Author: Kevin Cobb

Wellington in Conversation: Andy Stoll, The Kauffman Foundation

At the heart of our business is a desire to help our clients grow. One of the most important factors in growth is having a growth mindset. We sat down with our client Andy Stoll, Senior Program Officer, Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to learn more about the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s approach to growth through community in challenging times.

Joan Wells, Wellington CEO: You’ve spoken before about the importance of generosity, especially in making connections with other people. When you do something without thinking about what you’re going to get out of it, you’re being generous, and people appreciate that. How do you see this playing out in future trends for physical events?

Andy Stoll, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Senior Program Officer, Entrepreneurship: The central equation to building community is: P+C=E: PEOPLE plus CULTURE equals EVERYTHING. Culture is the activating force for groups of people who wish to work together.

Thriving communities, networks, and ecosystems are built on relationships and thus, require a type of culture where generous collaborations happen. It’s a type of culture that supports people regardless of who they are or where they come from with their ideas. That is really important. It’s a very different culture than, I am going to say, traditional business, which is historically, very transactional and often pedigree-based.

You recently sent me a note to thank me for a referral, no one ever does that, and I thought, “Oh, that’s really thoughtful to let me know that my referral became a thing — now I feel good.” But I am not expecting you to do anything in return for that, I’m not keeping score. If everyone in a community operates that way, then I know when I need something someone, somewhere, who has paid some karma into the system, is going to take care of me. Generosity is a key driver of collaboration and really, all relationships.

I know to build that culture, as a leader, one thing I can do is  “model the future” I wish to see. It’s a very different way of thinking than traditional business, but what is interesting is that we have a really cozy word for this, which we have used a long time, which is “neighborly.”

Why? What do you do for your neighbors? You support each other, you help each other out. The secret to community is to be more neighborly. The secret to ecosystem is that everyone should be friends, because what do you do with your friends? You help them out, you support them, you cheer them on. All that is driven by culture and that culture is the culmination of many things that happen in a community on so many levels. What you can’t do is just say, “Well, our culture is now collaborative.” You cannot declare it. It does not work that way. But as a leader, you can model it and encourage people who do it.

“That gets back to that question which I said is at the center of ecosystem building and community: how do you lead when no one is in charge?”

It’s not to say there are not leaders, but when you look across at who is actually in charge of a community, people think in terms of roles like “the mayor.” The answer is, that person is not actually in charge, they’re in charge of the functions of the city government, but that’s only a portion. The mayor is not in charge of what private business does, the mayor is not in charge of what the non-profit sector does. So, leadership skills cannot be top-down. Some people try, but it does not work that way.

The role of leaders in this new era is to recognize the need for and build a culture where individuals thrive and people get to contribute and we all come together to solve problems and create opportunities for ourselves.

“You have to think of physical events as an opportunity to build that culture in a network around people who care about the same thing.”

Back to your question around physical events, you have to think of physical events as an opportunity to build that culture in a network around people who care about the same thing.

It doesn’t even matter what the thing is, as long as you all care about it. The speakers, the way you design it, the interactions, what the leaders say, all of that creates a culture in a place. All of us have been to conferences where you have just the worst culture. It’s transactional, dry, nobody is having fun but they have to be there.

The alternative is conferences where people are just on fire and they are helping each other, they are connecting, you cannot shut them up.

Joan: You can see that in event attendees, when they’ve arrived already committed to participating and engaging because they’re so excited about it.

Andy: Yes. But the value of the conferences is as much what people put into it, not get out of it, and it’s that question we used at the center of the first ESHIP summit, which was, “If everyone says the best part of the conference is the hallway conversations, how do we make the hallway conversations the conference?”

Joan: Yes, you want that, you want to make those connections, that then have just sparked enough that they are going to live on.

Andy: Exactly. I remember the first time I pitched the idea to whoever, it was like, “We’re not gonna do keynote addresses. The longest speaker is going to be 15 minutes,” and half the people were like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and the other people were like, “Well, how will people learn anything?”

But it’s actually that peer-to-peer interaction, especially within ecosystem building because it’s such a new practice. There are no clear best practices, they have no experts, myself included. So, peer-to-peer learning is where it’s at, and it’s probably the same with all conferences, frankly. I think the conferences give people a chance to create that network and that culture and that sort of nutrient exchange that happens, but because we are still in these mental models of hierarchies and top-down and experts, and all things from the industrial revolution, it’s really difficult.

One of the limited great things that is happening as a result of COVID is it has accelerated virtual events and virtual meetings. I have not left my house, really, for six months, but I am actually having more conversations with people in other cities because everyone is used to Zoom now and we can do this face to face, I can see you. All that stuff, it helps.

I think the future of virtual events is thinking exactly along the lines of what you’re saying, which is how do you use events to cultivate networks and cultures where innovation and creativity can thrive.

Joan: I firmly believe that in the future every company is going to have a virtual strategy and a physical strategy as part of their digital marketing. It’s going to be one of the lines in your marketing mix and it’s going to broaden what is possible. It’s going to be good.

“You have to stop thinking about your event as an event. You have to think about your event as a community.”

Andy:  I once had the opportunity to speak with Seth Godin about community and he said, “You have to stop thinking about your event as an event. You have to think about your event as a community. The power of an event is you build a network that you cultivate through events.”

Joan: Because the work is already happening.

Andy: It’s happening, you know each other. You think of it less as an isolated conference and the meeting point in a longer journey of a community.

What I realized after Seth said that was like, ‘Oh, we already have a community, we just need to use the event to say, ‘Hey we’re meeting, and if you’re not in the community come join us,'” because that is the thing people are hungry for. In an interconnected world where we are all isolated, what we all want is to relate to people.

“You know, when physical events do come back, I actually think it’s going to be an exponential explosion. People want to hug people, have a beer with their buddy, go with their peers and sit in a conference and just be with humans.”

I think that also is a lot of the trend, generally, of just life in America. Social media, frankly, has exacerbated that divide in lots of different ways. I am wondering if the backlash to this moment is actually going to be sort of a pendulum swing back the other way and we all start huddling more.

Joan: You know, I think that is absolutely right. I think people are going to feel like you were saying, so isolated and so let down and so disgusted that they are just going to reach out to each other more and those connections are going to be stronger and people are never going to take things for granted. It’s so interesting. Because of that, to your point, their community is going to be center stage. People are going to reconnect.

It’s also connecting more on a one-to-one basis, which is kind of a backlash to social media as well. Because of some of the divisiveness of social media, people are getting their emotional bucket filled with more simple heartfelt connections to somebody that they feel connected to but have never met because of something that has brought them together. That is really interesting.

Andy: The thing that underlines all of it is trust. If you can create a culture of trust within your network, people don’t have to know each other to be willing to help each other out.

Back to the ESHP summit, back to any conference, if you can create a culture of trust, then you create opportunities for people to connect and see each other. But again, it’s about the culture in the network, it’s the culture in the community and events. I still think events are the single best way to create culture from scratch because before the event, there is no culture. It does not exist.

“The way you set the event up, the way you invite people, the way you design the website, the way you write the copy, what happens when they walk in the front door, how the seats are arranged, what the emcee says, how the agenda is designed, all of these things are building blocks of culture.”

If you and I meet at an event and then we say, “Hey, let’s chat, let’s get coffee later,” and when we get a coffee in two weeks, we are going to behave in the culture of that event because we literally do not know a different way to behave.

Joan: That’s an excellent point.

Andy: If we meet at a transactional event and we have coffee, we are not going to think about it, but our conversation is going to be based around transaction. If we meet at an event where the culture is telling you to help each other, the first thing I am going to say to you is, “Okay, John, that’s awesome, I really enjoyed that ESHIP summit, that was great for me. Okay, what can I help you with?”

It will take on that tone, so when I coach people around emceeing (that is another way of saying being a leader) at an event, I tell them that your job is to model the culture, and people do whatever you tell them because literally, that is your job is to tell them what to do.

It propagates to the coffees, in the local communities, in the companies. Events are how you set the culture in a network because you cannot control every single little individual action, but you can control the large gatherings.

Your team does a really great job of building events that are welcoming, inclusive, thoughtful, different, interesting, fun, and all of that adds up to the culture of the event. But it’s also not one decision, it’s thousands of decisions that your team makes. Those events create that culture, and the choices that are made around how the event is designed, the agenda, and particularly how the leaders at that event speak is incredibly important.

I think in the networked society, there is no one that has all the answers. You cannot just say, “Well, we’re going to put the expert on, he’s going to give a 50-minute speech and then we’ll have the answers, and then we’ll go to cocktails.” It does not work that way in a complex world.

Thank you to Andy Stoll and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for their time and their work. You can learn more about the ways in which the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is building and supporting programs to improve education and boost entrepreneurship by visiting their website.

What Is a Hybrid Event, and Why Does It Matter to Your Organization?

“Hybrid experience” may not be a term you’ve heard before, but everyone will come to understand hybrid in 2021. After a year of seemingly all interactions becoming virtual, people have grown accustomed to the unique benefits virtual experiences offer and want to continue aspects of that in future marketing plans. How can future live events also deliver a meaningful simultaneous virtual experience for those who want or need it? With a well-crafted hybrid event.

What Is a Hybrid Event?

A hybrid event is an intentionally designed experience that consists of two well-timed experiences (in-person and virtual) that have to intersect seamlessly. The virtual and in-person audiences feel like they are one audience sharing an experience equally, and the specific needs of each audience are served.

If you take only one thing away from this blog post, let it be this: a hybrid event is not a live stream of an in-person event. The concept of a hybrid event is so new that people don’t yet have a mental image of it, and they assume that it means putting a camera in the back of an auditorium so everyone at home can watch. Not only is this not what a hybrid event is, it’s a flawed model because it creates a second-class experience for one group of attendees (the people participating virtually).

What’s Involved in a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events are more complex to design and produce because they serve multiple audiences. Because of this complexity and the level of planning required, not every agency can produce one successfully.

The good news is that a hybrid event can be designed to incorporate almost any virtual technology platform — because they aren’t about the platform. They are about the production. Think of a hybrid event like a major motion picture: it requires directors, audio engineers, graphics designers and animators, lighting engineers, and even special equipment (like specific cameras that shoot for the visual space). The selection of this team is crucial to the event’s success.

A hybrid event also requires two of almost everything: two emcees, two sets, two production teams, two sets of visual assets, two scripts. This is important to ensure that each audience has a first-class experience. Virtual attendees shouldn’t feel that they’re removed from the live experience, and in-person attendees shouldn’t have their experience hampered by being squeezed into a virtual mold.

Every aspect needs to be thoughtfully planned. For example, if slides will be part of a presentation, how can those slides best be presented to each audience so they can engage with the material? If attendees will be in different time zones, what adjustments to language might need to be made (“We’ll return at ten after the hour” instead of “We’ll return at 10:10”).

All of these details matter, because the stakes are high. Virtual attendees can simply drop out and never return, and live audiences can feel alienated because mistakes are made. The pandemic has turned almost everyone into a virtual connoisseur, and people have higher expectations for virtual (and therefore hybrid) events now than they may have before. A hybrid event gone wrong can damage relationships and brand reputation, so it’s vital to invest the time and resources into detailed planning.

Why Should My Organization Care About Hybrid Events?

Hybrid events present a highly unique opportunity for building and strengthening relationships between groups of people that may not have otherwise interacted with each other. They are a tool for achieving specific strategic outcomes — not a fallback to something else. If creating and growing connections is important to your organization, you should care about hybrid events. (If, on the other hand, you really do just want your audience to watch a prerecorded video, you’d be better off with a more basic solution.)

Hybrid events give you a way to increase your potential audience to include people who might not otherwise be able to attend in person because they can’t travel, have personal or professional obligations that prevent them from attending in person, or who would simply prefer to participate virtually. This allows you to intentionally expand your reach globally and attract more diverse audiences — even if your in-person space has a maximum capacity.

We know people have different ways of learning and interacting with content, and hybrid events give you more opportunities to design for a range of learning styles. They also allow you to create targeted messaging and tracts that best serve each audience. Both the approach and the benefits should be strategically architected for each audience.

Put another way, the question for hybrid events is not, “Do you need one?” but “Why wouldn’t you want one?”

Every successful brand strategy in 2021 must include a hybrid event, which can serve as the model for each year going forward or can be alternated each year with a virtual experience depending on the organization’s goals. Hybrid events are a new concept today, but they will shortly become as indispensable as a company website.

We can help you determine the right kind of hybrid experience design for your goals. Contact us today for a consultation about your hybrid event opportunities.

How Long Should a Virtual Event Be?

One of the most frequent questions our virtual events team hears is, “How long should my virtual event be?” Whether you’ve never done an event before or you’re pivoting from a physical event to a virtual event, the answer is the same: it should be as long as you need it to be, and as short as it can be.

It can be tempting to start virtual event planning by setting a hard and fast rule on event length, but this is the wrong move.

Instead, start by determining what the objective of the event is. Is it to educate attendees about something? To build camaraderie? To sell a product? To raise funds or awareness?

Once you’ve determined the goal of the event, identify all of the building blocks that need to go into achieving that goal. This can include considerations like the interests the prospective audience has, how familiar they are with technology, and what they will need to experience to make the event deemed “successful”. These elements should give you an outline of what types of content you’ll need to have.

Some examples of our virtual events – long, short, and in-between:

  • PechaKucha: a storytelling format in which a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each (6 minutes and 40 seconds total)
  • Short “Ted-Talk” format presentations
  • One hour virtual galas / fundraisers
  • 48 hours of continuous global content
  • Multi-day conferences that span weeks

For example, if your goal is to educate your audience about a new initiative and your audience consists primarily of visual learners, you’ll probably want to have engaging slides or videos that illustrate both the overview and more granular points. Similarly, if your goal is team building and you know your audience tends to be more introverted, you may need to include an instructor-led or speaker-led Q and A session to break the ice before going into participant breakout sessions.

Each of these building blocks will need to be assigned an estimated amount of time, and that’s where some of the differences between virtual events and physical events come into play.

  • In a physical event, there can be a need to justify the amount of time people have traveled by making the event longer. Few people want to travel three hours for a 30-minute event. When you remove travel, you also remove the perceived obligation to stretch out the event.

  • Physical events usually incorporate time for people to park, check in, use the restrooms, check their coats, get coffee or snacks, find their seat, settle in, and meet their neighbors. In a virtual event, you can reduce the amount of time needed for each session by 5-10 minutes for these activities alone.

  • At the same time, virtual events with no break can be tough on everyone’s eyes and legs. Make sure you build in breaks that allow people to rest their eyes and stretch – or incorporate those into your event with activities like beginner-level mini-yoga, breathing exercises, or even a dance break for events with more outgoing audiences.

  • “Catch up” breaks can also be helpful. When people know they’ll have a designated opportunity to respond to emails or return phone calls, it’s easier for them to focus and engage in the event.

  • The average attention span of an adult is 10-18 minutes, pre-COVID-19. For virtual or physical events, consider how to make the best use of that time. You don’t need to have 10-minute sessions – but you may want to for certain key building blocks that require active engagement. Passive engagement activities could be longer but with short bursts of activity to keep interest levels up.

  • During a virtual event, you may be competing with children, pets, spouses, ringing phones, or television for the attention of your attendees. Consider how many times, and in what different ways, you may need to reinforce a message to break through the ambient noise.

The total of all of these blocks is your “first draft” event length. Does it match your expectations? Does it seem in line with the expectations of your attendees? Does it give your invited speakers enough time? Does the ask of time seem reasonable for your audience? If the event seems too long, consider whether it could be broken into shorter “can’t miss” events. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more than to have them watching the clock.

Despite their differences, virtual events and physical events are similar in a very important way: they ask something of the people who attend, in return for the delivery of a meaningful experience. It matters less that your event is a certain length than it does that you deliver the experience you’ve promised your audience.

6 Tips to Make Your Next Virtual Event Stand Out

As companies large and small look for ways to facilitate strategic growth, virtual events have emerged as a way to foster connections, build community and share information, bringing remote attendees together to discuss, engage, learn and re-energize.

Virtual events have also become the de facto replacement for live events, leaving many companies to grapple with the challenges of making a virtual gathering look and feel like a live, branded experience.

Consult the following tips to help you discover ways to make your next virtual event more engaging, memorable and fun. Sure, virtual events come with some constraints, but they also enable some exciting opportunities, too — fewer barriers to attendance, for example, which means larger audiences.

How to Make Your Next Virtual Event Stand Out

Make a plan.

Let’s say you have experience hosting recurring live events like annual meetings or conferences. It can be tempting to want to “flip the switch,” or simply transfer your live programming into a virtual realm.

First, take a step back to understand your virtual format and what content will perform best in a technology-focused environment. For example, let’s say your company is in the process of transforming a live annual conference into a virtual event. And that conference is known for its depth of programming: multiple keynote speakers and presentations coupled with several concurrent breakout sessions in several time slots. That breadth of learning opportunities, while valuable for a live event, doesn’t necessarily translate to the digital confines of a virtual event.

The solution? Make the technology work for you. Consider a virtual event as your brand’s highlight reel. What messages and insight do you want to showcase? How can you effectively do that in a virtual environment? And how do you keep your attendees engaged in an environment that can be more prone to distractions?

Go beyond the platform.

If you’re hosting an event with multi-faceted programming and want to encourage several methods of attendee interaction, a comprehensive digital platform is an ideal solution. Platforms put a variety of resources at your fingertips: live streaming, chat rooms, message boards, file repositories, polls, online stores and more.

Yet don’t forget the other resources you’ll need for a successful virtual event, namely audio/visual. You could argue that A/V quality is even more important in a virtual environment, especially if your audience or colleagues have expressed reluctance about the efficacy of virtual events. Speakers should be coached individually or in small groups to confirm optimal presentation and equipment settings. If your event or meeting includes multiple segments, you’ll likely want to enlist the help of an emcee or facilitator to establish a smooth and up-beat pace. And you’ll want people on hand to communicate on the back-end to stay ahead of possible glitches or other challenges, manage multiple streams and maintain an uninterrupted flow.

Design an experience.

When attendees walk into a live event, they often develop an impression of the brand that’s solidified throughout their time on-site. You can create a similar impression with a virtual event, especially if you think of it as an experience. It’s easy to dismiss a virtual event as just a video call or just a webinar. Sure, those may be elements of your event, but keep your eye on a more holistic, 50,000-foot view of what’s happening.

Consider these questions:

  • What mood or tone do you want to establish?

  • What do you want attendees to feel as they start and end the event?

  • How can you encourage attendees to create and build relationships, both with each other and with you?

  • Why should attendees prioritize this event over other opportunities?

  • How can you deliver maximum value in a virtual environment?

Here’s our tried and tested magic formula: combine experience design and strategy, then bring it to life in the virtual environment. By embracing the unique features of the virtual format, you can introduce a refined event framework, welcome more attendees and capitalize on other technology-enabled benefits. The result is a lasting impression that’s just as powerful as the one created by a live event.

Define attendee takeaways.

With the rapid rise in virtual events, you may also notice increasing virtual fatigue. Attendees may lose energy and focus more quickly in a virtual environment, which means a successful virtual event includes efficient time management as part of the attendee experience.

Consider these questions as you build your event logistics and programming:

  • What information and emotions do you want attendees to take away from the virtual event?

  • Do you want them to take any action in the days and weeks following the experience?

  • How can you help keep attendees connected and continue to foster any community building momentum that happens organically during the event?

Identifying these strategic elements can then help you work backward to ensure your event programming, technology and format support your goals.

Have fun!

If you feel like the year so far has been a giant ball of stress, you’re not alone! Yet as you plan your next virtual event, don’t forget to have fun. What sort of socializing and other activities would you include in a live event? And how can you modify those ideas for a virtual format?

Host a virtual wine tasting or happy hour, for example. Many wineries and distilleries are now offering drink packages (sometimes with food) that you can send attendees prior to the event. After a bit of education from the winery or distillery owner, give attendees a chance to kick back, sip and catch up with each other.

Other ideas include virtual live music performances, virtual tours of destinations near or far, a cooking demonstration or a creative project. Impromptu giveaways can keep attendees excited and engaged. Or consider opportunities to focus on health and wellness — a virtual yoga class or guided meditation session can provide welcome physical and mental relief.

Embrace these two attributes.

These two mindsets can make all the difference in gracefully navigating virtual event planning: be flexible and be creative. You try to be prepared for multiple scenarios during live events, right? You’ll want to adopt that same attitude for virtual gatherings. The reliance on technology to host a successful event can be nerve-wracking, so prepare to be flexible and change things on the fly, just as you would in a live scenario.

As you go into a virtual event, especially if it’s your first one, know that something may go awry. Do what you can to get the event back on track and don’t let it derail your momentum. We’re all forging a new path together, and showing yourself and your team leniency — especially in a time of high stress — can make a big difference.

In addition, don’t be afraid to experiment a little. It’s true: your live event likely can’t perfectly transition to a virtual environment. But how can you play on the strengths of a virtual gathering and technology? What elements can you add that were out-of-reach for your live event? With so much change in the air, now’s the time to step outside of the box and try something new. Just think: accumulating experience with both live and virtual events gives you valuable insight to guide your future event planning. Now that virtual events are more widely used, companies will increasingly have more options at their disposal. More than ever, the question boils down to the format and capabilities that will deliver the best attendee experience, which you can assess on a case-by-case basis.

We hope these tips have helped get the ideas flowing! If you want to chat through anything, or get more examples of how we’ve helped clients plan and launch successful virtual events, please reach out for a no-charge discovery session, good for both current and prospective clients. It’s a new frontier, but we’ll brave it together!

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.


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.