Virtual trumps real face-to-face meetings - GulfToday

Virtual trumps real face-to-face meetings

Mobile World Congress

The annual event – which was cancelled last year – is one of the world’s biggest industry conferences.

Next month’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona is shaping up as an early test of how quickly the global business events industry will bounce back from the pandemic, with a range of high-tech solutions being rolled out to try to keep visitors safe.

The meet is important in the sense it shows how conferences and meetings, which were normal face-to-face affairs, have become virtually virtual, the new normal now.

The annual event – which was cancelled last year – is one of the world’s biggest industry conferences, typically attracting around 100,000 attendees as telecoms companies show off their latest products and executives meet to do deals.

While organisers will offer online access for people who want to stay away, they are hoping to welcome thousands of attendees from across the world, including from countries where the pandemic is still raging.

There will be regular rapid COVID-19 tests, a digital badge that will give access to the venue, and a contact-tracing app if there are any infections.

Live monitoring of the site will allow organisers to regulate the number of people in any given area, while attendees will have to wear face masks and keep to one-way routes.

The Spanish government is on board. It has agreed to special arrangements to allow attendees from countries where travel restrictions are still in force. Spain itself reported 33 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, the lowest figure since August.

But holding the event remains a gamble for the telecom carrier GSMA. Major companies won’t be attending in-person, and attendance is expected to be less than half the 100,000 of a normal year.

Cancellation of last year’s event was a big blow for the GSMA and forced it to lay off about 40 per cent of its employees. Below average attendance, or another cancellation, would mean more pain.

A successful show, on the other hand, could offer a model for other event organisers looking to get their businesses back on track.

About 25,000 people attended MWC Shanghai this year and more than 100,000 watched presentations online. That was one of the GSMA’s first hybrid events, with online and in-person access.

A report last year said companies will be able to hold their annual shareholders’ meeting over the phone or online during the coronavirus pandemic under a promised new law, Britain’s business ministry and accounting watchdog said.

But as virtual meetings are uncommon and largely untested in Britain, mandating their use is likely to create further significant issues, the guidance said.

Articles usually stipulate that two to five people are needed to make an annual meeting “quorate” or legally valid.

Companies will be allowed temporarily to form a quorum by telephone or other electronic means to avoid even two people having to physically meet, the guidance said.

Soon after the pandemic, there were physical events that had to be cancelled at the last moment, to make way for online meets. That was quite a challenge for some firms.

Events and awards are migrating to virtual platforms for several reasons: salvage programming, maintain audiences and retain brand visibility – triggering a lot of adaptation in a short space of time.

More and more firms have found these virtual meetings quite effective, at least as far as saving costs go. From an audience perspective, attendance is different online.

But sometimes there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. It is possible to build trust to some extent over virtual meetings, but not if it involves deals that entail huge budgets. Then you need to sit down and look each other in the eye. All said and done, it remains to be seen how long these virtual or online conferences will go on. Everything depends on when and if the coronavirus is finally wiped off the face of the earth.

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