WAA’s Response to COVID-19
Nathan Schuettepelz, component president
So, here we are, just over a year into a global pandemic that has impacted each of our chapters individually and uniquely. I am writing from Wisconsin, where we have chosen to navigate this journey conservatively while finding unique ways to connect members and provide a benefit. At the start of my presidential term, I believe we have already succeeded in adapting to the new climate of virtual networking, yet we face unforeseen difficulties, such as our budget needs.
At the start of the pandemic, it was easy to identify what was going to be difficult. Our chapter ranks personal relationships among its highest benefit. Our members plan to attend conferences up to a year in advance, vendors line up to secure exhibit booths, and we are grateful for the top-tier speaker line-up we secure every year. We were lucky for the opportunity to host our annual conference in February 2020 before the pandemic shut Wisconsin down in mid-March. When our state shut down with no end in sight, our leadership had to aggressively plan how we could provide the necessary education to our members even if we could not be together.
A Strategic Pivot
Our strategy was simple — acknowledge the hardships we were about to face, and find creative solutions that would take us through the most challenging times. We scrutinized the budget, looking for cost-saving opportunities. We realized virtual education might not be ideal, but the organization would save significant money by not hosting an in-person event. Our board and committee members signed up for multiple virtual training opportunities and came back as a group to discuss what worked, what did not, and what would fit our organization the best. Over multiple months, we were able to secure a contract vendor who could host an exceptional virtual training platform. Securing remote speakers allowed us to line up multiple national and international speakers, where traditionally we could only budget for one in-person keynote. The success of our 2021 virtual conference provided the realization that it is convenient to learn from home.
Meeting Members Where They Area
As a chapter, the WAA is going to take these lessons learned moving forward. We are now exploring the options for hybrid learning events. Our members will always value seeing each other in person, and we are excited to get together for the first time very soon. We also realize that in our industry, the weather dictates our work schedules. By including recordings of conference presentations, we can provide educational value to members who must pull training plans for storm-response work in the summer, or snow removal in the winter. We feel this hybrid learning model will expand our reach and grow our membership in the coming years. We are also looking to hold hybrid networking options to reach more members across our state who cannot accommodate constant travel. By reducing required in-person meetings and increasing remote video conferencing, more members will be inclined to rise to the challenge of taking on leadership roles.
Defining Success in the Short Term
Before the pandemic, our organization adopted a more fluid three-year strategic plan. The pandemic put a lot of goals on hold. What we are realizing now is that a condensed plan (reduced from a traditional five-year plan) has allowed us to pick up where we left off, working towards attaining reasonable goals before our next strategic planning workshop in 2022.
COVID-19 was not ideal. It presented unforeseen difficulties and took away some of the fun of being part of such a great organization. However, with dedicated individuals in key leadership roles, we can come together in a new way and strengthen how our chapter will operate in the future. The success we have attained as a leadership group reminded us of the value of those relationships that we worked so hard to build and that will take us well into the future.