There’s no denying that remote work has its boons, like less commute stress and flexible work schedules. But for some of us, seeing a colleague in-person just can’t be beat. Thanks to rising vaccination rates, employees craving that in-person connection are seeing businesses hosting in-person experiences again.

For companies planning in-person events, it’s an exciting time (especially with that festive holiday magic in the air). But HR teams are tasked with the hard responsibilities of keeping employees safe and making sure their events are inclusive for remote employees who can’t be there. 

Resources for Humans (RfH) – a Slack community of over 14,000 HR leaders – recently hosted a virtual working session for members to discuss how People teams are navigating hybrid events. Here are some of the session’s key takeaways:

1. Set the stage (and expectations) in advance.

To manage employees’ comfort levels, RfH members recommended by providing them with as much information upfront as possible. Employees will want to know about the mask policy, vaccination statuses, temperature checks, and more. If people are visiting from out of state, make a point to refresh their memories on the state’s guidelines for masks and in-person gatherings so that no one is caught off guard. 

“We understand that since there will be eating and drinking at the events, masks aren't going to be on at all times,” says Emily Doyle, People Ops Coordinator at Seesaw. “But we do encourage people to wear them and refer to the city or establishment's guidelines for that.”

HR teams who want to assuage those nervous about getting together in-person also recommend providing access to sanitizing equipment and masks every step of the way. 

“Actually as part of our swag bags, we gave out hand sanitizer and made sure that everybody had enough masks for every day of the retreat,” said Meredith Mende, Talent Acquisition Lead at Gooten. 

2. Be proactive about checking up on your employees.

Key across the board for all of our RfH members was the importance of COVID testing before an event is going to happen. Since vaccinations can still be a sensitive subject for some employees, they found that mandatory masking and testing was the right compromise. This puts HR teams slightly more at ease, and makes all of the event attendees feel more safe. Some of our RfH members also recommend having employees test before, during, and after the event. 

“We did make everyone get their testing done before travel. Then we managed to get enough tests to allow everyone to be able to take a test midway through the retreat. So we had a collective spit test day halfway through to make sure that we were all so good and managed to make it through without any cases actually during this retreat,” says Mende, “Then folks were tested before they returned back home to their respective geographies. So we managed to get three tests within the span of about 10 days to make everybody feel more at ease.”

If you can afford it, provide home tests to all your employees to make it as easy as possible.

“We had a lot of people that had issues accessing a PCR test. So, we did a mail-order one distributed to the team,” says Nicole Rehm, L&D Systems Manager at Madison Reed. 

And when it comes to tracking all of these tests and vaccinations, HR teams all said: have a system in place! Whether it’s Google Docs, Smartsheet, or other record collection tools, you’ll be grateful to have tracking in place if anything were to happen in the course of your event. 

3. Have a contingency plan.

Haven’t you heard? Life is a box of chocolates, and we never know what it will hand us next. You can plan for x, y, and z, but don’t be derailed if something goes wrong before or during your in-person event. 

“I think having a contingency plan in place and communicated before the event helps people feel less uneasy about joining the event,” says Stevan Perovic, Head of People Ops at Gooten. RfH members suggest planning and communicating contingency plans early on, so that everyone on site knows what to do if things do get off track. Ensure that every employee knows who to turn to for help, and who to rely on for contact-tracing information.

“[It was] communicated early from our event [that] if anyone at any point during the retreat felt under the weather, they needed to be very proactive and communicate with People Op so we could isolate them.” says Juliana Arbelaez Velez, People Ops Generalist at Gooten.

4. Don’t forget your virtual attendees.

There’s no guarantee that 100% of your employees will be excited or able to get together in-person, so HR teams should continue to offer options for hybrid events where remote employees can still feel included. Making sure your hybrid meetings are inclusive takes a lot of work, but RfH members had a ton of tips to keep people engaged.

Top of mind was making sure there was a strong tech setup for live streaming, recording, chatting, and sharing before, during, and after the event so that people feel like they’re in the same room despite physically being in different locations.

“We sent out a Zoom link for anyone that was going to attend remotely, had the event catered at our facility, and told anyone that was remote to order lunch or breakfast, depending on what time zone they were in,” said one member, “The first half hour, people would walk up to the computer and chat with all the virtual workers. One of our main speakers spoke from a laptop right in front of the room full of people — you could hear him perfectly, and it was like he was in the room [with you].”

By keeping your hybrid events inclusive, you’re building a stronger culture and increasing employee engagement. The pandemic might not be over for quite some time, and keeping remote workers top of mind is important for HR teams to remember.

“Our engagement actually went up because people felt like they were getting to see people as humans, rather than just as employees,” says Trav Walkowski, Partner & CHRO at Employmetrics. “We were getting to see into their home, we were getting to meet their people, their pets, everything like that. So, I feel like we have even stronger connections because of that.”

5. Enabling employees to attend

Even without COVID, there are logistical factors to consider when holding an event, big or small. HR teams recommended making it as easy as possible for employees to attend by offering coverage for travel expenses, spending more on flexible arrangements, and even covering childcare costs. Giving your employees peace of mind to attend an event is bound to make it more successful for both the planner and the attendee.

“Booking a refundable ticket is worth the investment so that in case some of the countries close their borders or something like that, you can rebook or get a refund on the fly,” recommends Perovic, “And have a dedicated person to follow the requirements of each country that people would be traveling through or traveling to, when it comes to the event.”

If you’re asking employees to travel internationally, RfH members also suggested looking into travel health insurance to cover your bases. Suggestions for people to look into included Safety Wing and Assist Card.

In addition to fears of traveling, consider what other responsibilities your employees have outside of work. “I've heard from a lot of employees last year that they lost their nanny, and they basically have to, in addition to their full-time job, just really take care of their children at home,” says Linda Deeb, VP of Talent & People at Finite State.

Considering the additional stress that working parents have, RfH members discussed how certain offerings like covering childcare for a short time could make it easier for people to attend and feel included. 

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And these are just some of the insights shared during a recent Resources for Humans virtual working session. Event planning is hard enough even without a global pandemic looming over our heads, but HR teams are setting the standard once again for inclusive, safe events for employees. If you haven’t already, join the over 14,000 HR leaders that make up our Slack community for more best practices.