Author: Jacinda Hoehn

Applying Exposure Science to a COVID-19 World to Guide Our Return to Work and School

Take it from the experts: An interview between Wellington CEO Joan Wells and client ISES President Paloma Beamer.

We all want to get back to the way things used to be, but is that possible? And if returns to in-person environments are realistic, what does this look like?

We wanted to get the answers straight from the experts. Enter ISES, the International Society of Exposure Science. We’re proud to partner with a client whose mission is to “better our world, its ecosystems, and inhabitants.”

Returning to school and work safely is top of mind for many people right now. Only 1 in 10 Americans think schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a recent poll. Parents and teachers are concerned about student safety and the potential rapid spread of COVID-19, should an outbreak at their school happen.

Workplace environments are facing similar challenges. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans who are working outside their homes are concerned about exposure to COVID-19. If employees do have to work–whether they’re essential workers or leaving their work from home status–they should feel safe and protected by their employers.

Colliding the mission of ISES and our day-to-day work of crafting authentic, safe experiences in spite of a pandemic, Wellington CEO, Joan Wells, sat down for a video interview with ISES President, Paloma Beamer, to discuss how we should all be addressing COVID-19 as we continue to work to find normalcy in school and work environments.

Q&A

Joan: What does exposure science mean to you and how would you describe the discipline to those not in this field?
Paloma: We’re the people who study the relationship between the source of the exposure and how people are actually exposed. And so, because of that, we also study how to stop those exposures. So, like one of our members said, “Until there’s a vaccine, exposure science is the only thing protecting us and our families.

Joan: That is so interesting. What made you choose this field and career? What areas are you most interested in and passionate about?
Paloma: I came to this field as an engineer. My Ph.D. is in engineering, as well as my bachelor’s and my master’s. As an engineer, we’re very goal-oriented and very focused on solving problems. But I wasn’t sure if the problems we were designing interventions for, were addressing the most important issues for protecting people’s health from the environment. I didn’t have the language yet, but I knew I wanted to understand how contaminants went through the environment. More so, how that led to people coming into contact with them, how that differs across different communities and cultures, and by your occupation. One of our Emeritus faculty members at the University of Arizona says it best, “I can be in a room with a giant piece of chocolate cake, but it’s not gonna make me fat until I decide to eat that piece of chocolate cake.” And that is the difference between there being an environmental concentration or something in the environment and somebody actually being exposed, is through our own behaviors and actions and things that we do.

Joan: Tell me about the International Society of Exposure Science and why it was important for you to be involved and hold such a prominent leadership role.
Paloma: I was recruited to do my graduate studies at Stanford and worked with an amazing research group there that focused on farmworkers and exposure. A couple of members of this group were already involved with ISES and laid some of the initial groundwork for the Society and wrote some of those first definitions of exposure. When I attended my first ISES conference, I felt like I was finally around people who cared about the same things that I did! It just made sense to me to be a part of an organization like ISES.

Joan: It sounds like exposure science can really help us understand COVID-19. How would you describe the connection between exposure science and the pandemic?
Paloma: In the beginning of the pandemic, we took our time to get our role right because we know how hard it is to deliver health communication and we didn’t want to cloud the messaging that was coming out from government agencies. However, we are a group of scientists that are accustomed to looking at different scenarios, both at work and in the community, and thinking about how people are exposed and how those exposures can be reduced. We also understand that there may be risk associated with most scenarios, but that risk can be minimized by some sort of control or ideally, multiple controls working together.

Joan: What is the importance of wearing a mask and how does that relate specifically to exposure science?
Paloma: You can control things at the source, you can control the person or you control things along the path and the best way to control something is at the source. Right now, the source of coronavirus is infectious people. So, the mask basically puts a barrier over those infectious people. However, one big problem is that you are infectious before you have symptoms and we don’t even know we’re sick before we’re sick. This makes everything a bit confusing, which is why it is always important to where a mask when around others or in public

Joan: Wellington recently moved into a new office space and we are continuing to understand the procedures required for a proper return-to-work plan. What are the top things Wellington and other businesses can do to keep their employees safe?
Paloma: There is a hierarchy of controls that we use that is published on NIOSH’s website and other government websites and is actually written into federal code. The hierarchy details the different controls in which you should consider, the order of the controls and those that you should overlay. So, the first step is to eliminate the hazard. Obviously, we can’t get rid of Coronavirus, but we can eliminate how close people are to each other, how many people are in the space, and controlling who is within your 6 feet bubble. You also want to try to reduce the number of people you have in the workplace. You can ask questions like:

  • Do they really need to be here and be in person with each other to get the work done effectively?

  • If people are going to be in the space, what can you do to minimize the number of people who are within six feet of each other?

  • Can you do different work rotations?

  • Can you sit people in different places?

You will want to make sure your ventilation is as good as possible. If there are doors and windows that can be opened, try to keep them open. Have your HVAC system set to as much fresh outdoor air as possible. You also have administrative controls that you should be implementing in the workplace. That would be the use of surface disinfectants, hand hygiene, and guidelines for how you enter and leave the workspace. It’s important to make these habitual tasks for employees: use hand sanitizer, wipe down your work station when you arrive and leave, clean shared work areas like conference rooms. The more you post and repeat this throughout your office, employees are more likely to take part in this on a regular basis. You can also consider having people work staggered schedules to minimize the total number of people in the workplace at one time.

Joan: As a mom and scientist, what are some of the things that are fore-front on your mind as it relates to returning your children to school?
Paloma: I think we are all trying to understand the different alert levels at both a University and public school level. So an example of this could be the number of new cases in your state. A potential alert could be if there was a spike recently. Personally, I was in the mindset that maybe if there were 14 days of decreasing case counts in the state, I would take my child back to daycare. We got to 10 days before the number spiked, so I haven’t taken him back yet. I do think there are ways to get kids back to school in a safe way, we just have to get all of the other controls in place first.

Joan: Should schools be doing the same types of things that we’re asking businesses to do?
Paloma: I spoke with my son’s principal about this recently and we actually discussed practicing certain things at home. Encouraging kids to wear face masks at home and washing hands every hour are a couple of the things parents can do to prepare for their children’s return to the classroom. The principal also encouraged parents to try to minimize trips and other non-socially distanced activities.

Joan: Thank you for sitting down with me today, we’re so thrilled to have ISES as a partner!

Are you interested in learning more about ISES and how they contribute to the world around us? Visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter for updates as they continue to navigate an ever-changing environment.

Make Your Goals a Reality with Virtual Discovery Sessions

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, many companies opted to delay not just events, but also strategic business initiatives and efforts to bolster internal progress.

Yet now that we’re months into the pandemic, how much longer can companies keep their future initiatives on hold? Progress is especially important in areas like company culture and community building. Engaged, active employees strengthen a business from the inside, creating a solid foundation that can weather times of crisis and support lasting success.

Even though we can’t yet safely gather in person, you can pivot your strategic planning and discovery efforts just as you do with events and meetings. The key is to take this work virtual!

As you consider your own virtual strategic planning, here are a few of our top tips to make this process as effective and enjoyable as possible.

4 Tips on Hosting Effective Virtual Discovery Sessions

1. Gather your team on video.

You and your team might be feeling a little virtual fatigue, but face-to-face interactions are especially important for strategic planning and discovery. You’ll be having and facilitating deep conversations, which are much easier when you can see and gauge the reactions of others.
Plus, let’s be honest — it’s easier to reduce the risk of multitasking when everyone’s visible! Accountability, right?

2. Invite an outside facilitator.

Remember that virtual fatigue we just mentioned? It’s a sneaky culprit that can cause people to lose energy more quickly in a virtual space.

And that means the pressure’s on to do more in less time. Rather than saddling yourself or your company’s leadership with that responsibility, call in an expert. You know your business and what you want to accomplish. By working with a facilitator, you’ll be able to do just that while also sending a clear signal to your employees that you value their feedback and well-being.

3. Take your favorite tools virtual.

Anyone else love the smooth, clean space of a whiteboard when you’re planning and brainstorming? Look for virtual alternatives to your preferred strategic planning tools.

We’re big fans of MURAL and MIRO, technology platforms that enable digital collaboration anywhere. Zoom includes a number of helpful built-in tools too, including chats, messages, file sharing and the ability to create collaboration-enabled conference rooms.

One tip? Once you’ve decided on the digital tools you’ll use during your virtual design session, send your employees some advanced communication so that they can make the necessary installations or have time to explore the chosen resources. That will also help you maximize the discussion time by giving participants a chance to feel more comfortable with this new format and all of the ways that they can be involved.

4. Maximize your virtual capabilities.

Just as you’d put in the work to make a strategic plan for your event or meeting, you should do the same thing for your discovery session.

For example, what outcomes do you want to achieve? What are your discussion topics? How do you want attendees to participate? What happens after the session?

When you answer those questions, you can pick the most effective virtual platform. And once you do, put all of its capabilities to work. Some of our favorite examples include hosting breakout groups, introducing polling and enabling live chat. You might find that not all participants need to be part of every conversation. Put your virtual conferencing platform to work in a way that keeps participants engaged and also helps ensure you collect the raw data and feedback that will guide your next steps.

Of course, you don’t want to bombard your attendees with messages and requests in all directions. That’s why it’s so critical to create a plan for your discovery session, then decide what virtual capabilities will be the best fit for each programmatic element. The more strategically you can put your virtual resources to work, the less likely you’ll risk missing out on important answers and insight.

If you’re feeling intimidated by shifting your strategic planning and community building to a virtual format, you’re not alone!

Our Wellington team is ready to facilitate your design and discovery sessions to help you strategize on the adjustments you need to make to accomplish your goals and objectives. We simply want to strategize with you and help you plan for the future. Then, when we’re on the other side of the pandemic, your business will be ideally positioned for further growth and success ahead of the industry curve. Reach out to us any time and we’ll start moving forward with you.

Need to Pivot? Three Questions to Help You Gain Value When Going Virtual

Networking, relationship and community building, strengthening your brand — these are just a few of the many strategic benefits that come from live events like trade shows and conferences.

So what do you do if, like so many businesses and organizations, current circumstances have encouraged pivots to virtual events? Converting a live event to a virtual format is so much more than setting up a Zoom meeting or selecting and customizing a web platform.

The trick is to approach your virtual event with a similar mindset that you would have with a live event. You have to get the most value out of the event as possible while also delivering a meaningful, memorable attendee experience.

Start your virtual event planning process by answering the following three questions. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of existing assets and what sort of virtual presence makes the most sense for you and your audience.

1. What assets do you have (or are you planning to have) that you can leverage in a virtual format?

There’s a good chance you’re already creating content and other marketing assets, both for general use and for specific events. Take a quick assessment of your content library. With that information, you can decide on a virtual strategy that makes the most sense.

Here’s an example. Let’s say webinars are valuable learning tools for your company and/or audience. Instead of sending people elsewhere for webinars, can you create your own virtual home base, then regularly host your own webinars? You’ll help build your brand while also making it easy for people to find information they need to stay up-to-date with their industry and peers.

If you have a library of content like articles, white papers and testimonials, consider starting a blog (if you don’t already have one) and adding digital resources like an e-newsletter.

The goal isn’t to exponentially increase your workload, which is why it’s important to assess what you’ve already created — and what’s in the pipeline. You may spot some gaps to fill while you leverage your content and other resources to support and enrich your virtual presence.

2. How do you maximize your brand exposure in the virtual space?

As if the virtual landscape wasn’t crowded enough, we’re all dealing with a pandemic that’s driving our next move when it comes to event planning and hosting.

It’s more important than ever to stand out as much as you can. Consider this important factor: interacting and engaging in a virtual space helps level the playing field between small organizations and associations and global brands.

“Right now, everyone’s trying to figure out how to do the same thing,” says Kevin Cobb, Director of Marketing, Wellington.

So how do you stand out? Lean on your brand’s personality and voice for ideas. What special elements can you add to your virtual experience that will keep attendees buzzing long after the event concludes? Does a virtual format give you capabilities to try a programming or experiential element that may have been previously not feasible during a live event?

A virtual swag shop can be a fun way for attendees to grab some mementos of the event, for example. In lieu of in-person networking and team-building, consider adding some sort of immersive experience — a virtual wine tasting and winery tour, or a live cooking demonstration — that gives attendees a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company in a virtual hangout.

Another tip? Virtual events make it more cost-effective to literally increase your brand exposure by welcoming more attendees. One Wellington client transitioned an annual live conference to a virtual event and accommodated more than twice the number of attendees than the live counterpart. You could also look at hosting a series of niche virtual events targeted toward a specific audience, then bringing those groups together at a later date for a more comprehensive virtual gathering.

One final consideration: don’t feel like you need to come out of the gate with the biggest, baddest digital presence in history. Consider your brand, your goals, your audience. Where can you help others the most? How can you have the greatest impact? Create a solid digital foundation or hub, then steadily build on it as new ideas come to life.

3. How can you offer the best user experience in a virtual environment?

We mentioned some ways you could add memorable elements to your virtual event, but it’s equally important to take a holistic view of your intended experience. Consider the same questions that help drive strategic planning for a live event:

  • What do you want attendees to feel and experience during the event?

  • What do you want attendees to take away once the event concludes?

  • What challenges can your event help solve?

  • How do you keep attendees connected and engaged before, during and after the event?

Although your attendees are experiencing your virtual event through a screen, there’s no reason they can’t feel as excited, energized, informed and connected as they would during a live event. Those emotions are more important than ever, especially as so many of us may be feeling more isolated outside of the typical office environment and with a calendar lacking in events.

Thinking through the experience and how to deliver it can also help you make important logistical decisions, too. Keeping attendees conversing and connected is a common goal, so consider incorporating digital features like live chat, forums and in-platform messaging to help facilitate the discourse.

Don’t forget your production resources, too. Connect with speakers individually to ensure they have an optimal set-up and are comfortable with the technology. Be sure you have a team that can manage multiple streams and other programming elements. Sure, technology can surprise us with glitches, but the goal is to deliver a polished and seamless experience.

Lastly, forget about moving everything from a live event over to a digital format. Instead, use a virtual event to embrace your strengths.

“This is where you should rely on your best-of content,” Cobb says. “Virtual events will never truly take the place of what it means to be together in a room, so instead, pick your highlights.”

We hope these questions help guide your strategic planning and give you and your team a boost of confidence as you navigate your new digital frontier. All of us at Wellington are in the midst of helping clients successfully make the live-to-virtual transition. Reach out any time if we can do the same for you.

Community Building During a Crisis

It’s no surprise that engaged employees are proven to be more focused, to work harder, and to enjoy their jobs more than those who aren’t stimulated by their day-to-day work. In fact, highly engaged teams show a 21% increase in profitability.

Employee retention and engagement should always be top of mind for employers, but it’s even more important now that we’re in a COVID-19 world. The way a company treats its employees during “trying times” can pave the way for how the organization is viewed not only by employees, but also by potential and current clients.

It’s not only large brands that are vulnerable to this increased visibility. COVID-19 forced layoffs, furloughs, and reduced salaries around the world that few businesses were able to remain immune from. Customers and potential new hires are watching brands during this time to see how difficult situations are handled. “How did you handle the crisis?” is likely to become a frequently asked question from customers and potential employees.

Virtual fatigue is a real and pressing issue that many employees are facing as they have transitioned into a work from home structure. More than ever, employees are questioning the “why” behind their work as they feel increasingly more drained by video conference-packed days.

COVID-19 aside, employee retention and engagement aren’t new issues. A poll by Gallup that was taken pre-COVID-19 revealed that only 33% of American workers felt energized by their jobs. 52% said they’re “just showing up,” and 17% described themselves as “actively disengaged.”

How can you begin to fix what was already broken and is increasingly becoming more difficult in a pandemic-ridden world? 

Enter Wellington’s Community Building experts. How does community building address your HR challenges? We’ll tell you.

Community Building: 

  • Increases retention and engagement by creating stronger connections and a sense of belonging. Employees who are connected and feel like they’re being heard are 4.6 times more likely to perform their best work. Build up employees by making them feel like they have a place and their voice is warranted.

  • Creates connections among stakeholders, customers, and community members. Connectivity is at the center of employee satisfaction and brand loyalty. Employees who are satisfied work harder and customers who feel a strong sense of loyalty to your brand are more likely to continue using your product or service. Bring all of these players together by thinking about how they fit into your community.

  • Accelerates communication and makes it more effective. Don’t allow your employees to feel out of the loop. Community building provides a communication plan that brings everyone together, up to speed, and puts them on the same page for progress while also fostering dialogue and discourse.

  • Creates a sense of ownership among employees resulting in deeper loyalty and commitment. Employees who feel in control of their work AND recognize their importance within it are going to feel proud and encouraged to do their best and stay focused.

Built on over 25 years of working to build community within companies and organizations, Wellington’s strategic approach starts with discovering the specific goals and objectives for your unique community. We create custom solutions to provide your stakeholders with a stronger sense of belonging by connecting those goals and objectives to members’ shared values. This allows us to create and leverage networks that encourage collaboration and use the power of small group connections to create long-term impact within your organization.

Let us start designing solutions and tactics that will strengthen your communities today with an in-depth discovery session. By the end of our session, we’ll have defined real and actionable objectives for your business. Contact us today!

What to Expect: Hotel Safety and Cleanliness

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the travel industry at a minimum for the near future. But as things begin to open back up, and we look ahead to days when travelers begin to visit hotels again, what can you expect in the way of cleanliness and safety?

After in-depth conversations with our partners in the hotel industry, we assembled this overview of best practices being implemented throughout numerous hotels and resorts worldwide. Hotels are committed to safely welcoming guests and Wellington is here to guide you to ensure the safety and health of you and your attendees throughout the event.

General Cleaning & Hotel Protocols

  • Cleaning & Sanitizing
      • Contactless Check-In: Implementing technology for guests who desire to have a contactless arrival experience. Guests can check-in, choose their room, access their room with a digital room key, and check-out through their mobile devices.
      • Clean and Clean Again: Increasing the frequency of cleaning of public areas.
      • Guest-Accessible Disinfecting Wipes and Sanitizer Stations: Placing touchless hand sanitizer stations throughout the hotel at key guest and employee entrances and contact areas.
      • Equipment: Using products that meet EPA guidelines approved against viruses, bacteria, and other airborne and bloodborne pathogens.
      • Fresh Air: Increasing the frequency of air filter replacement and HVAC system cleaning, and maximizing fresh air exchange.
      • Focus on Fitness Centers: Improving guidelines for disinfecting the hotel fitness center, possibly closing for cleaning multiple times daily, and limiting the number of guests allowed in at one time.
      • Innovative Disinfection Technologies: Exploring new technologies like electrostatic sprayers–which use an electrostatically charged disinfecting mist–and ultraviolet light to sanitize surfaces and objects.
  • Guest Arrival
      • Thermal Cameras and/or temperature checks at entry points.
      • Automatic Doors: Guests enter through open or automated doors to minimize touchable surfaces.
      • Bell Service: Guests requesting bell service will be assisted and bell carts will be sanitized after each guest is assisted.
  • Front Desk / Guest Services / Concierge / Bellmen
      • Agents will utilize every other workstation to ensure six feet of separation
      • All queuing areas will have proper 6-feet markings
      • Preregistration is being encouraged for all guests to avoid the need for touch transactions during check-in and check-out.
  • Elevators
      • Sanitized at regular intervals
      • Reduced capacity (around 4 guests at a time)
  • Guest Rooms
      • Guest Amenity Kits: Hotels may provide personal amenity kits with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, gloves, and a personal face mask.
      • Declutter Paper Amenities: Remove pen, paper, and guest directory; supplement with digital or available upon request.
      • Deep Clean 10 High-Touch Areas: Extra disinfection of the most frequently touched guest room area–light switches, door handles, TV remotes, thermostats, and more.
      • Clean Room Seal: Add an extra measure of assurance by placing a room seal on doors to indicate to guests that their room has not been accessed since being thoroughly cleaned.
      • Housekeeping Service:
        • Additional pillows and blankets are available by request only.
        • No reusable materials stored in guest rooms.
        • To prevent cross-contamination, rags and gloves are changed for each new room.
        • All bed linens and laundry will be changed daily and continue to be washed at a high temperature and in accordance with CDC guidelines.
        • Linens are removed in one-time-use bags upon check-out or request.
      • Room Assignments:
        • Spaced to minimize guest to guest and guest to employee interaction.

________________________________

Meetings

  • Meeting Space
      • Host lecterns, including all associated equipment, to be sanitized once per hour at a minimum experience.
      • Conference room doors, tables, chairs, light switches, and other equipment will be sanitized after each group use.
      • Encouragement and support of hybrid meetings via enhanced live-stream capabilities.
  • Physical Distancing
      • Seating capacities and floorplans to be reviewed on an event-by-event basis to ensure appropriate physical distancing that follows all guidelines.
      • Signage will be placed at meeting and event locations reminding attendees of appropriate physical distancing guidelines.

________________________________

Food & Beverage

  • Dining
      • Restaurants and bars will reduce seating capacities to allow for a minimum of six feet between each seated group/party of guests.
      • Handheld credit card swipe device to pay at the table, making the transaction contactless between server and guest.
      • All food will be served individually plated.
      • Boxed meals will have sanitation seals.
  • Meeting & Banquet Spaces
      • Additional hand-washing stations will be deployed near each food and beverage station attendant, in exhibit halls, and as appropriate, around the perimeter of meeting rooms.
      • Follow strict hygiene protocols related to food and beverage with additional measures like staff wearing face masks while preparing dishes.
      • Pads of paper, pens, and all other reusable guest contact items to be either sanitized after each use or single-use.
      • Individual bottled water will be provided in lieu of water carafes on meeting tables and water stations.

________________________________

Incentives and Peace of Mind for Future Events

Hotels are extending generous attrition allowances and Wellington will negotiate cancellation and force majeure clauses that minimize risk and offer protection for our clients. It is a fantastic time to take advantage of amazing deals with low risk! Reach out to us today to learn more about these offerings.

Interested in discussing what your next event could look like? Reach out to us here.