Nov 24 2021

Offsites in the age of COVID

I attended two offsites in the last two weeks – both great in terms of seeing people in person.  Interesting how differently they handled COVID protocols, although they were different groups with different vibes.

One was a CEO conference for one of my VC’s portfolios.  There was a huge emphasis in all the pre-conference comms about COVID.  And lots of testing.  We all got mailed a very sophisticated in-house PCR test ahead of time to take and photograph/upload, complete with chemical reagents and some kind of centrifuge.  Then those of us who flew in for the event had to do an on-site rapid test before entering the opening reception and even had a side room to sit in for 15 minutes while we were waiting for the rest results.  Once in the room, everyone was super awkward at the beginning.  Should I wear a mask?  Do I shake hands?  Hug?  Wave?  Bump elbows?  But once we got into the flow of the meeting, people were more relaxed and interactive…even some close talking.

The other was my company, Bolster – our first ever “all hands” meeting in person (we started the company just 18 months ago and have people in multiple locations).  The COVID topic was almost nonexistent.  We only have 25 people, and everyone is vaccinated, no one is immuno-compromised, and the couple of people with young and unvaccinated children are very much not on lockdown (that could be more regional – I see that more in NY than in CA).  We simply asked people to get tested before they come on the honor system and then told people when we got there that people should do whatever they were comfortable doing in terms of masks and contact, no judgment.  There was no awkwardness that I could tell at all.

In terms of the meetings themselves, both were great – it was fantastic to be live with other humans!  While there is a lot to be said for the efficiency of 15 and 30 minute meetings on Zoom, that pattern of work can’t be 100% of your year.  It doesn’t allow for serendipitous hallway interactions or highly effective design collaboration like whiteboards and post-its do.

What neither group nailed was blending people actually at the offsite with a few people who didn’t want to, or couldn’t, attend in person.  That’s got to become the norm for offsites going forward, for sure.  Videoconference software or hardware/software combinations need to get better at supporting the hybrid environment for sure, but so do meeting facilitators.

All in, while I’m looking forward to traveling less in the future, there’s much to be said for meeting in person from time to time and figuring out how to optimize that time.