A new management challenge

Managing teams remotely and increasing digital revenues

Easyfairs group head of technology and digital transformation, Stephan Forseilles: "I think the best of us currently make maybe about 5-10% of revenue from digital products."

PARIS - As meeting planners adjust to new remote working norms, many are exploring ways of increasing digital revenues.

Speaking during a recent webinar organised by global exhibitions association UFI, exhibition organiser Messe München GmbH's chief strategy officer, Mr Holger Feist, said: "Many within the exhibitions industry are trying to up their percentage of digital revenues, but it is tough to find real business models that work on a standalone basis. What has sold well in these COVID-19 times is a re-targeting tool. We are now experimenting on more digital products."

European event company Easyfairs is headquartered in Brussels and has 20 offices in the region. Its group head of technology and digital transformation, Mr Stephan Forseilles, said: "As trade show organisers, I think the best of us currently makes maybe about 5-10% of revenue from digital products. We really have to think about growing that in a meaningful way, especially in times of crisis.

"I see no reason why a crisis like this won't happen again. Organisations should start to think about a 'confinement mode' and how to handle event cancellations and give our customers options to make it work even if we cannot physically have the shows."

Communication difficulties inevitably accompany remote working. Mr Forseilles manages about 50 people in his team. As many shows have been cancelled and some of his offices have been closed for a few weeks, it has sometimes made it difficult to communicate with clients to keep their confidence high. "The approach is more on customer care and highlighting the need for solidarity rather than salvaging any revenues or potential sales," he added.

Mr Feist also highlighted the challenge in managing the contrasting pace of work across his different teams. "We were fortunate enough to win a leading motor and mobility show to be held in Munich in 2021. It's been full throttle ahead for this team and we work really long hours. It's the same with the controlling team, who has to prepare one final show forecast after another.

"The outlook for the summer calendar is somewhat sobering. Many shows have also been postponed or cancelled and these teams have to focus on core activities," said Mr Feist.

Messe München organises some 42 trade fairs for capital and consumer goods and key high-tech-industries in Munich and abroad, as well as 202 events worldwide. Mr Feist places empathy on top of his list when communicating with staff. "You never know about the precise conditions that other people have apart from their work situation, so it's a good idea to be aware of that and be kind and give the other person the benefit of the doubt," he said.

Working from home: Mixed productivity
A quick poll during the hour-long webinar also highlighted that while a majority have found remote working either painless (48%) or had already made it a standard practice (30%), the impact on work performance has been mixed.

Almost half of the respondents indicated that their teams are either performing the same as they would in the office (23%) or if not at a slightly higher level (25%). On the other hand, the most common feedback was that teams are "somewhat less performant" (41%).

Keeping the social glue
Beyond business discussions, it remains important to find ways to support the informal interactions between team members.

The most popular ways include scheduling a daily morning check-in (53%), followed by virtual coffee breaks for off-topic chats (36%), weekly special events or competitions (34%), a daily evening check-out (11%) and other 'crazier' ideas (8%).

For example, this could be a 'virtual happy hour' to play games and dress up according to theme, said Mr Forseilles. "It's pretty fun to do once a week and I think it's important for people to keep their sense of humour."

"Of course, you do miss out on the interactions at the coffee machine or while having a cigarette. But it's been replaced by other things like posting jokes on Slack and exchange funny things. It's become a norm that we start every online meeting by chit chatting for five minutes so that we are aware of what how people are feeling," said Mr Feist.

The Post-COVID-19 world
UFI's programme manager - education and working groups, Ms Angela Herberholz, who moderated the session, posed the question of what would change at work and in our daily interactions in a post-COVID-19 world.

It's not surprising that three-quarters predicted that the future of work will involve more working from home, less commuting and less travelling, although the remaining 22% of participants indicated that things will go back to as they were before.