Pandemic Changes that are Here to Stay

We asked association executives which COVID changes they’d like to keep. Here’s what they had to say.

By Brie Bingham

Post Covid 19 Era Concept

The past 20 months have been challenging, but I don’t have to tell you that. As association professionals, we know exactly how this pandemic has filled hospitals, overwhelmed funeral homes, disrupted supply chains, thrown the housing market upside down, changed the way the world looks at food service and retail, and caused general confusion and fear across all sectors. Our members lived those stories. Kudos to us all for continuing to support members while working from new locations, with new technology, as information changed daily.

Fortunately, not all disruption is bad. For every last-minute hybrid event, we found new engagement with members we don’t usually see. With every role that needed to be filled, we found ways to connect with colleagues on new channels. During each missed commute, we got to enjoy the taste of a warm breakfast or the feel of a longer cuddle.

We asked what pandemic disruption brought change that you are glad is here to stay. From the small innovation like eSignatures to big changes like closing a physical office, many professionals had examples on how this crisis jumpstarted an innovation that helped their association work smarter.

Note: Some responses edited for length or clarity. 

Reset Work/Life Balance

Mother working from home while her son is on online classesI’m glad to work from home. I feel that the pandemic has reset our work/life balance and it’s a realization that we don’t have to be in the office as much and I can save time from commuting. – E. Jefferson, marketing specialist

We’re still working remote full-time until the end of this year, but when we decide to go back into the office in 2022, we’re implementing a work schedule where you only need to be in the office 1 day a week – We have summer hours all year long now (Either half day Fridays every week or every other Friday off) – Kathy Liwag Senior Manager, Member Engagement · Association for Supply Chain Management

Since the pandemic, I find that leaders (both volunteers and staff) are focused on achieving outcomes vs. focusing on the hours worked in a day. – Meggan Teague, Vice President of Strategy and Executive Search, Association Options (resides in Chicago)

Many people wrote about how much they appreciated that their company had discovered that remote work was not another term for a day off. What were once inconsistent practices across the company became a way of life with policies to match. Many respondents mentioned that they’d experienced increased productivity with fewer interruptions. Being sensitive to people’s comfort means many companies are considering different work hours, increased flextime, hybrid offices, and more. At the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Chief Strategy Officer Beth Sartore reported a new “dress for your day” policy suggesting that dress code was also flexible to match your tasks.

Plus, resetting the work/life balance means finding time for ourselves:

We have been wanting to get a family dog and now that we can work from home with travel limited, we were able to do so. Ruthie has brought so much love to our home, helping to ease the anxiety of all of us through the stressors the pandemic placed on us. A WFH or Hybrid work model will continue to help us maintain strong mental and physical health.
– Laura Jelinek, President, Jelinek Collaborative LLC

More Connected with Colleagues

Photo of a young woman having a virtual happy hour with her friends; enjoying a glass of wine in the living room of her apartment while having a video call with a group of friends.I love the fact that video conferencing has become the norm with our volunteers. Our calls are more engaging, lead to better outcomes and are just more fun when we can see each other. I think this has connected our volunteer leaders to the organization and staff team even more than in the past when we only saw each other a few times a year. – Kimberly Eskew, MBA, CAE Executive Director SmithBucklin

I’ve found I’ve actually connected better with some of my clients since they started working remotely. I’ve always had strong relationships with them, but it becomes a little more personal when we’re all in our own spaces — a bit more casual and fun. – Maureen Glasoe, Owner, Virgo Words

Utilizing video calls/conferencing, Zoom/Microsoft Teams to connect, sharing screens vs. just phone calls, I sometimes feel more thoughtfully connected with my team through remote work than even in the office. – Beth Hayson, MBA, CAE, CMP Associate Executive Director, Continuing Education, Meetings and Exhibitions, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Rosemont, IL

Despite working remotely, many respondents shared how they feel more connected with their staff, coworkers, board volunteers, and members. Video calls invite people into your space (even if it’s just the one you chose from your virtual background folder) and raise a one-on-one phone call to a face-to-face meeting. Some people reported meeting more often with icebreakers to set a light tone for the meeting. People found ways to continue corporate culture with fun retreats and events with coworkers.

Others enthused that, where it was hard to get everyone in the same space for a physical meeting due to funds, schedules, and travel, engaging remote volunteers, workers, and clients is easier and attracts new faces with video:

The most significant change I’m glad is here to stay is the flexibility and convenience of using video conferencing in place of gathering for every meeting our committees or even our Board has. While everyone complains of “Zoom fatigue”, there are many instances where it is very convenient and efficient to do a meeting without everyone having to come to a centralized location. While in-person remains critical and valuable, it can be interspersed with virtual meetings in a way we never even considered in the past. We can get so much more done without valuable committee or board members missing meetings due to having to be someplace else close to the time we’re getting together. – Jeff Lasky, CEO, North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS, Northbrook IL

Getting the Job Done

We moved many recurring payments to auto payments, so we didn’t have to cut checks and get them signed. Small change, but less work! Plus, we get points on our credit card that we are using for air travel which saves us money! – Carol Pape, CAE: Chief Operating Officer at the Association of Professional Chaplains

Our members have gained more confidence in using technology and created more opportunities for virtual learning and meetings as well as to better serve their clients.
– Patty Neuswanger, Member Engagement Director, Selected Independent Funeral Homes, Lincolnshire, IL

Through it all, association professionals found a way to keep working while finding efficiencies and opportunities to collaborate. Many technologies that were once just nice to have became necessary, like eSignatures, chat threads, and cloud storage. Other things that had been necessary were re-evaluated, like some office spaces that will now be sold or rented becoming a new revenue source for the association.

Taking the time to invest in the necessary and cut the superfluous provides benefits across the board:

We made investments in project management software to get a better understanding of our projects and reporting that we didn’t have otherwise. Our organization instituted a ‘meeting-free’ policy where we can’t have scheduled meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays until 1 pm local time. This has been tremendous because we need dedicated time to work and not be on video calls. – Pam Rosenberg, CAE, Manager of Learning & Development, The Risk Management Association

Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Winston Churchill’s famous quote certainly takes on new meaning during a global pandemic. The innovation our organizations and our members achieved during a time of upheaval should be celebrated. As Danielle Harmon, MPH Executive Director of the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA), responded:

Innovation. Across the board, the innovation required to maintain financial stability and meet member needs has allowed our organizations to find new ways to succeed that likely would not have been explored or attempted in a traditional environment.

Thank you to all who submitted stories of challenge and resolve. Congratulations on finding ways to move your association forward during this era and into the future!




About the Author

Brie Bingham is Membership & Marketing Manager with the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). Holding a Masters in Nonprofit Management, she worked in arts and culture organizations before finding a career in associations. During the pandemic, Brie has purchased a house, adopted a cat, and recommitted to yoga – none of which she wants to give up when life settles to a new normal.

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