Global concern about the impact and spread of COVID-19 (here's some live data designed by a 17-year old) have left organisers with no choice but to pull international events. The new 'normal' is to expect further emergency measures. These will restrict the movement of people - asking us to work from home (where possible). Plans to attend any future international conferences will be cut short.
Much of my research is about the kinds of interventions to enable under-represented groups to be better supported in their professional roles. These include: remote working; making international conferences/events accessible to those with caring roles and disabilities (remote presentations and affiliations; sponsorship for families to travel together; and funding to pay for care support with individuals are away); and embracing novel interactions (everything from using tools like Slack, #hashtag indexing, to experimenting with audio recordings and different methods of file-sharing for individuals with unreliable internet connections).
Before COVID-19 practices such as remote working and digital presenting were, often, regarded as secondary to in-person interactions. This meant requests from disability groups, or anyone with a caring role, to implement changes that allow individuals to 'beam in' were often challenged - see this lovely survey from Forbes about such workforce demands. Such actions are seen as 'too expensive' or 'too difficult' to coordinate and organise.
Amid COVID-19 the same barriers throw up common challenges. However, some groups are doing better. The International Communication Association (ICA) conference aims to advance the scholarly study of human communication by encouraging and facilitating excellence in research worldwide. Aha! The same conference is still going ahead with proper support for virtual presenting and attendance.
But presenting via video-conference and Skype is cr*p, right? Yep. So as you would expect from an international communication association, there are some innovations: Presenters will have the option to pre-record talks, or to join in-person live and develop critical conversations in much the same way we currently undertake social interactions using apps like Whatsapp, Messenger, iMessage etc. And this is good. We're forced into thinking outside the box, we maintain sponsorship and commercial levels of support, we get to interact with research communities at a global scale, and we (inadvertently) save the planet. Importantly these are all methods that go a long way to support accessibility. Other conferences such as FutureMed have allowed participants to attend as a robot!
To maintain the momentum and sponsorship around other international events, we have an opportunity, now, to advocate for each other. This means being prepared to make very sudden changes to how we attend and experience professional activities, and take forward how we work with each other. The out-dated criteria for career promotion such as 'number of international conferences attended' can (should) be challenged/changed to embrace new methods of finding and connecting to each other. This method will allow anyone with a disability or caring role to significantly improve their contribution to events and 'prove' their worth to organisations. Also meaningful is the willingness of people to swap climate-guzzling global travel for greener and more climate-friendly alternatives.
Traditional accounts of work tend to concentrate either on overall levels of activity in the workplace, on things like international professional impact (how much of a 'hit' globally are you?), or on particular ways of working, like the long hours sat passively in an office or out in the field. Up to now, there have been very limited resources in support of remote working or the 'best' or good practices that workers can implement. Guilt, feeling isolated, disadvantaging one's career, or anxiety about missing out frequently appear as barriers to remote work. There remains very little to support the experience of attending international events in remote form - this is difficult to do well for the audience experience, presenter or to make it suitably commercial for sponsorship.
Successful and fun methods of remote working, here are some things that I am doing:
By focusing on 'being there', we have developed a fascinating display in the presencing of our 'work' and doing work in professional settings. Upon our actions hangs the future of international event attendance, work presencing, and ways we can sustain inclusive professional practices in the future.
I am happy to share a virtual lunch date with you.
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