On the morning of Wednesday March 11th, our team was getting ready to attend a TOTech recruiting event with an estimated 4,000 attendees when we received an email almost an hour out that the event has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. Although we knew there was a virus amongst us (we had plenty of sanitizer ready), we did not foresee a complete cancellation of the event.

Within 48 hours of the event cancellation, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. At that point, whatever event could go remote did and whatever could not was immediately shut down. Innosphere soon made the decision to go fully remote, instantly transforming our team into a remote workforce. The transition was seamless, since Innosphere had work from home options and a remote work policy in place pre-pandemic.

However, the transition was not without it’s turbulence, with the largest impact felt by networking and recruitment events. These types of events are great for members of the tech community and beyond to rub shoulders with like minded individuals, learn from industry leaders, and create opportunities for emerging talent. In fact, as part of Innosphere’s 2020 strategy, the recruitment team planned to attend the largest amount of recruitment events in our company history – across Canada and the US. Even though there is no definite end date to this pandemic and we are in quarantine, it is still important to hold events where the tech world can come together and congregate, but from the safety of our own home. We have managed to turn almost everything else digital in 2020, so it’s only right that tech events follow suit!

March and April came with an optimism for a ‘new normal’ by the end of the year, and, as a result, many event organizers postponed in person events to later months in the year, hopeful for a return to normal as early as August 2020. As cases continued to climb, and murmurs of a second wave started to circulate, event organizers’ optimism began to fade.

It seems that COVID-19 has left the tech community at a standstill. We still don’t know when we’ll be able to hold events with hundreds or thousands of people, and to many, the concept of virtual events can be new and intimidating. Some organizers have adapted to the ‘new normal’- substituting conference centres and foyers equipped with catering platters and a little liquid courage to ease you into networking with Zoom calls with the kid’s latest Picasso piece on the fridge in the background to get the conversation going. Although we can appreciate the initiative, it’s clear that we’re all still learning.

Over the past 4 months, members of our Recruitment & Marketing teams have attended different virtual events. Here’s a quick recap of our experiences so far:

Let’s start with the Remote Work Summit.The Remote Work Summit experience was almost seamless, starting with the platform they used, Hopin, which operated without an excess of technical hiccups and added a level of sophistication to the event. They also created an exhibition hall which made the experience that much more similar to an in-person event. “All I had to do was input my email address, and I was given some pretty great discounts/trials of products and services that could be beneficial to my company,” a colleague of ours said.

DigiMarCon and TechTo did not provide the same virtual event experience as Remote Work Summit. Both events had a lot more technical challenges with their platforms including connection and sound issues. From a networking perspective, DigiMarCon and TechTo can do more next time to make the experience feel more organic and not so forced. A great start would be addressing the gap in the networking coordination that can leave you awkwardly staring at a blank screen.

All things considered, there’s definitely a silver lining to virtual events. Some notable benefits we immediately recognized are the ability to listen and learn from informative speakers from the comfort of our own home, avoiding the logistical hassles of flights & hotels, and, the one that gets us most excited: avoiding the dreadful HWY-401 rush hour. Overall, virtual events are a great alternative when in-person events are not possible, such as during a global pandemic. Do I think they will or should replace in-person events? No. There’s really nothing that compares to the energy and value you can derive from in-person conferences.