Returning to face-to-face meetings after two years of canceled conferences and way too many Zoom calls? Getting back to normal, or at least moving ahead with the new normal, may be a relief, but the world of meetings and events is far from business as usual. Here are a few ways to cope with re-entry.
1. Double check current travel options
Getting to events has often been a challenge, but the travel experience in 2022 is likely much different than what you’re accustomed to. Airlines have made significant changes in schedules, so the nonstops you favor may not exist anymore, and many routes have been sharply reduced or abandoned. Some airlines are even using buses rather than planes to serve smaller airports. American Airlines, for example, is using The Landline Company to link its Philadelphia hub with Lehigh Valley Airport (ABE) and Atlantic City International (ACY).
2. Book as soon as possible
Hotel rates and airfares have jumped, not just because of a surge in demand from business and leisure travelers but because of skyrocketing labor and fuel costs. Book well ahead of your event, and consider using discount carriers or, when possible, rail or even express bus options. Be aware that your event may take place at a 3-star hotel rather than a 4- or 5-star property, so the amenities you’ve become accustomed to may not be available.
3. Plan for extra travel time
Planes are flying at or near capacity, so factor in the extra time needed to board, disembark and collect your luggage at the carousel. Busier airports also mean longer lines at check-in and security, crowded gate areas, and congestion at the taxi/carshare stands.
4. Check up-to-date hotel services
Hotels are facing unprecedented staff shortages. That affects everything from the availability of courtesy shuttle service to and from the airport to restaurants, lounges, and room service. If you’re arriving at your hotel in the evening, you may have to go outside the hotel to get something to eat. If you use a meal delivery service, the hotel may require that you meet the delivery person in the lobby.
5. Prepare for limited room cleaning
Many hotels have dropped daily maid service as a standard practice. Some still will make up a room or exchange used with fresh towels on request. But when hotels switch to only cleaning rooms at checkout, your room may not be ready when you want to check-in, especially after a large group has just departed. And if your room isn’t cleaned every day and you’ve been eating in your room, any trash and leftover food won’t be whisked away, either. Some hotels are placing rodent-proof receptacles on every floor to handle the extra trash.
6. Expect more outdoor activities
Many event planners are organizing outdoor functions more often than before, which allows for social distancing but introduces the chance for unexpected discomfort. Bring sunglasses and a hat; carrying sunscreen and insect repellant is also advisable in case the planner hasn’t thought to provide them.
7. Challenge yourself to be social
You may find your social skills a little rusty after limited in-person interaction. Even making small talk may feel awkward or strange. Have a few innocuous icebreaker lines at the ready. Fight the inclination to focus on your phone during breaks or meals, and make an effort to socialize, even if it’s as simple as initiating a conversation with the person next to you.
8. Explore remote or hybrid options
If you’re at an event where masks aren’t mandated, social distancing isn’t possible (or practiced), and you’re uncomfortable, you may have the option of watching an event remotely. Many meeting and event planners are organizing lounges for live-streaming, where fewer people sit farther apart than they would in a conference room or auditorium. You may also consider watching a live stream on a laptop or tablet in your hotel room.
9. Go easy on yourself
Ease gently. Your attention span may have been affected by two years of Zoom or conference calls, and the intensity of a long day of sessions may feel overwhelming. Take frequent breaks, and give yourself time to adjust, not just to the content but to being around lots of people. Diving back into social situations after two years of relative isolation can provoke anxiety, even among extroverts.
10. Read event communications
Read all the communications the event planner has sent. Ideally, there will be clear definitions for suggested dress. Business casual or “business smart” means different things to different people, especially if you’re going somewhere where you’re not familiar with the culture. Communications also will almost certainly include something about health and safety — policies on mask-wearing, whether pre-event Covid testing is mandatory, whether the planner has arranged for on-site testing, and other safety measures, like ultraviolet (UV) light devices, which sanitize a person, their clothing and their belongings before heading into a meeting room.