At the moment, nobody knows exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last.
For those planning a corporate event for the upcoming year, that raises the question of which format the event should take: online, in-person outdoor, or indoor?
Projections about when life will return to normal vary. Some expect herd immunity to be achieved by early summer.
Others imagine it will take until Q3 until we can transition back to pre-pandemic standards.
A rather pessimistic outlook in the prestigious journal Nature projects that intermittent social distancing could be with us for years to come, to suppress COVID-19 outbreaks.
But what does that mean for corporate event planning? Here is the current outlook to help you decide which format to opt for, and how to stay flexible in case regulations change.
1 – Stay fully online in Q1 and most of Q2
With the current strict lockdowns, imposed against raging virus variants, it’s unlikely that larger in-person gatherings can happen until summer. For the moment, lockdowns are said to last until February 15, though experts expect them to continue into March.
Even after that, regulations will stay both volatile and regionally diverse. This makes planning larger events practically impossible, especially if attendees have to travel longer distances to attend.
During this period, holding events online is your safest bet.
2 – Consider outdoor events in late spring and summer
By the end of April, the UK’s vaccination plan aims to make immunisation widely available. The goal is to achieve herd immunity by autumn.
For corporate event planning, this means that in-person gatherings will likely become possible by late spring, as infection rates decrease.
However, it’s better to play it safe and plan for outdoor events during this period.
Currently, the UK’s 4-tier system allows in-person gatherings of up to 6 people in Tiers 1-3 if they take place outdoors. It’s likely that these restrictions will be eased first.
Small-scale events like company mixers, team-building programs, and hospitality days are prime candidates for taking place outside.
These types of events have fewer organizational restrictions than trade shows, conferences, or launch events. However, they provide sorely needed opportunities for team members to reconnect after months of taxing isolation in home offices.
3 – Cautiously plan for indoor events by late summer.
Traditional indoor events require the most planning and organization. Between commissioning caterers, a sound and light hire company, and installing the necessary tech equipment, countless bookings have to be made.
Currently, it looks like you can cautiously plan for larger indoor events by late summer, or early autumn.
However, when setting up these events, still factor in safety measures. Venue capacity, for example, will be reduced by social distancing measures. The same goes for crowd size.
According to the founder of vaccine maker BionTech, normal life will only resume next winter.
4 – How to stay flexible: Plan hybrid events
If your event is scheduled for a period where you can’t be totally sure what will be possible, you might want to opt for a hybrid type.
This type of event has both in-person and virtual parts. For example, if you’re aiming to host a business conference, you can have the speakers and a limited number of attendees there in person, and livestream the event for a wider audience. If restrictions are tightened, these types of events can easily be switched to fully online.
For the moment, the future is still uncertain. Having a virtual back-up plan is a comforting failsafe. However, with vaccinations rolling out and spring approaching, event planners can be optimistic in the long run.