Hello? Can you hear me? I’m sorry if I’m sounding a bit far away, but I’m currently hanging out with a group of hospitality professionals in Yorkshire while I’m in Dubai. Or was it Stockholm? Or possibly Accra?
There’s little doubt that COVID has wreaked havoc on our industry worldwide. Furloughs in the UK, lockdowns everywhere, limited (if any!) in-outlet dining, cancelled cruises – you name it. I’m not known for laughing challenging trading conditions in the face and shouting “Hey, but look at the bright side!”, but I readily admit that the pandemic has also brought certain positive changes to our industry – the most important one, in my opinion, being that we’ve come closer together.
It didn’t matter where you were
I’ve spend the last 16 years as an expat in various locations that didn’t have an Institute of Hospitality branch and I got used to looking at pictures of meetings, networking events, and celebrations that the Institute and their branches have put on over the years with varying degrees of envy. Then the pandemic hit, everything moved online and suddenly, it didn’t matter anymore where I was based – I could be anywhere.
The Institute of Hospitality’s virtual Thursday Coffee and Conversation mornings provided a first taste of our newfound freedom. Members joined from all over the world and exchanged updates or just engaged in light-hearted conversation to find a few minutes of distraction from the latest lockdown news.
People started to cooperate and collaborate… new platforms such as www.backtowork.support were born based on our conversations. New ways of presenting and distributing industry news and expertise like the fantastic Hospitality Recovery on LinkedIn Live were tested. If you fancied it and had the time (and, let’s face it, time was something most of us had in abundance during the various lockdowns), you could attend virtual branch meetings and networking events from the comfort of your armchair. One branch even put on a pub-style quiz.
Bringing people closer together
The pandemic has brought us closer together and that’s a good thing. The key, going forward, is to keep the momentum and not let things revert to silos again. The Institute and its members have an important role to play in the process, because we’ve been here, done that, and got the tea cup – in other words, we’ve successfully demonstrated how large international organisations can use technology to bring people closer together, ensure information and expertise flows freely, and collaborations between individual professionals create new opportunities, ventures, and projects
Remember Face to Face?
The pandemic has brought us closer together and that’s a good thing. The key, going forward, is to keep the momentum and not let things revert to silos again. The Institute and its members have an important role to play in the process, because we’ve been here, done that, and got the tea cup – in other words, we’ve successfully demonstrated how large international organisations can use technology to bring people closer together, ensure information and expertise flows freely, and collaborations between individual professionals create new opportunities, ventures, and projects.
Don’t get me wrong, now that I’m based in Europe again, I do want to attend one of the Institute’s annual Fellows’ Dinners. It’ll be my first one and I’m sure will be very enjoyable. The goal isn’t to move everything online – there’s much to be said for face-to-face interactions and good old black-tie jollifications. The goal really should be to use technology in the way, I think, it is meant to be used… to bring people together and to make things more inclusive and, very often, faster.
The latter is, in my opinion, a key point. Teams can now meet at the click of a button, regardless of where the various team-members are. You don’t need to take minutes anymore, because you can record things – great for people who aren’t totally fluent in English. Right now, I’m involved in a project that brings together professionals from Russia, the Middle East, and Europe. We communicate in English, but some of us find it very beneficial to be able to watch the recordings of our meetings again, just to make sure they understood everything correctly. You can’t rewind a face-to-face meeting, but you can rewind a Zoom meeting.
I hope some of what we’ve learned during the pandemic stays with us even in post-COVID times. The coffee mornings, for example, shouldn’t stop just because we’re all able to meet again IRL, in real life. How else could I find out how Robert’s hotel in Ghana is doing or what’s going on in the Scottish highlands and islands? Quite apart from being able to see the various members’ coffee and tea cups (someone used a massive Homer Simpson cup in today’s call!) and pets (last week I was in a Zoom meeting and a team-member’s cat blocked the screen for a good 5 minutes).
Walking into a face-to-face meeting later in 2021 or 2022 is bound to be like “Oh, I know, you’re the chap with the Homer Simpson cup!” or “What do you mean, you didn’t bring your cat?”.
A version of this article was first published by the Institute of Hospitality