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Tips for managing events with social distancing

Posted on 24 August, 2020

If there wasn’t enough to think about in planning events before, organisers now have to arrange safety measures and ensure social distancing at their events for the foreseeable future. It’s something that is new to us all, but if anyone can handle a challenge it’s event professionals!

Even with new guidance about hosting events being announced regularly, you still might not feel confident on how best to go about planning your events. If the health and safety is too over-the-top, it can disrupt the positive experience the guest would have otherwise or even put them off entirely. But on the flipside, you can’t afford to risk not having tight enough safety measures.

We’ve been working hard to find the middle ground and host events in a way that is safe, yet still enjoyable, with more details on our COVID page. Managing events with social distancing isn’t something any of us are used to, but some straightforward advice can go a long way to help boost your event-planning confidence right now. Here are a few tips to help you manage your future events with social distancing.

The foyer of spacious London conference venue Congress Centre

Track and Trace

This one is an absolute must. In the worst-case scenario, having a track and trace system will be vital for protecting your guests. Keep a record of anyone who attends your event along with ideally two different ways to contact them (phone number and email are best). If you feel confident enough to track attendance and details on your own, you can keep them in something as simple as a regular spreadsheet. However, if you don’t feel right taking sole responsibility of it, there are several other ways of automating the collection of details from those attending.

The Meetings Industry Association (mia) has a track and trace tool available online called miaTrustedTrace which allows you to cross-check attendees on the day and automatically deletes the personal details of delegates after 21 days, in-line with GDPR (Note: if you do keep track of the details yourself, you must delete them after 21 days too.). You can also use a standard online registration process to track the names and contact details of attendees. But no matter what, find a tracing system that suits your event and get it in place.

Keep capacities low (and spaces large)

In order to give everyone two metres of their own space in all directions, regular venue capacities will now have been lowered – quite significantly in some cases. However, this means the venue has already done the heavy lifting and worked out what a safe number of delegates is in each of their spaces. Enquire about new capacities with your venue of choice to see they have a space to suit your numbers.

The Congress Hall in an empty layout at London conference centre Congress Centre

While events are currently limited to 30 people, Congress Centre offers spaces that are able to host a group of this size safely. For example, Congress Hall is the largest space at our venue with a regular capacity of 500 theatre style, which means the smaller guest numbers currently allowed have plenty of space to keep a safe distance. Our Council Chamber and others rooms can also comfortably fit groups of 30 delegates with social distancing so you’re sure to find a space here that fits your brief.

Use nudges

It’s something we’re all familiar with now, whether that be from our local supermarket, around the pub or even plastered out on the streets. Signage, arrows and instructions are a really helpful way to control the flow of movement by visitors. It’s not cost effective to have stewards stationed in every corridor to tell people if they need to go the other way, so designing a one-way system for your event and clearly marking it out is a no-brainer.

Again, it’s likely your venue of choice has already done a lot of one-way planning themselves, especially in communal areas (as we have!). However, you’ll still need a system in place that is bespoke to the layout of your event and the space you’re using, which the venue team will be able to help you arrange. If you’re worried about people neglecting to follow your one-way systems, try add queueing belt barriers where possible and make signage more obvious – you’ll often find people just didn’t spot it at first!

Staggered arrivals and departures

For events like exhibitions, assigning designated arrival and departure times evenly between registered guests can help stop the venue entrance become a pinch point and therefore, a health risk. It saves crowds all trying to pile in at once and means it’s much easier for delegates to maintain a suitable distance between each other, since there shouldn’t be many there at once.

It’s important to note this tactic won’t necessarily work for every event – for instance, at a conference with scheduled content, it’s a bit unfair to ask some people to turn up half an hour early and wait around – but while maximum guest numbers for events are low overcrowding shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to be on the safe side, you can always ask your venue about putting a queue management system in place to ensure delegates stay 2 metres apart whilst waiting to get in.

Make catering personal

Personal meals served at London conference venue Congress Centre

Gone are the days of long lunchtime buffet queues or morning pastries being left on the side to scoff as you please. Food and drink at events should now be totally personal to minimise the number of people of coming into contact with it. Ideally, these people should be:

  1. The person preparing it.
  2. The person eating it.

There have been some really interesting and tasty solutions that have become a de facto standard at events. Some popular ones include bento boxes, pre-packed lunch parcels and grab & go options. These quick and easy solutions save guests from queueing and lingering around in too long in the same place, as well as removing the risk of food becoming contaminated by other guests. To further ensure food is served safely at Congress Centre, all our catering staff is required to wear PPE and food is served to guests from behind Perspex screens.

Rethink networking

People networking outside at a cafe

One of the best things about events is the opportunity to network, but this normally involves a handshake followed by talking face-to-face for a period of time – things that are now heavily discouraged. As a result, we all need to rethink networking for the time being. You may have already been to a networking event (or two) via Zoom, but there are a couple of ways you can now meet people in person:

  • Try and arrange any formal networking you’d like to do in a bar, cafe or restaurant nearby that offers outdoor space. You could suggest meeting your new contact there for a drink post-event. There are a number of suitable spots in close vicinity to Congress Centre such as Dalloway Terrace, which is right next door.
  • If you can’t find anywhere near to your choice of venue with outdoor space, ask your contact if they’d be happy to go on a good, old-fashioned walk. You could head over to a nearby green space like Soho Square Gardens or Bedford Square Gardens for Congress Centre, or just wander around the block a couple of times as you get to know them.
  • You, as the organiser, could even set up official ‘socially-distanced’ networking tables. Designed to keep delegates 2-metres apart as they chat; we’d recommend including labels where each person is meant to sit and giving them each something to drink or eat. The trick is to make it feel as relaxed as possible!

Questions about managing events with social distancing?

If you’re still looking for ways to keep visitors safely distanced at your event, the team at Congress Centre would be happy to discuss this with you. There are extensive measures in place at Congress Centre and we can clear up any worries you may have about organising you next event. For more details about what exactly our approach to safety is, you can visit our COVID page.

Otherwise, please contact us on 020 7467 1318 or on congress.centre@tuc.org.uk.