when different people have different ideas of what that means? It’s easy to allow people to choose to wear masks or not, but do we make provision for people who want to observe social distancing?

Our initial thinking is to suggest that as long as case numbers are high and rising, we should provide for safety based on the current regulations, but making clear that observance is voluntary. So we need to make space for people to sit in a socially distanced way, so they can choose to do so or not, just as they can choose to wear masks or not.

Our course the implications will be different for a small team meeting with half a dozen people or a public event involving a hundred participants. However it’s useful to think through the implications and options in each case.

To support that we have produced a checklist of issues to consider which is set out below.

In advance

Check venue requirements: Find out what is required for safe working in the venue and any rules, in particular if this is an external environment like a hotel meeting room.

Check individual requirements: In advance, check individual requirements and risk tolerance, facilitating sensitive discussions of particular individuals’ needs and concerns

Lateral flow test requirement: May be an option or requirement in advance of a meeting

Masks to be worn? Agree an approach – at a minimum this should be open to individual choice, but the group may agree an overall approach in advance

Advance ground rules: Participants should see and agree ground rules in relation to Covid safety in advance of the meeting so everyone knows what to expect

The meeting room

Outdoor options: At present, outdoor options should be considered wherever possible and in particular for any activities involving mixing where social distanccing is not possible

Size: Room size and seating arrangements to allow social distancing of 2 metres or agreed approach for the group

Ventilation: Ideally fresh air, failing that air con. Avoid rooms with non opening windows. Open windows and doors to allow a through draft

Access: Agree access routes and one way systems

Equipment

Flipcharts: Hand wipes, individual pens etc. should be part of the approach. Ideally only one person should use each flipchart during a meeting

Post it notes etc.: Individual packs, no sharing

Laptops, projectors: Hand wipes are useful. Again, ideally only one person should use each piece of equipment during the meeting

Online: Where possible use online options e.g survey tools on smartphones rather than too much social mixing into breakout groups

Catering

Liquid refreshments: Clarify arrangements for serving stations. Ideally make sure that there are enough service stations to allow sensible queuing with social distancing

Food: Individual portions (e.g. bento boxes) are preferable to buffet service

Ways of working

Maintain social distance: Ensure the option of 2m social distancing at all times so that those who wish to observe it are able to

Seating arrangements: Arrange tables and seating to accommodate these distances including access routes between tables

Moving around: Group mixing etc. should only be used in meetings if carefully pre-planned – ideally use outdoor space for this.

Is your face to face meeting really necessary?

Just a final thought. The Chief Medical Officer in the UK has advised people to ‘avoid unnecessary meetings’.  I always suggest people ask when considering face to face vs. virtual: What benefits are you seeking to gain from bringing people together face to face that you cannot gain from a virtual meeting? And, have you asked the people attending what they would prefer?

I appreciate that this article feels particularly time bound – who knows how long this awkward transition will last? But I hope it provides some food for thought.

I would be very interested to hear about your experiences of planing for meetings back in the room.

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