To understand the future, one must look at the past. So, to see what events will look like in late 2021 and 2022, Be Challenged looks at Europe’s team building and events industry’s post-COVID-lockdown experience.
In Europe and many other regions previously hit hard by COVID, life is returning to a new normal after strong and largely successful vaccine rollouts.
As at 31 August 2021, over 70 per cent of the adult population in the European Union was fully vaccinated, and businesses are now fully open and trading, with minimal restrictions for the vaccinated.
And, after reopening, despite a small wave of cases in June that mostly did not correlate with similar increases in hospitalisations and deaths, case numbers have largely plateaued and are now even declining in some countries such as Belgium, Italy, and France.
However, in areas where vaccination uptake has been low, there is still cause for concern that COVID will become a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
In response the EU has rolled out digital COVID certificates (also known as a Green Pass – similar to the incoming Australian Vaccine Passports) which are required to enter many venues, while mask-wearing is still commonly required in some situations, such as shops and communal areas in the workplace.
Event Master’s Story
For Johnny Machiels, Managing Partner of Belgium-based team building business, Event Masters, September 2021 has marked the end of a tumultuous 18 months that saw lockdowns far longer than those endured by Australia.
“We were devastated in the beginning. We went into lockdown 16 March  and all our forward bookings were cancelled,” he said, adding that it took European businesses a few months to embrace virtual events.
Similar scenes played out around the world, including Australia. However, while Australia largely avoided a second wave until June 2021, Europe were hit hard again from September 2020, and were largely locked down for the next six months.
By this stage, virtual programs were booming, with Event Masters delivering a peak of 76 virtual events over only 18 days during December 2020.
Meanwhile, Australia was a victim of its own success. With very few community cases and a government who had described the vaccine as “not a race”, there was no urgency for Aussies to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile vaccines were being pumped into arms across Europe, with vaccination targets like those that have now finally been set in Australia.
“In March , people saw the light at the end of the tunnel and we started to receive increasing interest in face-to-face events,” Johnny said, adding that by June there was more certainty around vaccination rates and a plan for opening up.
Event Master’s business is now largely back to pre-COVID operation levels, with six recent new hires to replace the nine staff lost during the 18 months to September 2021.
“We are expecting to do the same figures as Pre-COVID in the next 12 months,” Johnny said.
Staff driven “re-boarding” requests
While interest and bookings for Event Master’s team building programs have historically been management driven, Johnny said that post-COVID, it is staff who have been requesting management initiate programs to bring teams back together.
“With staff in many businesses now back in the office full time, we are seeing a lot of programs being booked on the back of staff requests, which is new for us.”
“To answer that call, we have created some dedicated “re-boarding” team building concepts.”
These include brainstorming sessions to discuss how various people survived COVID lockdowns, what they learned, what was bad, what was good (such as working from home) and how they could use those learnings going forward.
The future of team building
Having seen the full spectrum of virtual, hybrid and face-to-face programs play out over the past 18 months, Johnny said virtual and hybrid team building is here to stay, but that face-to-face programs remain people’s preference.
“People want to have that social connection with each other. They want to see each other.”
“The future of team building will still involve some virtual programs, but today’s virtual or hybrid events enquiries are not only based on COVID, but on expenses, travel, logistics and other factors.”