If the meetings industry gets back to business before vaccines are distributed, COVID-19-protocols—masks, distancing and sanitation—will still be required. But whose responsibility is it to ensure everyone follows the rules? responsible
We asked a pair of venue safety experts, and the consensus was that it will remain a team sport, with the meeting professional, facility and attendee all playing their positions.
The ultimate key to success: consistent and frequent communication.
Early and Often
Codes of conduct need to be communicated before, during and after the event. From the first email to the web site, signage and directions from the stage, messaging must reinforce that attendees are responsible for assuming the risk of gathering and with complying with protocols. That messaging starts long before they enter the facility. Once there, attendees need visual reminders each step of the way.
You’re probably familiar with that drill: floor stickers about where to stand, poster boards suggesting handwashing in restrooms and distancing in the meeting space.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a bootcamp sergeant. Some fun signage has popped up in workplaces and on social media that take a whimsical approach. “Wash your hands like you just cut habaneros and have to take your contacts out!” or “Stay 12 pizza slices away from each other!”
However, Russ Simons, chief listening officer and managing partner with Venue Solutions Group, says the important thing is that these mental two-by-fours be abundant. “You can’t remind people too much. It takes multiple messages to get action,” he said, channeling his inner marketing director.
Sometimes even those reminders aren’t enough. The best-intentioned attendee may instinctively put out a hand for a shake before remembering and drawing it back.
As the architect of Walmart’s Black Friday crowd management plan and chairman of the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Assembly Facility Sub-sector Group for Commercial Facilities, Simons has spent the last eight months considering how to create an expectation for compliance. One tactic he pointed to, based on behavioral science studies, is having everyone sign a pledge before they are allowed into an event. That simple ask can have a significant effect on their actions.
Consistent and Coordinated
Corporate meeting planners can learn a lot from what sports and theme parks are doing, advised Mark Camillo, a retired U.S. Secret Service special agent who has experience protecting four presidents and their families and was a security coordinator for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. He is also an expert on critical infrastructure protection and emergency preparedness.
In his role as chair of Department of Homeland Security Commercial Facilities Sector Coordinating Council and faculty member with International Association of Venue Managers-sponsored Academy for Venue Safety and Security, he is listening in on the audibles being called as facility managers are driving forward to accommodate business while keeping everyone safe. “The strategy is changing almost daily,” he said. What he has found to be effective is a consistent, unified message that is actively enforced.
For those who choose not to comply, it is the responsibility of the facility to alert them and take action up to and including charging them with trespassing for noncompliance and being escorted out by security. Resistance could also result in calling in law enforcement. “It is critical that you take action against anyone who is not in compliance,” Camillo said. “There can’t be a double standard.”
Simons agreed that those not complying must be asked “in a guest-friendly way” to follow rules. Meeting planners and others involved in events may feel uncomfortable acting as mask police—after all, they’re used to playing a hospitality role—so Simons stressed the importance of training in de-escalation strategies.
“We have to give people the tools they need to be effective. Otherwise, the conversation reaches a tipping point, and you have to take action to proverbially kick someone off the plan or lose the trust of everyone else in the room,” he said.
Simons also suggested appointing a compliance coordinator. Everyone else is busy and may not notice as standards start to slip, but that person is dedicated to the task.
At the end of the day, everyone has to take the responsibility seriously. “This is not checking a box,” Simons said. “You either manage compliance or compliance manages you.”