With in-person supply chain conferences beginning for the first time in nearly 18 months, logistics networking event organizers must prioritize safety and accessibility.
Conference season is starting up again, but with the coronavirus, still a very present health threat, and variations like Delta continuing to cause harm, logistics networking events held this fall and spring will look quite different than conferences have in the past. Since large-scale events haven’t been possible over the past 18 months due to the pandemic, many are wondering what customer interaction at these conferences will look like. There’s also concern over how event organizers will be able to create safe environments that encourage customers to attend and participate.
Supply chain conference attendees must feel comfortable
Bernadette Datka, Blume Global’s event marketing manager, has spent the coronavirus pandemic booking virtual panels at conferences that had to pivot to remote-only events at the last minute. She’s heard a little trepidation in the industry about returning to bustling in-person events and thinks there needs to be some added considerations for everyone involved.
“Everyone has a different level of comfort right now,” she said. “I think shaking hands or even elbow bumping in a conference setting should not happen. One-on-one interactions with customers in meeting rooms might be different, but there’s no shame in quickly laying out your comfort level regarding masking beforehand. We’ve all been in this long enough that people are generally respectful.”
One option that event organizers could implement is visual systems — like color-coded badges or lanyard tags — that indicate attendees’ comfort level with shaking hands or being in close proximity or enclosed spaces with unmasked attendees. Datka acknowledges that speaking through masks on a loud show floor might take some adjustment but reiterates that prioritizing attendee comfort and safety are key to successful in-person events.
Blume’s Lincoln Pei thinks the logistics and supply chain industry, and the conference-going public as a whole, should take from this pandemic some lasting lessons about networking behavior.
“There are some Eastern cultures in which greetings and salutations are conveyed without actual physical touch – I’m thinking here most immediately of bowing,” Blume’s Lincoln Pei said. “Perhaps it’s time to incorporate such conventions in western global business practices.”
One thing that won’t change, Pei said, is communal gatherings with customers.
“In global business practices, there is no better interaction between business partners than to break bread together,” he said. “We certainly hope that we can maintain that convention.”
Heightened safety protocols will remain
While there might be interest in some factions for returning to a previous form of “normal” as more of the population becomes vaccinated, there’s a strong case to be made for maintaining heightened safety measures for the foreseeable future. So long as the virus continues to have an active presence, safety protocols like mask-wearing, hand sanitizer stations and socially distanced seating arrangements are necessary. Event organizers may choose to back this up with proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the coronavirus.
Dramatic, industry-wide shifts like this aren’t unprecedented (consider how the screening protocols and restrictions rolled out following the attacks of 9/11 changed how we approach air travel). However, maintaining adequate inventory of safety supplies, access to expanded safety services, and even on-demand healthcare staff will increase expenses for event organizers, which could lead to limiting the capacity of in-person attendance while still making the event accessible to participants at home.
Hybrid logistics networking events are the new normal
While video calls over Teams and Zoom have made it possible for coworkers and departments to keep in touch, it’s become obvious over the past 18 months that interactions through a screen can be more taxing in some ways than in-person events. Video call fatigue is a real phenomenon.
“I have been on, as I’m sure many others have, about 1,500 video calls in the last 18 months,” said Blume Global’s sales director Tom Koontz. “These calls are a bit draining, and it’s hard to truly make connections over Teams or Zoom.”
That said, hybrid virtual and in-person events increase the accessibility of events by allowing participants to live-stream or join in from around the globe, potentially increasing attendance by hundreds or thousands. This also provides opportunities for event organizers to offer unique content to attendees based on their mode of participation.
Koontz was quick to emphasize similar points as Datka: “I recently had my first customer dinner since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “We all shook hands hello and goodbye, which frankly was a bit surprising. Other than that, things seemed normal for the most part except that we did spend a lot more time than we used to talking about personal issues – how everyone was holding up, our plans for the immediate future and things like that. Everyone has been through a rough time, and the crisis is far from over, so it’s nice to talk openly about how everyone is coping with the pandemic from a personal standpoint. I think, moving forward, there will be a much more personal aspect to sales and customer relations.”
In today’s highly interconnected world, it is no longer enough to simply integrate transportation processes and technologies in a TMS. Stakeholders need agile solutions to handle the speed and volatility of the new supply chain status quo. Supply chain technology provider Blume Global will be talking about the new logistics technology demands at the upcoming IANA and CSCMP supply chain conferences. To hear more about how Blume is combining unrivaled logistics execution and visibility, and to learn more about the latest supply chain technology at these logistics networking events, register for the IANA Intermodal Expo 2021 or CSCMP Edge 2021