Four Ways to Boost Nondues Revenue Right Now

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As associations look for ways to increase revenue during the pandemic downturn, one expert says they should consider monetizing their role as matchmaker for industry partners and members.

With pandemic closures killing the event revenue associations rely on, many are looking for new ways to bring money in. Don Neal, CEO and founder of 360 Live Media, spoke at a recent ASAE webinar, “The Association Revenue Recovery Plan.” While he offered more than a dozen revenue generators in today’s climate, he didn’t go in-depth about how they worked.

I tracked Neal down to talk a bit more about how associations can best use the tools they already have to generate income. His philosophy is that associations adopt a model similar to another industry.

“Associations are very similar to media organizations,” Neal said. “They have an audience, some content, and a distribution channel. Right now, they don’t have an event, so they have to rely on their other media assets.”

Revenue generators that will pay dividends right now will provide companies who want to reach your audience access to the right members. “It is a very lucrative model,” Neal said. “It’s a matchmaking, like eharmony.”

Neal had a couple of tips on process. “Work with existing industry partners, those who like you, who trust you, and have an interest in your audience,” he said.

After selecting previous partners, do a little upfront work. “Find out: Who do they want to meet, and what is the best way for them to engage?” Neal said. “And give them some options. Prepare a relatively short list for them to choose from.”

So, when playing matchmaker, Neal suggested four methods that are easy to start with or will give you the most bang for your buck.

Virtual focus group. “This is one of the easiest things to do and more fun,” Neal said. “A lot of industry partners are looking for feedback on products.” With this method, the partner will provide a list of requirements, and the association will find members that meet those requirements and ask them to opt in for the focus group. Usually the sponsor will give the participant a gift card. Neal said as a broker, an association might get a few thousand in revenue for providing several participants.

Virtual hosted buyers. While this one may take a little time to set up, Neal said it is the most lucrative. At traditional tradeshows, certain sponsors are willing to pay associations big bucks to meet with specific members who are able to make or influence purchasing decisions. At a traditional meeting, the sought-after member—also known as a “hosted buyer”—would have their attendance fee paid by the industry partner and agree to meet with that company for a set amount of time. The partner also pays a fee to the association.

“I can give you one example where the sponsoring company was willing to invest $5,000 per meeting; this was in the medical [association] environment,” Neal said. “If it costs $50,000 to acquire a buyer for their medical device, and they can have someone meet with them for $5,000, it’s very efficient. You don’t have to talk to 20 people to find one that can make decisions.”

There are two good things about offering the hosted buyer virtually, Neal said. First is cost reduction for the sponsor. “If they allocate $100,000 to that event, they are paying for the booth, the construction, the carpet, the banners, the lanyards. Those are all hard costs,” Neal said. “If you take away all the hard costs, all you have left is what that sponsor wants to pay to meet the seven right people.

The second is that it can be done any time. “It doesn’t just have to reside on top of an event,” Neal said. “You can do this year-round. I can meet you Tuesday at 2:30 on Zoom, or on the hosted platform.”

Paid thought leadership. This is similar to a sponsored webinar, Neal said. However, with paid thought leadership, the partner/sponsor is more involved in creation of the content than they are typically in a sponsored webinar. “You still have guidelines and guardrails to ensure it’s not just a buy-me commercial,” Neal said.

Exhibitor to exhibitor. When it comes to matchmaking, you don’t just have to match attendees and sellers. “Fifty percent of the business at tradeshows is done between exhibitors with other exhibitors,” Neal said. “You can put your exhibitors in contact with one another.”

Neal said the best time to start is now. “See which of these you have the ability to do quickly and successfully without taking on a lot of costs and risks,” he said. “Companies have money to spend, and in my opinion and my experience in the last 60 days, this is the best way for associations to recover their revenue.”

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How to Surprise and Delight Attendees in a Virtual Environment

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If you think hosting a virtual conference makes it more difficult to surprise your attendees or incorporate small elements of fun, think again. Here are five ways to delight your participants.

At your in-person events, you may have found fun ways to surprise your attendees, whether a pop-up ice cream sundae bar at the end of the day, a performance by a local music group between sessions, or putting gift cards for local restaurants or shops under some attendees’ chairs during the keynote.

But can you translate those elements into a virtual environment? Here are some ideas to consider:

Snail mail. To get your attendees excited about the virtual meeting, consider mailing them a small package ahead of the event. It could include everything from blue-light-blocking glasses and headsets to coffee mugs and water bottles to crayons and Play-Doh.

Or consider this idea from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers: To get people excited about their annual conference in November, AEM is hosting a virtual wine tasting later this month. Attendees can order a virtual tasting kit, and on the day of the event, a sommelier will take them through the tasting while participants network with one another. You could also consider having one of your partners sponsor this type of promotion.

Dance party. Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined DJ D-Nice’s quarantine dance parties on Instagram during the pandemic? If so, you know how fun it is and how it has given people, including Oprah, a way to relax and feel connected during a time of isolation.

Just as you would for your in-person meetings, carve out time for your virtual attendees to relax and hang out in your platform. Hiring a DJ to host a dance party for your association’s members could be just the way to do it.

Games. Who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? Take a cue from the many in-person association conferences that have included everything from academic bowls to games that perfectly tie into the work its members and industry partners do. Many virtual platforms make it easy to break your attendees up into small groups so they can play trivia games, sing karaoke, or go on an online scavenger hunt.

Mini workouts. There is no reason to ditch wellness events when your conference goes virtual. Think about building a mini workout class that attendees can live stream throughout the day for a quick boost of energy, or offer morning yoga via live stream. You could also host workout breaks between session blocks.

Kids welcome, too. Keep in mind that many attendees will be participating in your virtual meeting from home—and that many will also be taking care of their kids, who are at home with them. With that in mind, add a few sessions that would appeal to kids too. It could be that dance party. Or you could host an art class that kids and adults can take part in together.

What ideas have you tried to add an element of fun or surprise to your virtual meeting? Please share in the comments.

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Four Ways to Help Attendees Have a Successful Virtual Conference Experience

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As participants transition to attending your virtual conferences, some may have a larger learning curve than others. Here are four ideas for helping attendees have a positive virtual experience.

When associations have hosted in-person conferences, they’ve done a number of things both ahead of and during the meeting to make sure their attendees are ready for the experience. Among them: hosting virtual pep rallies before the event to get participants excited, setting first-timers up with conference mentors, and incorporating tools like Amazon Alexa to help with wayfinding onsite.

But, as conferences transition to virtual and attendees need to get comfortable with the online experience, what can associations do to make it easier for them? Here are a few ideas for helping attendees have a successful virtual conference experience:

Get them acclimated to the virtual platform before the event kicks off. If this is the first time that attendees are being asked to log onto a virtual platform to learn and network, some training will be necessary. A week or so before your virtual event, consider hosting a webinar where you run down the basics of using the platform and give participants a chance to ask questions. Also, make sure to share a one-page guide that covers basic FAQs like how to ask a question during a session, how to track their continuing-education units, and how to access recordings post-conference.

Don’t forget about customer service. You don’t want attendees to get so frustrated by a technical glitch or some other hiccup that they log off of the virtual event. So, just as you would have a customer service team in place for your in-person event, do the same for your virtual experience. Make sure there’s a place in your platform for attendees to get help (whether through live chat or something else) at any point during the conference. Also, ensure that staff is monitoring chats that are going on during sessions so that they can respond to questions that may come up there.

Take your conference buddy program virtual. Even though your event moved online, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your conference buddy program. You can still pair people up and encourage them to connect before the meeting via videoconference or phone to get to know each other. To keep conversations going during the meeting, you can also build time in at the start or end of the day to allow buddies to connect in your platform.

Consider an emcee to help attendees navigate the experience. To highlight connections among the sessions and the conference theme (if you have one), have an emcee host an opening “priming” session and a closing “synthesis” session on each day of the conference. This will help your attendees to tee up and review the day, reflect on what they experienced, and share some ways they’re going to apply what they learned.

What are you doing to make sure your attendees have an enjoyable virtual conference experience? Please share in the comments.

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Membership Incentive Ideas During a Crisis

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Wondering what to do about member incentives during a global pandemic? You’re not alone. Here are some tips and real-world examples to help you navigate this tricky question in difficult times.

COVID-19 has turned a lot of common association challenges into bigger ones that are particularly hard to address, like how to talk about membership incentives during a crisis that has caused significant economic hardship.

A recent thread on ASAE’s Collaborate (member login required) raised that question to see what others are doing now and what their plans are for the future. Chris Gloede, chief consultant at Ricochet Advisory Services, and John Ponzio, vice president of professional membership and engagement at the American Heart Association, provided some insights on the discussion. I followed up with them to get more details.

Low-Cost Incentives

Incentives are challenging, according to Gloede, former chief marketing officer at the American Bar Association, because they are an expense that can quickly snowball, and discounts run the risk of devaluing membership. Instead, ABA leveraged strategies commonly used by magazines to increase subscriptions: It offered free trial memberships that provided the option to cancel when those members received their dues invoice after the trial period ended.

An article in Associations Now reported on the success of the International Public Safety Association’s limited $5 membership, which gave would-be members a look at IPSA’s benefits and professional community without a major commitment by either the association or the prospective member.

At AHA, Ponzio said they offered new members a limited-time trial membership, which gives members an opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals through AHA’s councils. He said they also provide chances to win gift cards for use in AHA’s online store and special offers for lifelong learning tools.

Cutoff Dates

“Without a deadline, an email or a piece of direct mail will quickly be forgotten,” Gloede said. ABA promotional materials featured deadlines prominently. Ponzio said AHA also offers members incentives to renew or join within a certain timeframe. Becoming a member of an association is an investment, Gloede said, and deadlines make the decision to join easier.

Special Rates

AHA, a global organization, focuses on providing opportunities like special rates for members in developing countries and AHA fellows-in-training, Ponzio said. It also offers group memberships for community hospitals and rural healthcare centers. Ponzio said AHA’s main priority is having their professional members know they are there for them, so they also offer extended payment plans, in particular for students or members who are just starting out in their careers.

Gloede said the ABA membership rate was determined by a variety of factors, including the number of years a lawyer had been in practice, the size of the practice, and member category (for example, whether the lawyer offered pro bono services). Determining each lawyer’s capacity and situation gauges a prospective member’s ability to pay, he said. The process can be complex, but for large membership programs, the dollars often justify the complexity.

Financial Hardship Accommodations

Some associations waive dues when a member temporarily is experiencing financial hardship. ABA moved away from requiring members to submit cumbersome paper applications for such a waiver—which needed review and approval by leadership—to a more streamlined, honor-based digital request process. The number of people who used the financial hardship program was relatively small, Gloede said, and therefore the financial risk was minimal. He noted that for the most part people are honest, and the few instances of abuse could be managed case by case.

During these difficult times, “plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Gloede said, adding that it’s important to recognize that your association has financial needs, too. He recommended measuring the new dues options you offer to assess what’s working and what’s not. And, he said, “be ready to change course and aggressively try new approaches.”

Do you have a membership incentive at your association you’d like to share? Please respond in the comments or send me an email.

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Leading During a Pandemic: A New Landscape for Global Partnerships

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COVID-19 has provided a common cause for associations looking to strengthen global connections. But some old rules still apply.

The disruptions created by the COVID-19 era present plenty of challenges, of course. But a few experts agree that there are also opportunities in the new moment for associations to better connect internationally, gaining new audiences for their offerings and bolstering their positions as thought leaders.

Last week, ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council convened a webinar, “Global Partnerships in the COVID-19 Era,” in which participants discussed this new landscape. As ever, no one global strategy will fit all associations—going global remains a function of understanding your potential members and customers and where workers in your association’s industry can use your support. But a handful of common themes emerged from the conversation.

We saw with COVID-19 how some countries and cultures that value differences in hierarchy reacted versus more egalitarian or equal-opportunity cultures.

Look for where you need help with short-term problems. Magdalena Mook, CEO of the International Coach Federation, noted that one of the most pronounced pain points for members at the immediate moment is handling finances. So in addition to its core mission of providing training for coaches, it looked for ways to help members—who are often small-business owners—navigate options for financial relief. ICF has partnered with an association of financial advisors to provide discounted training.

“Not everybody is very skilled in the financial side of their businesses—different governments, including the U.S. government, created packages to help, but we found out very quickly that our members do not necessarily know how to take advantage of them,” Mook said. “That’s not the partnership we’d normally have, but we’ll continue it because financial aid is something our members can capitalize on not only in times of crisis but also in times of prosperity.”

Use partnerships to broadcast your authority. Joanne Joham, regional director North America for the International Congress and Convention Association, noted that partnerships with other global associations on best practices can broaden your reach in meaningful ways. For instance, last week ICCA released a white paper on reopening business events that it coproduced with two other international convention associations, AIPC and UFI. The shared project at once introduces all three associations to new audiences and establishes them as knowledge leaders on a critical subject.

A country’s COVID-19 response can be revealing. Countries have different ideas about what common association terms like “volunteering” and “membership” mean, which is why U.S. associations are cautioned to do their homework about a country’s culture before exploring partnerships. Şirin Köprücü, principal at the association consultancy StrategicStraits, suggested taking a look at a country’s approach to COVID-19 as a window to how leaders there might think about partnering.

“We saw with COVID-19 how some countries and cultures that value differences in hierarchy reacted versus more egalitarian or equal-opportunity cultures,” she said. “One has set rules, the other one encourages volunteerism. It’s very important [for potential partners] to see associations’ role as empathetic leaders… , that there’s a true curiosity about the needs of the markets and the cultures of the markets.”

Some of the old rules about partnership-building still apply. In a country like China, a local presence still matters, said Steven Basart, vice president, Asia, at the association management company Kellen. And your association’s newfound enthusiasm for Zoom won’t matter much in a country where WeChat is dominant. “In the case of China, I think it’s even more essential to ensure your activities are endorsed by a Chinese partner or a local government to ensure legitimacy or acceptance,” he said. “The activities, the drivers, the business objectives that are motivating their strategies are very different, even though they may be your primary, local counterparts.”

So though virtual conferences and webinars can help bridge global gaps, making headway globally may still require a CEO to step on a plane. “I think it’s very important for senior leadership to meet with the senior leadership of your partners and have delegation visits,” Basart said. “And when your leadership is not in-country, to be under speed-dial for your partner and have that local relationship.”

Have you been able to cultivate global partnerships during the pandemic? Share your experiences in the comments.

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NSA’s Influence 2020 is going Virtual for only $497 USD for Everyone!

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Influence 2020 logoNSA announced last week that it would be going all virtual for this year’s Influence 2020 event. You may already know that NSA has already started to share weekly programs leading up to Influence.
 
However, the HUGE news is anyone can register for this event now for only $497 USD. NSA will be contacting GSF leaders (and your members) who may have already registered for the full, live event. That communication will provide options for how you’d like to move forward.
 
But, if you have NOT yet registered, this is a HUGE value. The initial programming has been phenomenal, and the rest looks to be amazing as well. Here’s the link to register: https://www.nsaspeaker.org/attend/influence20/register/
 
It’s unfortunate we can’t meet in person this year, but here’s to connecting and learning together virtually!

Daily Buzz: Get Ready to Bring Your Volunteers Back

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How to prepare volunteers for a different work environment. Also: Train yourself to put work aside when you’re at home.

The ways in which associations engage volunteers has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this will continue as organizations get ready to reopen. What should volunteer engagement look like during this phase?

“While things are opening back up, we are not just returning to life as it was before March,” says VolunteerMatch’s Jennifer Bennett.

When considering how you’ll re-engage with volunteers in person, let them inform your decisions. “Get a sense of what your volunteers are worried about, or what they need from you, before they come back,” Bennett says. “A survey, facilitated conversation, or focus group can be a great way to identify volunteer concerns or needs.”

Organizations must also remain agile in the face of uncertainty.

“Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball, but we can be prepared to continue to find new solutions as the situation evolves,” Bennett says. “But what we can do is continue to ask ourselves, how can we move forward, keep our volunteers safe, and respond in a way that makes sense for our organization and the clients we serve?”

Remote Work Shouldn’t Be 24/7

Remember, your home is your home first—and your office second. https://t.co/9xwTQi2Myo

— The Muse (@TheMuse) May 26, 2020

When you work from home, it’s easy to slip into an unhealthy around-the-clock work routine. To avoid burnout, incorporate a specific activity into your routine that triggers the end of the workday, such as a short walk or meditation.

“Triggers (or cues) can be a powerful way to form new habits. Having a routine that you do every day when you finish work will send a signal to your body and brain that work is officially over,” says Deanna deBara on The Muse. “What you do is less important than doing it every day.”

Other Links of Note

What’s in store for face-to-face events? The future is cloudy, says Velvet Chainsaw’s Lisa Block.

Onboarding techniques don’t have to be pricey. Smooth the Path’s Amanda Kaiser offers several low-tech ways to onboard new members.

The recent switch to remote work may strain existing work relationships. On the MIT Sloan Management Review, Daniel Z. Levin and Terri R. Kurtzberg explain how managers can reinforce a sense of connection.

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Look to Your Resilient Programs to Help Maintain Revenue

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While the current financial downturn caused by COVID-19 is new, lessons learned from previous recessions can help organizations survive. Finding resilient programs—including certification and microlearning—can help maintain revenue.

With the pandemic having put the kibosh on most revenue streams that require in-person attendance, associations should look for resilient programs to help them maintain a steady flow of revenue in these lean times, said two experts.

“Right now, we need to focus on programs that are most resilient,” said Sharon Rice, managing director of business strategy at .orgSource. “We need to sunset programs that were already on their way out. That sunsetting and managing our product lifecycle is critically important right now: Pulling our resources away from programs that are not resilient and pushing them toward programs that are.”

Rice, who spoke at the webinar “The Impact of a Low Touch Economy on Associations–What is Your Strategy in the New World?” said the programs that are resilient will be ones that are digital and data-driven.

“Resiliency essentially means you have programs that, as we see the economic up and downs, those programs stay important; they’re core to us and our members and people continue to engage,” Rice said. “In the 2008 recession, certification was extremely resilient. Not that we didn’t see downturns in revenue. We did. But it still held onto a pretty high percentage of total revenue in the association. It still contributed at a high level, so certification was resilient.”

After the webinar, I spoke with .orgSource Founder and CEO Sherry Budziak about what resiliency will look like in this pandemic-spurred recession.

“When we talk about resiliency, how do you take those rigid programs that don’t offer enough flexibility to create programs that do?” Budziak said. “Microlearning and micro-credentialing have become very resilient programs, instead of one-and-done programs.”

In general, products that help people improve their skillsets so they look more attractive to their current employer or prospective employers if they have to find a new job tend to be resilient.

“A lot of people are talking about reskilling,” Budziak said. “There are other industries with new jobs being created.”

During the webinar, Rice added that microlearning tends to be more affordable than certifications. “The great thing about microlearning is [that] it’s easier to get your volunteers, your members to develop those,” she said. “We recommend you give them a template, you give them guidance, maybe a little bit of training, and they can start generating those short programs that become super important to the membership base as they try to gain new skills.”

While products that allow for reskilling are a great place to start looking when it comes to determining which programs will be resilient, Budziak said each association is going to be different, so you have to take a holistic look at your programming. As other experts have recommended, Budziak said it’s crucial to cut out programs that are not bringing in revenue at times like this.

“Look at the ones that have historically not brought in the revenue,” Budziak said. “Look at the data, not only the financial data, but the staff resources and what does it take to manage them.”

Budziak said associations should also look at whether their current programs—especially those addressing COVID-19—can be marketed more broadly. One association she works with typically consults on workplace issues for large manufacturers. “They are doing a three-day virtual program on getting back to work,” Budziak said. “They are looking at an extremely broad audience now.”

Finally, Budziak says that if you have a product that members need, you have to make it available to them quickly. “If you’re not getting to market quick enough, they’re going to find what they need somewhere else,” she said.

Budziak noted this can be harder for some associations, depending on the governance structure, as they may need board interaction or approval before launching a product. She recommends minimizing this by putting in place a general framework that the board approves to allow for staff agility.

“You’re losing revenue if you can’t get to those decisions quick enough,” Budziak said. “Put in those guidelines. Say, ‘Hey, we’re having to move quickly on these decisions. Here is where the board will be involved, and here is where the staff will be involved and execute to move quickly to serve our members.’”

Which programs are you finding to be resilient for your association through the pandemic? Share in the comments.

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Keeping Members Close in Socially Distant Times

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A snapshot of leading associations reveals that successful member engagement in a crisis environment requires a more personal touch that speaks to both the head and the heart.

A new report, Engaging Members From a Distance, examines how 15 leading associations are engaging with their members despite the considerable challenges caused by the pandemic. The report, from the communications agency Finn Partners, analyzes the associations’ websites and social media outreach to determine what’s working to provide takeaways for other associations.

Here are a few insights from the analysis that might help you better connect and engage with your own members during this unprecedented time.

COVID-19 Is Front and Center

No surprise here. The report notes that 13 of the associations had robust content focused on COVID-19 prominently featured on their websites and had quickly launched coronavirus resource centers in response to the crisis. Finn Partners predicts that associations will conduct more research on the how the pandemic is affecting members personally and will shift from more fact-based reporting on COVID-19 to assessing the best way forward to support and advocate for members.

Given the severity of the crisis, the need for information about the pandemic will likely not subside, the report notes, so associations will need to look for ways to provide more relevant and resonant content to connect with members.

Make It Personal

The report praises the more personal approach that groups like the American Nurses Association are taking with flash polls to capture member feelings as they face the challenges of COVID-19. The ANA recently surveyed 32,000 nurses and found that 87 percent of them were afraid to go back to work. ANA’S COVID-19 Resource Center invites nurses to share their stories from the front lines of the pandemic. This gives members a chance to express themselves during a global crisis in their own words, which creates a meaningful—and timely—sense of community.

Social Media Storytelling

Associations are using social media to connect with members directly. In particular, their Instagram platforms are brimming with community-building conversations, according to the report. It points to AARP’s Instagram page, where members recount how they are responding to different aspects of COVID-19. The personal stories range from a teacher talking about challenges she faces with virtual instruction to a worker at a Los Angeles market who explains how his job has changed drastically because of the pandemic.

SHRM’s Instagram page has a popular post about six skills to develop for future success, and on International Human Resources Day, a post recognized the contributions of HR professionals around the world and asked them to share what inspired them to join the profession. This kind of personalized approach to communicating with members, the report notes, is effective and will likely grow.

Virtually Together

Virtual events are the new go-to as associations rewrite their established frameworks and adapt rapidly to a new landscape for convening their members. Nearly half of the associations reviewed in the report are holding virtual events. It cites the American Psychological Association as a good example of combining the networking value of a live event with online learning in its webinar this week, “Job Searching During the Pandemic and Beyond.” The workshop touts the need to be prepared in an uncertain job market as COVID-19 markedly alters nearly every industry.

Online Learning

Virtual learning events are the coin of the realm as more members need to learn remotely. All 15 associations included in the report are currently offering online programs. Finn Partners applauds the American Bankers Association’s training center and community-building platforms for ease of navigation and use. And it gives high marks to the American Chemical Society’s program on making digital presentations better.

Overall, providing relevant information while connecting more intuitively—and more personally—is a key to member engagement success, now and always.

“Communications that balance fact-based delivery with the power of good, succinct storytelling tend to break through the clutter and get consumed, remembered, and shared,” the report says. “This is not new news; the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

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How to Effectively Manage Your Staff’s Return to the Office

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Much of the advice about reopening the office has focused on the logistics of floor plans, cleaning, and new norms. Now, experts discuss the practical policies related to smoothly managing your people and addressing their concerns as they come back.

As states reopen following coronavirus closures, associations may start considering the same with their workspaces. While industry groups and building management companies have offered guidance, a lot has been focused on the building. Recently, the Society for Human Resource Management put out a checklist of HR-related items to help employers manage the staff portion of the return.

When it comes to bringing employees back, there are several factors to consider. I spoke with SHRM Senior HR Knowledge Advisor Julie Schweber about those factors, and have some real-world advice the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offered at a recent ASAE webinar, “Preparing Your Office and Employees for Returning to the Workplace.”

Deciding who to bring back first. Most reopening plans suggest bringing back employees in tiers, because social-distancing requirements won’t allow for the return of all staff. So, how does one choose who to bring back? “A lot of it may depend on the business needs,” said. “Who are they servicing? Is it a group of professionals who can work from a laptop, or is it a front-facing business?”

While bringing back essential personnel first, or allotting it based on seniority are fine ways to go, there are some things you don’t want to do. “An employer doesn’t want to base it on age, race, gender, or any non-job-related factor,” Schweber said. “Give it some thought, have a strategy, and communicate that strategy to the staff.”

Mandy Frohlich, APTA chief operating officer, noted that they are planning to start small, and consult with staff as they bring employees to their new headquarters building. “At APTA, our phase-one staff will be very, very limited, and we’ll bring the majority of our staff back much later—September or later,” Frohlich said. She noted that APTA plans to communicate “with staff about what their preferences are based on their personal situation.”

Childcare issues. With schools, camps, and childcare providers still closed in many places, it makes returning to work difficult for some employees. If those factors have already been considered in the reopening decisions and it’s still a problem, Schweber reminds organizations they are still bound by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires them to provide two-thirds pay for up to 12 weeks to workers whose childcare is affected by coronavirus closures.

Immunocompromised staff. If a person is immunocompromised or has other health concerns that would preclude them from working safely in the office, Schweber said, “they may need to look at an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.” That could include continued remote work or an in-office accommodation. “It’s really very employee-specific based on circumstances and facts.”

Communicate. “Prior to rolling it out and saying, ‘Everyone reports to work on Monday,’ start communicating,” Schweber said. “It’s going to be more than once and continue through a variety of methods: email, memos, conference calls. It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate.”

Policies. Organizations may want to revise or look at certain policies when people come back, particularly reminding people not to come to work if they are sick. “If they’re well enough to work but coughing and sneezing, maybe they can work from home,” Schweber said. “Though, employers need to tread carefully. If someone truly is sick, we can’t have employees feeling like they have to work through sickness and can’t take leave.”

Health screenings. Schweber said the government has said it’s OK to do temperature checks in the workplace, but noted that many people are asymptomatic, so that might not help. She did note many organizations are asking their employees to do daily health checks. APTA has adopted this approach.

“We are going to [ask] our staff daily do a checklist of their health,” Frohlich said. “We are going to ask, ‘Can you go through this daily and make sure you are not having these symptoms? Also make sure no one in your household experiencing these symptoms.’”

Employees who are not ready. There may be people who don’t have underlying health issues or other concerns who still don’t want to come back to the office due to general coronavirus fears. Schweber has advice for addressing them. “The general guidance is to listen to an employees’ concerns privately,” she said. “Have a conversation. Say, ‘tell me what you’re concerned about,’ and listen. Say, hey, ‘I hear you.’” The employer should tell the employee any safety measures that address concerns, and if the concern is reasonable and not addressed, they should look to address it.

What is your association doing to help employees transition back to the office? Share your response in the comments.

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