Today, I wanted to share a little on how Web Directions, a business which at its heart is bringing people together, has had to face the reality of COVID-19. Let’s just say the impact has been challenging, as it has been for so many, but it has allowed us the opportunity to rethink how we execute our mission.
Central to this mission is helping people develop their professional capabilities, and we have done this for well over a decade by bringing people together, face to face, at our conferences and events. Speakers, and attendees travelling across Australia and the entire world; but now, folks in Melbourne, where we hold so many of our events, can barely travel across the street.
So, why even think about organising, or attending an online conference (is attending even the right word?) right now?
So much has changed in our lives in 2020, most people are facing personal and professional challenges many of us (certainly I) could barely have imagined 6 months ago. As Scott Galloway put it most succinctly “the worst things about crises is that they happen, the best thing is that they end”. Which is hard to imagine in the midst of this particular crisis.
But as other crises have passed, this too shall, and while I think many aspects of our lives will be irrevocably changed, the importance of the Web, and technology more broadly, and the capabilities of professionals like you–developers, engineers, designers, will be even more important.
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”
As many have observed recently, echoing Lenin’s now now-famous quote, the events of these last 6 months have accelerated trends that may have otherwise played out over years or decades.
Remote working, eCommerce, streaming entertainment, all of course existed prior to 2020. But…
“The percentage of retail done on digital channels has gone up one percent each year. And as of 2020 it was at 18%, and then in eight weeks it went to 28%! We had a decade in eight weeks.”
On launch, in late 2019, Disney offered investors “guidance” for the growth of their new Disney+ service, with 60-90 million subscribers forecast for 2024. Last week, 9 months after launch, Disney reported it now had over 60 million subscribers, years ahead of that forecast.
The world has been moving online for decades. A slow inexorable process….. until 2020.
And while it might sound glib, or even insensitive at a time when all of us are facing so many challenges; concern for our own health and that of our relatives and friends, concern for the future of our careers and our businesses, many homeschooling their kids on top of it all–I also feel it’s a time where investment in our skills, knowledge and capabilities, and those of the people you lead, remains vitally important.
And yet, there are also increased barriers to professional development–significantly diminished training budgets, remote work, and with so much of our life lived staring at screens. Unfortunately far too many people right now are facing impacts on their employment, or businesses, with which we can really empathise, as I mentioned at the outset, Web Directions almost entirely depended on people meeting face to face as our core business 5 months ago, so the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been a sharp and continuing shock.
As we have faced these challenges, we’ve thought deeply about how to continue our mission of helping people develop their professional capabilities. Unlike many events which have moved online in recent months we have rethought our events as remote only (and remote first) – and there are some things we are doing very differently in response to how much all our lives and work have changed.
- We’ve set prices at a small fraction of our in-person events. While in some ways our costs are down (and up in others), we really have tried to price our events (and new learning platform Conffab) in a way that addresses the reality of people’s budgets now. For those whose employment has been impacted by COVID19, we have also introduced pay-what-you-can pricing, as we know the importance and value of both maintaining skills and up-skilling when seeking a new role and we want to help.
- We’ve re-imagined the schedule. Rather than expect attendees to find two whole consecutive days in schedules that are often chaotic and changeable (and to sit in front of a screen from 9-5 on both days), we’ve programmed our Code://Remote and Product://Remote conferences to run for around 3 and a half hours across four Fridays in a month. It will be live, for attendees to interact with each other, with speakers and partners. But if you can’t make a session, it will be available on-demand shortly after each session ends.
- We’re focussing intensely on the quality of the presentations. While live streaming, video conferencing and meetings are the new normal, we don’t want our audience to sit through what amounts to yet another Zoom call. We have put a lot of energy and effort into ensuring the quality of our presentations, we’re pre-recording, professionally editing, and have made sure our speakers have great cameras, lighting and sound.
- We’ve created more opportunity to Connect – by scheduling the conference as we have done, it has opened up a more diverse, international audience. You’ll be attending, and able to connect with folks from all over the world.
What hasn’t changed is our commitment to deeply valuable, topical, independent presentations, from a diverse range of world-leading experts. And our commitment to helping you maintain your knowledge and capabilities.