AO Alliance meetings move online amid COVID-19 shutdowns

As more gatherings get shut down due to COVID-19, we are trying to re-create the experience online. It starts with our steering committee meetings.

As concern over COVID-19 sets in, people around the world are rethinking smaller and large gatherings, including conducting meetings. Social soirees have been canceled, universities are moving classes online, and more companies are instituting mandatory home office policies. The coronavirus is going to reshape the way we work, and the way we meet.

Face-to-face meetings with stakeholders have long been the gold standard for exchanging ideas and strengthening professional relationships, both in business and academia. With our three steering committee meetings scheduled in February, March and April (Asia, English-speaking Africa and French-speaking Africa) postponed due to travel bans and lockdowns, an alternative needed to be found to get business-critical issues discussed and decided upon. The number of countries where steering committee members reside, the time zone differences, and the bandwidth added to the complexity of getting things done.

So far, the online experience has been positive. But much pre-meeting preparation was needed. Establishing with everyone a test connection has been invaluable. Basic training on using the software has gone a long way to making the meetings move along. Choosing the right time of the day for sufficient bandwidth has proven invaluable to maintaining a stable connection. Finally, contributors needed a firm agenda and a hard stop time.

Online meetings are likely not the most exciting and engaging events in work life. But the technology has evolved enough to make it work. Technical difficulties and usability struggles with web-based conferencing software are the top contributing factors to meetings starting late, closely followed by the challenges of checking who has joined the call ”“ the roll call process that can eat into available meeting time.

The AO Alliance is moving along with its contingency plan and looking forward to resuming educational activities soon and safely.