Remote WorkMay 6, 2024

No Place Like Home By
May 6, 2024

Remote Work

No Place Like Home

Thanks in large part to the pandemic, working from home — or working remotely, as it’s often called — has become commonplace across corporate America, and the meeting industry is no exception to that trend.

Whether by choice or circumstance, many meeting planners who do their work at home find there are distinct advantages to the set-up. Flexibility is certainly one and, often, there’s even increased efficiency. In fact, remote workers are more engaged [32%] in their jobs and companies than office workers [28%], according to the Gallup State of the American Workplace report. This is important, the report notes, as “Engaged employees are often top performers who are committed to going the extra mile to achieve success.”

Companies have a strong incentive to make sure that remote workers feel included. According to Gallup, “When remote employees don’t feel engaged with their work, the entire organization is likely to suffer, and vice versa. Having engaged employees has a positive impact on retention, customer satisfaction, company reputation and even stakeholder value.”

Still, while most remote planners prefer their set-up over being in a company’s office, they see several potential pitfalls to their work arrangement, like an extra need for community and the expectation of constant visibility, literally and figuratively, that they work hard to manage.

Flexible Nature

For corporate meeting planner Kimberly Stanséll, an event management and strategy consultant, who has worked independently for 17 years, the flexibility of creating one’s own schedule is a big selling point.

“Any project or client relationship I enter into has to support my working lifestyle,” she states. A self-described morning person, Stanséll sticks to a 7:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. PST schedule when in the office, but leaves room for adjustments when needed.

“I’ll go to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day or run errands when I have to, which breaks up the day, and I don’t always stay until 3 p.m.,” she says. “The other day I logged off at noon because I had something personal to do. I also have periods where I extend myself, like right now, I have a heavy workload. But I don’t work like that all year. It’s for a few months, and then I like my summers lighter.”

The flexibility afforded even to planners with a company who work from home can be vital for juggling a job and family life, notes Kristen Hunter, VP of content & experience at Momentum Events, a fully remote firm. She worked for other planning firms in their offices for many years but a family change led her home.

“Working from home was required when my kids were younger; it gave me a lot of hands-on time with my family.” It was important enough that, she says, “the alternative was to figure out a way to stay home and not work at all.”

Even now that her children are school-aged, working from home is vital for Hunter. “I can pick my kids up from school if the nurse calls and says they’re sick, or I can take them to the dentist.”

Planners sometimes need that flexibility, and downtime, after events. In the wake of running three back-to-back international programs, Jodi Adcock, event manager, HP, was especially grateful to head home.

“It’s great to be able to come home from these long trips and not have to go back to the office,” she says. “If I don’t have meetings, why shouldn’t I be able to sleep in? You lose time flying and not sleeping because you’re running a program, so why shouldn’t you get that time back? It’s really good that [as a remote worker] you’re not expected to go back to the office the day after you get back because your body needs time to rest.”

Sometimes that flexibility means working extended hours or at undesirable times, like late evenings and early mornings, in exchange for working at preferred times another day or month. “You trade off the flexibility for the demandingness.”

Tech Support

Several technological tools are particularly important for remote planners, in terms of both project management and keeping in touch with either the office or clients.

At Momentum Events, one program does everything. “We use Salesforce and every email and call is recorded in there so, at any point in time, you can see what people have done that day. Everything is very transparent. We also use it to track speakers, attendees, sponsors, etc. for each of our events. It has extensive reporting.”

HP uses Smartsheet, a project management software that Adcock describes as ‘Excel on steroids.’ It sends reminders that other people have assigned you tasks and to check that work is done. She uses it for rooming lists that she can send to the hotels.

Tools that make sharing information with colleagues and suppliers easier for planners are vital. “When you are remote, and you need to hand something off, it’s not like you can run [to a central spot] and print it out. These file-sharing systems just make that part smooth and easy now. You have to have that to work remotely,” she says.

Adcock also is a fan of OneNote, as is planner Alex Doyle, VP, meetings & events, Century21, who has worked at home for 20 years. “I can see, in real time, what others on the team have done. If they only updated the rooming list, or all the AV specs, boom, I see that right away. It’s a good way to organize projects,” says Doyle.

He also sees potential in the next technology frontier — AI (artificial intelligence). “We took some of the proprietary forms that we use a lot and fed them into ChatGPT. It did spit out a much better version of what we had created.”

Plus, he adds, the tool is a potential time and effort saver. “We had a form where we had to manually populate all of the information. That’s time-consuming and it leaves room for error. With AI, there’s greater efficiency.”

For her part, Stanséll says, “We do screen share a lot if someone has a question or we can walk people through something. I was meeting with a client and we had a document up on the screen. I could see what she was adding and when we were finished the client said, ‘Oh I thought this was going to take forever’ but because we had the technology, it only took us 20 minutes.”

Time Management

Sometimes, the tools that remote planners use aren’t technology; they’re boundaries. That allows them to get work done.

Doyle notes, “Early on, my wife would ask, ‘Can you do the laundry today?’ So, I had to say, ‘But I’m working, even if the laundry room is just 14 feet away.’”

Like Stanséll, he too sets working hours that, while they’re specific, they enable him to work at the times that are best for him, and with less interruption than being in an office.

“Working from home, I feel that the productivity is much greater,” he contends. “For a recent incentive program in the Dominican Republic, I probably had 100 hours of prep work to do and if I were in the office, for every hour of preparation, it would take me an hour and 20 or 30 minutes, just because people come in to ask you questions or somebody wants to have a meeting.”

Doyle continues, “Working at home, people don’t just stop by my home office. I would say that I have 20% additional time savings by working remotely because there are fewer pop-in interruptions, so I get more out of my day.”

Being Seen and Heard

For meeting planners working remotely, one potential downside is isolation or feeling left out of the loop in the office.

“What you miss more than anything while working remotely is the office culture,” Doyle admits. “Everybody at the office might be talking about the latest sale at Macy’s, or there’s someone who’s a Swiftie [a fan of singer Taylor Swift], or you want to know about somebody’s weekend.”

He has found a simple solution to compensate: small talk at the start of Zoom calls. “Make the first eight to 10 minutes the watercooler. Ask how people are, what they’ve been up to and ‘how was that wedding you went to last weekend?’

For others, participating in some sort of network — whether through colleagues, industry associations or more informal groups — is vital, simply for the many benefits that come from interacting with other human beings.

Hunter and her direct reports, “communicate all day long through G-chats and meetings on camera. That helps us create as much of a culture as we can. We have a company meeting every week and we’ll have virtual happy hours and things like that but if you do that too much, it ends up feeling more like a chore, so through trial and error you figure out the right balance.”

Similarly, Adcock keeps the lines of communication open with her colleagues. “I’m really intentional about reaching out to my co-workers and saying, ‘I’m online, do you want to chat for five minutes?’ Even if we’re not working on a project together, I work to stay in touch. That social element of work relationships is really important.”

For Stanséll, getting out of the house every day, even if it just leads to a chat with neighbors, is key.

“I do get out of my home every day, not necessarily for business, sometimes it’s just to go for a walk, or to go to the market or the library, and maybe you’ll talk to someone,” she says. “You just have to get out; it’s really important and it breaks up the day.”

Ironically, not only do remote planners need more networking events than those who toil in offices, it’s often easier for them to get away from work, Stanséll notes. “I once had a client who I visited in their office twice a week and the staff planners there signed up for monthly MPI meetings all the time but they rarely would go because they couldn’t break away from their desks.”

“Maybe when you work in an office you think, ‘Oh I should stay and see what’s going on.’ Or maybe you called in sick earlier in the week so you figure now you have to stick around. There’s a self-consciousness about leaving the office, even when planners are encouraged to attend industry events,” says Stanséll.

While those who work off-site may be better able to come and go on their own schedule, that doesn’t mean they’re not working, and sometimes that has to be proven. At Momentum Events, employees are trusted to get things done when it makes sense to them, and some people have taken advantage of that system, Hunter admits.

But that doesn’t mean off-site workers, whether they’re employees or contractors, can’t be trusted. However, she says, “Working remotely, you have to be mature and manage your time.”

For the Future

Companies that embrace a remote work culture, whether for one employee, a department or the whole firm, have a leg up when it comes to hiring meeting planners, asserts Adcock. Not only are they more appealing to many job applicants who value flexibility, it’s beneficial to the company too.

“Planners don’t typically organize events in their hometowns so they can be anywhere, and most of them don’t want to have to move for a job, especially as they get further into their careers, so it’s great to have companies that will let people work from anywhere.”

Additionally, she says, “[Permitting remote work] helps recruitment because companies are not geographically limiting themselves. They can go out and find the best of the best from across the country. We have some outstanding planners on the team because of the ability to hire from anywhere. So. if companies can find quality planners where they are, and not have to pay to move them, it’s a win-win.” C&IT

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