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The new normal for conferences (#Money2020)

I’ve grown up in a period of strong political stability. I’ve been lucky. Many other people grew up in a period of strong political instability, with war and famine and economic starvation. I realise I’ve been lucky because I’m now looking at lockdown, China-US trade relations, British-EU trade relations, African trade relations and specifically those in Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia, and more. The world is a mess. It is well demonstrated by Britain, where they are in a spat with Russia and China, have no idea about their relationship with Europe, and appear to be a pawn of America who America doesn’t like.

What does this mean? Where are we now?

I have no idea.

What I do know is that there is a perfect storm of political and economic instability right now that makes the future hard to predict. I’ve noticed, for example, that those who make decisions are finding hard to make any. The companies that focused upon conferences, networking and media, are undecided in what to do. The only meeting planned of any size right now is Money 20/20 but, when I mention that to people, some look worried. They don’t want to go, and their companies don’t want them to go. Very brave of Amsterdam, Las Vegas and the organisers to go ahead, they say.

For me, it typifies the nature of our world right now. There are those who don’t care and those who are really scared. It’s two extremes, with some fifty shades of grey in-between.

This is why you see some people going nowhere, some going out with masks, some acting as though the world is almost back to normal, some going to parties, some gathering to celebrate events like Liverpool’s Premiership win, some flying around the world, some touring the world and some on business around the world.

Where do you sit?

How do you feel?

I feel we are moving to a sense of localisation in a global world. We will stay locked down to some degree for at least another two years. Yes, there will be an almost back to normal to some degree but, as everyone keeps saying, it’s a new normal.

I’ve blogged about this before, and made clear that the new normal is one wearing facemasks and keeping social distance in nearly all formal situations. In more informal situations, like clubbing, that will be hard to maintain, but pre-entry screening using face test systems will stay around for a few years. At least until a completely trustworthy vaccine can be found.

But then what occurred to me the other day is another dimension of the new normal: regular lockdowns. Lockdowns will be on a localised basis and may be sudden. That means most will return to how we are right now: working from home.

That’s another part of the new normal: what’s the point of an office? We all feel office work is important – and it surely is for some things – but will people return. In my lifetime, I started in an office with regular face-to-face meetings. I had a desk and drawers. Then, with the introduction of computing and laptops, we moved to hot-desking. Then, back in 2002, I broke free and moved to a home office. By the end of that decade, my office was my laptop and, by the of the last decade, my office was the airport lounge.

Since March, I’ve been working from my home office – no more airport lounges – and many predict the airline industry travel levels which, at the moment, are about the  same as back in 1970, won’t get back to the pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

Thing is that whilst we’ve been locked down, have more sporadic lock downs, don’t travel, work from home, the more we get used to global connectivity with local access.

Global connectivity with local access.

That’s the new normal right there.

I’ve been having many virtual meetings on Zoom, Teams, Hangouts and more during this crisis than ever before, but I didn’t use a single one of those communication platforms pre-pandemic. Now, I’m using them every day and asking: why didn’t we do this before?

Now that I’m using them every day, I’m also asking: when would I not use it?

The major difference is that on Zoom, Teams and Hangouts, you can’t have dinner and network properly with the people you want to meet and hangout with. You can’t party and celebrate properly. You cannot build the relationships you need … or can you?

Sure, you cannot party, but many of my relationships came from social media connections on Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn, and I can party at home.

It’s funny, I said a long time ago that the future of conferences would be a mixture of virtual, digital and physical.

When do you need the physical meeting?

When, it’s safe and sound – a vaccine has been released for COVID19 and facemasks, social distancing, track and trace are everywhere – and when it’s needed, not just to party.

So yes, a brave Money 2020. I can see the strategy and yes, we still need events like these.

Current vote: 8.9% will go; 77.1% will not go; and 14% are thinking about it

 

POSTNOTE

If you are interested in the work from home theme, this is a must-watch video from Apple:

Courtesy of Andrew Vorster’s excellent blog post on the subject

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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