Transition. Pivot. Adapt. Shift.
These words have become common verbs in our daily language, especially when it comes to how we work. Just a few months ago, the chapter office was bustling with staff, committee leaders, volunteers, and delivery workers in high planning mode for 2020 Conference & Expo. Within days of that event ending, we knew something was on the horizon that would lead to change – and evolution, to bring the conference theme back.
We had no idea what amount of transition it would be. But we were ready – more ready that I realized in fact.
Once the decision was made to close the chapter office, the move was quick – the first priority was the health and safety of the members who visit the office and the staff that work there.
A move from a physical organization to a remote organization goes beyond the location of where the staff will work. It encompasses communication strategies, work materials and equipment, technology needs, and human relations.
The first thing we did was notify chapter leaders of the change to a remote office. Notifying the entire membership was handled via email blast and the creation of a resource page for all things related to the coronavirus pandemic in the country. In those messages, the goal was to ensure members that the chapter business will continue uninterrupted and to inform the membership how to contact the staff now that the office was closed.
Don’t forget the building and other office vendors. Our chapter office is located in a office building park. Communicating the timeline and plan to the building landlord ensured that their onsite staff could keep an eye on our space in our absence and we were able to discontinue daily cleaning visits and deliveries to the space. Letting the door security company know that the office will be empty is essential – if they see activity on the door access that is not consistent with a closed office, it may be the only way you know others are in your space.
WORK MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
In a very fast timeline, a review of what each staff member needed at home to execute their job duties was performed. We are lucky in that as long as we have internet, a computer and a phone, our chapter can manage the general operations and programs. When moving staff out of the office, it’s important to make sure that they have the appropriate equipment to do their job – and that can vary based on job description. Many of our materials are housed on the server so that made the transition easier – no need to pack up boxes of files and paperwork.
The chapter office spent much of 2019 implementing new technologies – we upgraded the member database and installed a new phone system. No longer are we tied to the old traditional hardwired phone line; our phones are portable out of the chapter office, caller can access the appropriate staff easily using the dial by department menu, and we can update our outgoing message quickly. The member database moved from the physical server to the cloud – we can access it anywhere!
Those upgrades were key to the ease of moving the chapter remote quickly. The basic fundamentals of our work – method to connect with members and the member data – was already accessible online, no matter if we were sitting in the chapter office or at home. In addition, we were just starting to use Office 365 is a more robust way – the move to a remote office format sped up that process for the chapter.
Our IT contractor was an essential partner in this process – getting all chapter laptops set up for remote work, training staff on new software and platforms, and being available once staff got home to troubleshoot set ups.
As we got settled into our home offices, we turned our attention to chapter programs. While we had to cancel in-person events, we knew we needed to continue to provide members with education and connection to the chapter and each other. Virtual event and meeting platforms are numerous – we went to user-friendly options, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Quickly, we were able to launch virtual Town Halls, best practice education sessions and even virtual happy hour networking events.
This is a stressful time – and one of opportunity as well. When making the change from seeing each other every day in person to only seeing co-workers via a webcam during meetings, it was important to me to ensure all the chapter staff felt supported and connected. We are still meeting twice a week as a whole staff – we talk about chapter programs but we also make sure we take some time to chat with each other. The line between work-life and home-life is now non-existent —- we are living and working in the exact same space every day. Creating work areas and stepping away from those areas after work hours and on weekends is essential to create a barrier between work and home. The normal schedules of school and daycares that no longer exist create other challenges for working parents and of course, sharing that work space with a spouse, partner or roommate who is also working from home. Building in flexibility is key – 9 am to 5 pm may not work right now. Keeping calendars updated online and communicating with each other about our daily schedules ensures we can keep moving the chapter program planning forward even from home.
None of this transition was done on our own. We needed the support of our chapter leaders, our members, and the various contractors who work alongside the staff. Teamwork makes the dreamwork – and in this instance, it was essential. When we will return to “normal”? No one really knows. And will “normal” look the same? Probably not. But what we learned in the last weeks was that we can pivot, we can change, and we can work differently and continue to achieve great results for our chapter.
By Jaime Barnhart, CMP, CAE
Jaime is the chapter’s executive director and responsible for implementing the organization’s mission and goals, and managing its staff. She has worked in non-profits/associations in the D.C. Metro area for over 16 years focusing on program management, events and trade shows, and marketing. She joined WMCCAI as the events manager in 2015. Jaime earned the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) in 2007 and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) certification in 2019.