National Post (Latest Edition)
What businesses need to know to plan corporate events in the new normal
If you’re a business owner or corporate events planner and you think you can’t have employee events in the pandemic, consider this: with the right health and safety protocols in place, there are many options available.
“With people working remotely for months, it’s important to bring employees together for team- building and morale,” says Norah Rogers, innkeeper of the historic Waring House Inn and Conference Centre in Picton, Ontario.
“We just had a group that wanted to do s’mores around the firepit, so that was really fun,” Rogers says of hosting a corporate event as the inn moved with care and extensive preparation into Stage 3. The facility accommodates groups of up to 50.
“It’s nice to see people enjoying themselves, taking a relaxing break away from their workspace and accomplishing things. And we get to meet some really interesting people.”
The Waring House is well-established as an ideal retreat for corporate getaways from the city with great dining (with foods picked fresh from the garden that morning), a cookery school and wine tours of beautiful Prince Edward County.
And now it’s become a leader in the local hospitality community for establishing COVID-19 protocols for the safety of guests and employees, making Rogers and her team helpful resources for event planners.
Rogers also happens to be a medical doctor who just retired from her family practice in Picton. Her expertise has been extremely helpful in navigating the evolving requirements and public health directives to re- open The Waring House.
Recently, the inn was awarded a safety stamp that helps travelers know that a venue is putting safety at the forefront. Administered through the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, the Safe Travels Stamp helps travelers recognize governments and companies around the world that have adopted health and hygiene global standardized protocols.
Now, regulars of the inn’s Barley Room Pub, “the county local,” are excited about the return of live music to the pub stage, Rogers says. “We have such good times there.”
So, what do businesses need to know when they’re looking for an event venue for the fall and into 2021? Here are some practical tips for your playbook from The Waring House.
First, ask if the facility has a health and safety plan to protect their employees. “This will tell you how seriously the venue takes the risk of contagion. And it’s reassuring for your guests that staff in the venue will be COVIDfree,” Rogers says.
“We have no COVID-19 cases in Prince Edward County, but it just takes one case. That’s what people have to realize.”
Once you have seen the venue’s plan, confirm that dedicated protocols are in place for each department of the venue, like food services and housekeeping, to protect guests and employees. This means that all staff at the venue are well trained in these protocols and carry them out with due diligence.
“We have 26 steps in the cleaning process for each of the 49 rooms at The Waring House. And our housekeeping uses electrostatic sprayers to disinfect all surfaces, including the curtains.”
All of these protocols should be in keeping with the comprehensive Ontario Guidance for professional meetings and events facilities during COVID-19, released in August.
Next, make sure the facility is large enough to allow for social distancing and has the necessary personal protective equipment to host your event with COVID- 19 restrictions in mind. Consider things like the appropriate spacing of tables and how many people will be seated at them as well as adequate space for downtime activities.
It’s crucial the facility can not only accommodate your group safely, but be up- todate on all health requirements, Rogers says.
“There is a lot of scare out there, and so much material to wade through and judge.”
She stresses the importance of official guidance tools, like Ontario’s Develop your COVID- 19 workplace safety plan, Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association’s rules for opening Ontario’s indoor restaurants and event areas in Stage 3 and Resorts of Ontario meeting and convention protocols — and having a point person, the facility’s events coordinator, who can review these with you.
In fact, the meeting and events coordinator should be able to guide you through the steps required to create a safe meeting plan to accomplish your meeting goals within the restrictions mandated by public health and the Ontario plan.
Open and clear communication lines are essential for compliance, Rogers adds.
The host coordinator should clearly lay out and delegate appropriate tasks to the guest group coordinator, like maintaining an accurate contact list and health checks of all attendees.
“It’s been a stressful time, and people need reassurance and transparency about what needs to be done and about what’s possible to make their event a relaxing way to reconnect.”