Dr. Soumi Eachempati
In-person corporate retreats and meetings can potentially be safe in the Covid-19 era
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
One year after Covid-19 first appeared in the US, the pandemic is still here. Barely over 1% of the US population has received sufficient Covid-19 vaccinations at this time. Rollouts, storage issues, and access to recipients have delayed vaccination levels. Moreover, the protection conferred by the vaccine will likely wane over time due to mutations, with resultant booster vaccinations required periodically.
With the realization setting in that Covid-19 in some form will be persistent for the foreseeable future, organizations are considering how to resume elements of their business as usual. A new normal is emerging which includes remote work, extensive precautions, and loads of internet-based teleconferences.
Businesses cannot wait for the pandemic to be over or for full herd immunity from vaccinations to resume more face-to-face meetings.
Many organizations have already resumed some proportion of populating their workplaces while others have remained working remotely. For those in the latter category, the corporate retreat or meeting has emerged as an important vehicle on many levels. These activities allow meaningful discourse, crucial strategic planning, and maintenance of camaraderie.
While the value of retreats and meetings has never been questioned, many organizations have been reluctant to plan these events for safety reasons. The latest increase in cases since the beginning of 2021 has created a flurry of cancellations in resumption of in-person work on all levels. The NHL has already postponed 9 games in its first three weeks of the season despite aggressive safety protocols and unlimited resources. Other organizations have also seen threats to the health and brand of their entities and have shied away from planning events.
For those entities that feel a retreat would have significant value to their organization, they can use strategies and precautions that can potentially mitigate the risk from Covid-19 to their constituents. Complete elimination of risk can never be achieved but measures can be taken. Naturally, organizations would need to investigate first whether local authorities would allow a gathering based on the anticipated size of their venture.
The best method for preparing for these retreats requires a three-part strategy. Organizations need to have a preparatory phase before the event, important considerations to be followed during the event, and a vital follow-up of all participants after the event. Individuals not comfortable with attendance for medical issues or otherwise should be encouraged to participate by teleconference.
The preparatory phase before the event is perhaps the most important. Careful creation of the attendee list will have to be formulated. The agenda for the event has to be planned. All retreats and meetings will have assigned seating that is meticulously recorded.
Optimally, testing will be an integral portion of the safety precautions. Pre-event testing for Covid-19 should be performed within 72 hours of the event. Results of this test should be available prior to departure to the event if travel is needed. If the event is over several days, repeat surveillance testing should be considered depending on the number of participants, local infection rates, and risk to the organization for a potential outbreak.
The importance of accurate symptom monitoring before, during, and after the event cannot be underscored. Individuals have developed a familiarity with standard questionnaires for Covid-19 symptoms during the last 12 months, but all possible measures should be taken to ensure that fatigue for such questionnaires does not compromise a true description of symptoms. Arguably, close scrutiny of symptoms for an afflicted individual may be more important than testing for ensuring medical care of ill individuals and contact tracing to prevent the spread of infection to other participants.
Other event related issues need to be considered. The meeting space should be well-ventilated. Outdoor meetings should be performed where available. Mandatory masking and distancing should be maintained. Policing and compliance with these initiatives should be assigned to responsible individuals. Catering groups should be heavily vetted. Event gifting could be done ahead of time if possible.
A fully executed plan for all aspects of these necessary components may appear overwhelming to organizations planning such retreats and meetings. However, they have resources. Well-designed software solutions will be able to provide assistance for multiple facets of the events including symptom monitoring, capture of testing results, contact tracing and vaccine verification. Additionally, experienced companies with knowledgeable medical personnel can help businesses plan and coordinate predictable and unforeseen events at such retreats. These groups will help enlighten pain points and limitations of preparation for these events.
Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. Organizations will need to dig in and find solutions for their own needs that will allow internal functioning for the next phase of the pandemic.