Current Affairs

A Future-Proof Plan Post-Pandemic

It’s hard to predict the future, but in times like the current pandemic, how can associations begin to plan for the years ahead when decisions today may no longer be valid days or even weeks from now? Boardroom polled AC Forum —who values peer-to-peer exchange on all things association-related and serves as a knowledge exchange for organisations of all kinds facing industry challenges— on how their member associations anticipate changes in the association sector and the events they hold.

The New Normal

Post-Covid-19, economists and sociologists predict that businesses—and society at large—will change and there will won’t be any “moving back to normal.” Remote offices and the development of the circular economy are just two of the many trends being discussed at the moment. “As for association focus, the need for information sharing won’t decrease, so the format needs to evolve and offer an added-value,” one AC Forum association member commented. “Instead of being reactive, associations should serve as active agents driving change in order to stay relevant to their community and members.”

As organisations, associations are focusing on agility in order to adapt to the fast-evolving environment. People will be less inclined to travel abroad, so many associations will need to develop hybrid meetings, and replace large events with small-scale or regional ones. The early experiences of virtual meetings may give us a clue as to what a hybrid congress may look like in the next year or years to come. 

Nearly half of the member organisations that responded to the survey said, that after this initial disruption and focus on virtual events, they aim to first go hybrid with the main event before going fully virtual with smaller, more specialized events spread throughout the year. Most events already featured a live stream component, but now that this has become compulsory for most associations, it’s necessary to review what, how and at what price they should have a virtual component. 

Society will alter the way it thinks about traditional business models and encourage trends like working from home, virtual engagements and diversification around topics like decarbonisation and energy transition. Associations, meanwhile, will fill the gaps created by the cancellation of congresses by offering alternatives and developing new business opportunities with sponsors. 

They also anticipate modifying the education accreditation process by transforming it into a hybrid model that uses both online and face-to-face. “For medical associations in particular, our core values won’t be affected by the current situation,” commented another AC Forum member. “The way we achieve our end goal and mission continuously changes, which isn’t something new.”

Going Remote 

While many associations started digitalisation years ago, others amped up their efforts to take their office structure online during the pandemic. According to those surveyed, office structure has always been quite flexible, but the number of work-from-home days has increased. This flexibility allows for out-of-the-box thinking from employees and encourages cross-team collaboration and enhanced digital activities. 

This article was written by Boardroom editor Lane Nieset. The right to use it, in parts or in full, has to be granted by the Publisher.

Enhancing digital and IT skills for staff will also help streamline online offerings for members, thereby offering a sense of belonging and opportunities for e-learning and networking. In terms of governance, associations will need to analyse their current structure, as well as how and when they meet. For example, small boards may want to have frequent virtual meetings. 

Future forecasting is as unpredictable now than ever, but associations like AC Forum are constantly anticipating change. “Even though the current change is more dramatic than anyone could have imagined, a mindset focused on flexibility and future-proofing will help with in-house procedures,” adds another AC Forum member. “With the right attitude and outline of a plan in place, associations can react directly and efficiently to any type of volatile situation they may be faced with down the road.”

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