Lead the disruption or be disrupted. That is the mantra that meeting and event planners must embrace to survive in the 21st century. An unintended consequence of the pandemic is that business owners are overcoming their fears of a hybrid workplace and proving flexible work policies can work, according to Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Networking International (BNI). As such, meeting and event planners must rise to the challenge of providing more than one way for people to meet.

“It’s important to recognize that flexibility doesn’t always look the same — one size definitely does not fit all,” Misner warns in a piece he co-authored with Manar Morales for the Harvard Business Review titled, “Five Myths about Flexible Work.”

BNI recently surveyed over 2,300 BNI members from around the world. They were asked if they would like their meetings to be: in-person only, online only, or a hybrid blend of online and in-person meetings. One-third of the participants surveyed said that they wanted to go back to entirely in-person meetings.

Almost 51% of the survey respondents were in favor of a blend of meeting both in person and online. However, 16% wanted to stick with online meetings only. This is a substantial departure from the organizational practice of weekly in-person meetings before the pandemic, with a full two-thirds of BNI members saying they would prefer some aspect of online meetings to be the norm in the future.

Misner recalls sitting in the back of a senior leadership meeting for BNI in 2017 when the group was talking about the future of the organization, opportunities and challenges. “I stood in the room and boldly said that, because of advancements in mixed reality and holographic technologies, I thought the future of networking was likely to be online,” Misner remembers. “While I thought that would raise eyebrows — instead it raised voices.”

“No way,” was the overwhelming chorus of voices in response. The pushback was almost complete (except for a few millennials in the room).

People aren’t receptive to massive change at first. They need to be eased into that change whenever possible. Misner believes companies need to be more open to flexibility in order to better survive disruptions like the pandemic and others that will surely continue to be a plague to some, but an opportunity for those who are open to being flexible. That goes for business owners, and meeting and event planners alike.