The post-pandemic future: Embracing the new-world sense of community and connection. (To boldly go where no one has gone before!)

As a child of the sixties (just) and an unapologetic Star Trek fan I couldn’t resist the sub title and think it’s very relevant to the current situation. As lockdown starts to ease, our thoughts areon a return to a new normality; something that will feel familiar, and yet strangely unknown at the same time as it comes with a new set of rules around ways of interacting. We, like many businesses, are looking at ways we can safely have our teams working together under one roof. We also host a live event series across the UK for DSA professionals, in the form of ‘The CPD Revolution’ event series, for which we have also had to think about how these events can safely take place in a post-pandemic world.

What is the post-pandemic world though and what does that look like? What does ‘low-touch society’ mean? Is there a start point… or even an end point? And what will people’s personal response be to a world that is trying to reconnect people physically? These are just a few of the many questions, which I’m sure everyone is considering daily. Many business people’s thoughts are “well the world hasn’t changed while we’ve been hibernating” on which, my view is “but we have!”, and we as business leaders have a duty to help re-shape the world to respond accordingly.

Looking ahead into an undefined future can easily feel overwhelming and unattainable, which is also easy to see how people’s mental health has been so affected by the pandemic.

But there are also some great positives that can be taken from this strange period of limbo; the main one being this new sense of community we have managed to create and we should hold on to, even post-pandemic.

Creating a new sense of community

You may not realise it but you have probably joined lots of new communities during lockdown, not to mention the global sense of community we now have in seeing out the pandemic. 

Lockdown has allowed people to reclaim time to learn new instruments, languages and take up new hobbies. Many people have also developed their work-based knowledge and furloughed employees have been encouraged to undertake continued professional development (CPD). Families and friends have spent more time talking, especially with loved ones they wouldn’t normally see, as the weekly Zoom call has become the norm. Lockdown has even convinced my Dad that there is a use for the Amazon Echo which had sat collecting dust since Christmas 2018!

Through digital connections we are able to continue to learn and feel part of something bigger than just our ourselves. There are local choirs, pub quizzes and even virtual cheese and wine tasting clubs you can all join online! This opportunity for digital experiences is not only great for the future economy but more importantly, also opens up doors for us all to explore our own mental wellbeing.

For our business, by the time Coronavirus hit, we had booked a sold-out CPD event series across eight UK-wide locations and the challenge of lockdown came into play just nine days ahead of our first scheduled event. We didn’t want this community that depended on us, that we had worked hard to nurture, to then suddenly disappear or feel abandoned at such a crucial time. We felt we had no choice; we had to innovate. With everyone still wanting to learn and stay connected we knew there was still a need for The CPD Revolution events to take place, especially with mental wellness being a key component of the event, but what should they look like?

How do you run a live CPD event during lockdown?

The simple answer is… you don’t. Just like the 2020 Olympics, Wimbledon and Glastonbury, for the safety of all involved, our CPD Revolution live events would have to be postponed…twice as it happens.

Rather than draw a line under it, we immediately started thinking of innovative ways we could maintain our CPD Revolution community and the most obvious option was to deliver it online. Internally, our staff were already staying connected remotely with daily stand-ups on video calls. However, there were also new ‘pandemic world’ challenges we would face in presenting an external event online. This would no longer be the ‘hands-on’ experience we had marketed – how could we still create the sense of interaction, connection, and socialising people experienced at our live events? Would people even want to attend now?

We started with clear communication, sharing honest updates on email and social media, keeping our community informed. We were aware that many people who would like to attend may now be juggling other commitments such as caring for ill family members or home-schooling young children. We therefore made it easier to attend by splitting the day into two halves. This allowed people to choose to attend as much, or as little, of the event that time permitted.

It wasn’t just a case of moving all the offline content online. The topics covered would have to differ slightly to reflect the world we were now living in. DSA assessments and AT training were now moving to a remote setting, something that many assessors, trainers and students have rarely experienced before. We made this the main focus and ensured all the partner-delivered content related back to the main theme of assessing, training, working and learning remotely.

We were also acutely aware that people were now, more than ever, becoming concerned about their (and their loved ones’) mental health. We worked with our keynote to create a headline address for the conference that would give attendees motivation and resources to support their mental health and wellbeing during lockdown.

To encourage people to interact and feel engaged, even while attending remotely, we would pose questions, using live polls and the chat feed. This really gave a sense of being part of the event, even when you may be sat in a flat, 300 miles away, living completely alone.

Furthermore, to help attendees feel valued and connected, we also ended the final session of each day with 15 minutes where attendees could use the platform to simply network and talk to each other. 

Overall, there was a 27% increase in the amount of people that attended compared to the amount signed up to our live events – and one event even sold out (the platform wouldn’t allow for more sign ups!) This told us that not only had we managed to maintain our events community, but we had also grown it during what has been an incredibly difficult time for all.

What will the future hold?

I think it is safe to say that no one is quite sure what the answer to this is and actually I quite like the challenges that brings (on most days of the week). I doubt anyone a year ago would have predicted what 2020 would hold and probably just as well, but the truth is, we have all found out how resilient and resourceful we really are. There is no denying that this year has seen us all adapt in our personal and work lives whether it be working remotely whilst home schooling, queuing to enter the supermarket or seeing loved ones online rather than in person. The majority of these changes will eventually become a distant memory, but some are here to stay, and we can and MUST embrace that. I, like many of you, have used this time to attend webinar after webinar for my own personal development, not all great but always useful to see what others do. One quote that was mentioned on one of the early webinars I attended stuck with me throughout lockdown and will remain in my thoughts well beyond… ”Be the change you wish to see” – Mahatma Gandhi. We must ensure we find a way to use this crisis as a real catalyst for change and re-invention in both our personal and professional lives. Let’s keep the good things we have learned during lockdown and use our experiences to ensure we continue to make changes for good and don’t just slip back to “the norm”!

I believe the complement of in-person and digital connections in our working, learning, training and personal lives will continue on. Our business evolution into an online programme of CPD has grown an even stronger sense of community, on a platform that was not even part of our plan six months ago but is certainly now here to stay. 

We look forward to holding our live CPD events, but only when it is safe to do so. Our aim is to retain the user experience of previous CPD live events as much as possible, as well as incorporating the new rules of social distancing. We will also use this as an opportunity to think ‘outside the box’ (yes, I hate that phrase too but it works well here) and come up with new additions that we previously just wouldn’t have thought of. There are going to be many issues to take into account, some of which we have never considered before when facilitating a live event. Precautions we are already implementing include all venues having clearly marked walk-ways, replacing a buffet style lunch with pre-plated food and spacing all seating. So that attendees know what to expect, we will communicate the new health and safety measures prior to the event. And just as we adapted earlier in the year, I am confident we can adapt once again to produce effective, safe, live events.

Like any other business it’s important to use the changing times to innovate, whilst ensuring staff, customers and stakeholders all stay connected and feel valued. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is to cherish the new sense of community and connection we now have. Whilst there has been extreme isolation and fracturing of communities in our society, there has also been an abundance of inspiring stories and new opportunities, and I hope we can cling to those as we move into the undetermined future.

With dates commencing November 2020, sign up to the live CPD events for DSA professionals here: www.cpdrevolution.com.