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By G. Harvey Gail, MBA

Even though we’ve been dealing with the pandemic for the past two years, navigating its social and safety nuances has not become any easier. As we begin to see more distinct differences among people regarding vaccination status and risk tolerance, managers are put into a challenging position. These difficulties impact many businesses, and trade associations and nonprofits are also affected.

Given all this COVID confusion, how could you hold an in-person meeting or event that makes everyone happy? For example, imagine that your organization is considering an in-person leadership retreat. You and your team believe an in-person event is superior to a virtual one. However, after discussion opens up, you realize safety preferences vary wildly. Here’s some possible expectations from attendees regarding the meeting format:

  • I’m not going if everyone isn’t triple vaccinated, wearing a mask the entire time, and maintaining training six feet of social distance.
  • I’m not going to the retreat if I have to wear a mask the entire time.
  • I’m still waiting for my second covid shot. Can I attend?
  • Shouldn’t masking and social distancing be sufficient?
  • I want to know everyone’s vaccination status before I decide to attend.
  • I don’t think we need masks if everyone’s triple vaccinated.
  • For me, it’s not happening. I don’t care what you say your vaccination status is. Masks are an absolute must for me, or I’m out.
  • Can we do a hybrid retreat? An in-person meeting in which some people attend virtually in TEAMS or ZOOM.
  • Can we just have the meeting outside?
  • Can we skip social distancing and just wear masks?
  • Masks don’t work anyway, so why even bother!

After about an hour and a half of this back and forth, your board decides just to hold the retreat via ZOOM, much to the disappointment of some members.

It’s frustrating as it might sound, this scenario is playing out in association boards across the country. Unless your board is homogeneous in terms of risk tolerance, a single arrangement isn’t likely to please everybody. Looking into “the science” is also not going to be much help. At this point in time, every single person knows where they stand on COVID. Regardless of what “the science” says is and is not safe, people will do what they think is best.

As a manager, it’s going to be essential to have a plan in attack for making these kinds of decisions.

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