Emily Allen: The Festival of Work as an online conference – an improvement?

Wed 17 Jun 2020

After attending the CIPD’s Festival of Work online conference on 10 to 12 June, Emily Allen, MOL CIPD Product Manager, gave her thoughts on this interesting new format and how this may impact future conferences.

Last week I attended the CIPD’s Festival of Work (FOW), like everyone else over the past few months, I have done my first ’online’ versions of lots of things – quiz’s, book club, trustee meetings, even karaoke. But this was my first time attending a fully online conference.

At MOL all our learners are currently on our fully online version of our programmes to support social distancing, and we are so pleased to hear the feedback from our learners which has shown that this transition has worked really well. More and more things are going online now, and people who wouldn’t have considered socialising, meeting or learning online are now seeing the benefits.

Despite being an ambassador for online training, I was sceptical about an online conference. However, I didn’t need to be. I was really impressed. The foyer was created as if you were at the real entrance to the festival, and you could click into the different rooms. The conference talks were really slick too. Except for one of the talks where there was a technical hitch, it was a brilliant experience.

Whilst a real life conference is great for networking and learning more incidentally from the exhibitors, the online format has a number of clear benefits, such as:

  • The talks and guest speakers were fantastic this year and my experience of these was possibly better listening from the peace and quiet of my own office bedroom
  • I could work easily between talks
  • No time,expense of travel or overnight stays in London
  • The whole experience was much more relaxing – walking around a conference is fun but very tiring
  • I can watch (or re-watch) the talks as recordings.

The move to working online was mentioned in various talks at FOW. Andy Briggs at Phoenix said he got 99% of his 4,000 employees in a position to work from home within 10 days of lockdown,without any detriment to customer satisfaction scores. Yet his IT department had been telling him that to move to working from home would take 3 years and needed a big budget.

This is a familiar story across many organisations, and makes me think perhaps we all need to re-think our approach to organisational (and personal) change. If we want to do something and it is right, why wait? This could have a huge impact on other plans that organisations claim to commit to. If an organisation or government, for example, is saying they will cut greenhouse emissions by 2030 – why can’t they do it by the end of this year? If we want to do something, coronavirus has shown that we can.

All the talks and discussions were incredibly relevant as this is an important time to keep up to date with the external environment. I particularly enjoyed Dr Hannah Fry’s take on AI, as well as Caroline Criado-Perez’s passionate talk on gender inequality and the impact coronavirus has had on this.

We are in a time of change and businesses will win and lose in the next few months and years. All of us are trying to navigate this new world of coronavirus and social distancing. It’s important we talk about the huge issues going on today which were all discussed at the FOW – the impact of the pending recession, how organisations cope with change, and of course the very powerful Black Lives Matter movement.

In the future, whether CIPD choose to hold conferences online or not will be interesting to see. I think the online FOW this year was a fantastic way to stay up-to-date and embrace some CPD of our own, at a time when the people profession needs it most.

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