By Ronnie Wendt

The modern workplace appears quite different from in the past. More employees work from home, some businesses require social distancing and masks in the office, and many meetings are taking place virtually.

In this changing atmosphere, corporate planners also face new roles or feel they need to justify their positions.

“Corporate planners need to keep visible. They may not be planning meetings, but they play a crucial role in helping the company navigate engagement,” says Terri Lynn Yanke, owner of Eventful Advantage.

She points out there’s much planners can do to keep employees engaged, especially if most of the workforce works from home.

“Planners can keep people connected and information flowing,” she says.

If the entire staff works remotely, planners can identify approaches to keep employees connected. Yanke recommends helping teams establish daily conference calls or video chats and planning weekly company-wide calls. She also suggests scheduling monthly video chats that encourage connection and fun.

“Host a virtual happy hour or something that’s not work-related to keep employees connected. When you’re not working together in an office, you lose that personal relationship, which is important to productivity,” she says.

Guide the Return to In-Person

Yanke stresses that in-person meetings are essential even as the pandemic pushes on. Companies affected by the COVID-19 shutdown need strategic planning sessions to navigate these setbacks.

“Strategic planning is best done in person,” Yanke says. “Strategy meetings need that natural flow of ideas and brainstorming that only happens when people meet in person.”

Planners play a pivotal role when companies return to in-person meetings. It becomes their responsibility to establish safety protocols and rules that keep attendees safe.

When planning to meet in person, Yanke stresses planners must organize both an in-person meeting and a virtual one and be ready to switch on a dime. “Unfortunately, that’s more work for the planners, but right now you absolutely must have a contingency plan,” she says.

Planners also can elect to plan a hybrid meeting to reduce attendance numbers. Getting up to speed on technology requirements and engaging two audiences is something planners can do to ready themselves for hybrid meetings, Yanke says.

“With the hybrid meeting you have the challenge of engaging a virtual and an in- person audience. That challenge grows if you want these two audiences to interact with each other,” she says.

Planners must collaborate with venues to introduce safety measures. These steps may include sitting everyone at separate tables, boxed lunches, cleaning the meeting room midday, temperature checks before entering the meeting space and more.

Yanke adds it’s also time to sharpen negotiation skills, which helps planners land a great price from venues where business is down. She reminds planners to include a force majeure clause in every contract. “If the governor restricts meetings further, this clause lets you reschedule or get your money back,” she says. “Many people got burned during the shutdown because they did not have these clauses in their contracts.”

Remember to add in some fun, she adds. Many people fear in-person events. Provide a care kit that comes in a reusable bag with a mask that has the company’s logo on it, hand sanitizer and information about what steps are being taken to keep attendees safe. “This shows employees that the company cares about their health,” she says.

Planners also can aid in developing safety rules and communicating those rules to employees attending the meetings.

Educate employees on the health expectations for the meeting, such as stay home if you’re ill or have a temperature. Also inform attendees of what the company expects of them during the meeting to keep everyone safe.

“Tell them these are the rules we have in place to keep everyone safe,” says Yanke. “It’s important to remind employees about handwashing, social distancing and mask requirements.”

Corporate planners need not fear the pandemic pushing them out. Their position plays a more important role than ever before. It’s their job to keep people connected safely.