With the increase in familiarity with virtual working and its consequent change in expectations since 2020, we have been successfully providing training events using Teams. The situation was reviewed in August 2022 and concluded that virtual events are likely to remain the norm for training courses for the foreseeable future because:
- Travel costs have increased considerably which means virtual courses will be more accessible to more people to avoid that cost
- Demand for virtual attendance will remain for those unable to travel so there will be a need for hybrid events if return to venues
- Running a hybrid event equitably and well is technically complex, requires considerable investment and time to acquire skills which is difficult to manage since our trainers are already under heavy time pressure
- Few venues have invested in provisions for hybrid events, and those which have are higher cost than has been the norm for IPROW events so would probably increase the fee for courses
- Course structure at a venue is different and is not ideal for virtual attendance
- Number booking for venue may reduce viability and makes planning an event complex
- Providing non-equitable virtual attendance by livestreaming is against IPROW's commitment to quality training
- IPROW and most members' organisations are committed to reducing environmental impact by avoiding unnecessary travel
The benefits of virtual events have been many. Most frequently repeated reasons are saving time and money travelling; convenience where domestic circumstances rule out long days away; comfort for specific needs which make travel and venues difficult; being able to attend because travel cost would otherwise prevent attendance. Therefore, there will undoubtedly be a need to consider hybrid events if courses run at venues to provide equitable access to training, which is of high priority to us in meeting one of our key purposes: provision of professional development.
Courses which would have been one day (or more) at a venue have run successfully over two (or more) mornings virtually and this has been strongly acclaimed as beneficial, allowing absorption time between modules and avoiding the afternoon saturation point of a full day course; providing opportunity to reflect on the module's content and come up with questions to be answered by trainers the next day or undertake an exercise; and maintain some movement in other work. Reverting to long days at a venue is therefore not necessarily an advantage for learning, though that is offset by the benefit of informal interaction with other participants (though that is stressful for some people). Long days at a venue also bring increased risks to participants travelling long distances in peak time, with early starts or late in the day after an intensive course, which is not ideal for safety.
Technical demand and difficulty providing equitable training for both virtual and venue audience requires hardware, software, technical expertise in support, plus a high level of multi-tasking and technological skill in the trainer in addition to their specialist knowledge. That is a requirement not yet met by many venues except those beyond the normal budget for IPROW courses and is a very big request of a trainer, even with provision of training and practice, which would require a substantial investment by us and the trainer, when trainers' time is already in such short supply it is having an impact on provision of training. The investment is difficult to justify when virtual training has achieved very high levels of satisfaction. It is likely that advances in hybrid delivery of education (in particular) will assist with technology but at a cost and will not provide non-existence time for our rights of way specialists to acquire the skills.
While we very much wish to provide for all requirements, the numbers on courses mean trying to do so could easily make the course unviable. Courses average 15 participants so if even a third of them prefer not to travel and wish to join remotely, there are too few bookings for a venue event. The cost of a course at a venue is divided between the anticipated number of bookings. Virtual attendance at venue events will increase the gamble of price-setting and could result in us making losses. While IPROW is a non-profit organisation, its capacity to absorb loss is limited.
There is also an administrative headache as the kind of venues providing for hybrid events will require a deposit which is lost if an event is cancelled and a minimum number which will be charged for in full if cancelled within twenty eight days of the event. No matter how many months in advance a course is advertised, the majority of bookings are made in the month before a course, but that will be after a decision is needed on whether a venue event is viable. Indication to date is that the number wishing to attend at a venue is far exceeded by the number preferring the advantages of virtual attendance. What would be the number present at a venue for the main advantage — social interaction — to be worthwhile?
Venue attendance might be increased by refusing virtual attendance, but that would remove the possibility of training for people who may be restricted from travel by their employer or personal circumstances. It is clear from the last eighteen months that people have been able to access training virtually which would never have been feasible to them at a venue. IPROW is committed to making professional development as available as possible.
Non-equitable attendance virtually, such as by basic live-streaming with limited interaction is an alternative to hybrid events, but the cost could be higher than people were willing to pay for a lower level of training because such provision still requires a heavy involvement from staff and venue.
Our own commitment, and that of most attending organisations, is to reduce environmental impact, which means avoiding unnecessary travel. It is difficult to justify travel when a satisfactory alternative exists and it appears likely, from informal seeking of views, that while a member's response may be 'yes, I want to travel to a venue', an employing organisation may not be willing to fund it when there is a virtual alternative.
We are considering that our Law and Practice course, which was four days residential, may take place at a venue, because the multi-day course has more time for the informal contact between participants so benefits of a venue course are much higher than a one day event and easier to justify, however, feedback from initial enquiries on the subject have been negative as, while the value of the social interaction is recognised, the high additional cost of travel, time and accommodation is not justifiable.
All considered, for the moment, events will continue as virtual, however, the decision will be frequently reviewed and we will continue to implement opportunities within virtual courses for interaction with others through small group breakouts and chat.