This week I attended the first in-person (or, better say, hybrid) conference in the "pandemic", or recovering world - North American Collaboration Summit. I was presenting 2 sessions: Developing React Templates using SharePoint Framework Library Components, and SharePoint Framework Connected Web Parts. In this post I want to share a subjective experience of travel, hotel stay, and event itself. To dot the "I's" - I believe that COVID-19 is a huge thing with unpredicted effects for me and my family.
But, first of all, I want to say thank you to Mark Rackley for organizing the event, even in this weird time. To my mind, he and the team did a great job and overall experience was great!
If you are interested in learning how the hybrid event has been organized - read The Hybrid Community Conference Manifesto by Mark Rackley.
I had a flight from Burbank to Springfield with one stop in Dallas by American Airlines.
All three airports look clean and "sanitized". I could even smell the sanitizer here and there. All people were wearing masks, except of those who were eating/drinking in cafes/restaurants. Sanitizing stations are located everywhere: near seats, restrooms, cafes, etc.
And, as currently, there are not so many passengers, it was pretty easy to practice social distancing.
The only concerning aspect - I didn't notice temperature checks.
For the first leg (Burbank - Dallas) the aircraft was Boeing 737-800 - 3 rows of seats each side.
The middle row of the seats was left empty. I don't know if it's a general practice for AA, or it's just a happy incident. But it felt safer because of that fact.
All passenger and personnel were wearing masks during the whole flight. Of course you could take off your mask to drink water. But other than that - masks are mandatory.
Regarding the water and service onboard. There were no way to purchase something, but each passenger got a bottle of water, a cookie and a desinfecting napkin in a zip-bag while loading the aircraft.
The second leg (Dallas - Springfield) was a regional flight on Embraer ERJ-145. This aircraft has 2 rows one side and single row other side. I was happy to book a single row sit and had a distance to any other passengers.
Again, all passengers and crew were wearing masks.
And again - no temperature checks prior or during the boarding.
Subjectively, I was expecting something more from the flights during the pandemic. I can't say what exactly, but overall feeling was - there should be something to feel completely safe. Maybe it's just me.
I was "ubering" to and from the airport.
In both rides drivers were wearing masks, cars were clean, and I opened a window (well, in Springfield I needed to close it quickly as a huge shower started =)).
I was staying in Hilton Branson Convention Center
The hotel is clean, sanitizing stations all over the place, personnel is wearing masks. The room is "sealed" with "The room was sanitized" sticker that you need to break when opening the room for the first time.
Another thing for the safety - nobody will clean your room during the whole stay... until you ask for it.
What I didn't like, especially in comparison with hotels in California, there is no restriction for one household per elevator. It's a small thing, but makes you feel safer.
I was traveling from the state where we're in the middle of lockdown (schools are online, malls, gyms, bars are closed, restaurants provide outdoors dining only) to the state with almost all restrictions lifted. So, it was interesting to explore how the things work here.
During the stay, I visited multiple places for lunch or dinner, and all the places are doing a good job in terms of social distancing, sanitizing, and masks.
The event was held in "hybrid" mode. Attendees, sponsors, and partially speakers could decide if they want to join in-person or using Microsoft Teams.
Each "physical" room had a dedicated Teams meeting; each sponsor had a channel. There were also channels for online-only sessions, speakers, social, etc.
From technical perspective, everything was smooth. The only inconvenience in the setup was the necessity to use laptop web cam, or USB web cam, that is still placed closed to your laptop. I like to pace around during the sessions, but I needed to stay close to the laptop to allow online attendees see me, not an empty wall. But for speakers who like to sit during the session - such a setup is perfectly fine.
The conference is held in Branson Convention Center. It's a good, pretty new, venue connected to Hilton hotel.
So, similarly to the hotel, sanitizing stations are located all over the place, personnel wears masks. They also installed leg door openers in restrooms, so you don't need to touch doorhandles.
Capacity of the sessions' rooms was limited. For example, for breakout sessions there was one person for a table. Usually it's at least 2. So, nothing to complain :)
This is the most interesting part as it kind of shows the state of the world right now...
I don't know the exact number of attendees, both in-person and online. But I would say we had maximum 50 people on-site, or even less. And we definitely had more online attendees. My sessions had only 3 and 4 in-person attendees. Hopefuly, it's not because I'm just boring :).
As most of the attendees were either local, or from nearby states, where COVID impact is not huge, they were not so strict about the masks and social distancing. Due to low in-person attendance, it's still OK, but I needed some time to get used to it.
We also had 4 physical sponsor booths. Honestly, I was not expecting physical booths at all.
It was a great experience to feel how the world is trying to recover, changing "the normal". And I really happy to be an in-person speaker, and see people from community the first time this year.
From travel perspective - everything seems pretty safe. Again, I had some subjective feelings about the flights, but I can't describe it in words or find specific reasons for that.
From hotel stay and dining perspective - everything depends on state or country. In California the rules are more strict, here in Missouri - many restrictions are lifted as there are not so many COVID-19 cases.
From the event perspective... Our company often sponsors events. I'm attending events both as a speaker and as an attendee.
I would say that from sponsorship perspective events are currently half dead. Probably, I would not spend money for in-person booth. Online - maybe.
As an attendee - I don't see a reason to attend in-person. I can join my favorite chair at home while gathering knowledge. As attendance is low - networking part of the event (the major reason to attend in-person) is low.
As a speaker - I do like in-person events. I want to see people, not to "talk to the wall". But if the attendance is low, and you're not comfortable with risks you have - in current situation it probably doesn't worth it.
I really hope the things will get better soon and we'll be enjoying in-person events, networking and fun again soon!
By the way, we had a great fun in the Silver Dollar City amusement park =).
I want to say thank you to Mark again, to the whole NACS committee. It was the best it could be!
I also want to say thank you to the sponsors, in-person and online! They helped to make this event happen!
And thank you to all attendees! Hope you enjoyed the experience and gained valuable knowledge!
P.S. During the visit I used Lyft 4 times. And all the rides with the same driver - Nettie. She is a great woman! So, if you're in the area, and got Lyft with Nettie - tip her!
That's all for today!