The sweeping progress of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 had a profound and instant effect on the events industry worldwide. The world was paralysed overnight, with businesses, manufacturing, travel and education all grinding to an abrupt halt. The events industry was hit especially hard and events across the world were cancelled or postponed indefinitely as the virus spread.

Like so many others in the industry, we saw our carefully curated calendar of events – reaching as far as 36 months into the future – completely decimated. Whilst the first lockdown announced in the UK was initially billed to last just 3 weeks, it soon became clear that events as we knew them wouldn’t be back for a long time.

This initial statis, a complete veto on all live events in the UK, lasted for months. By October 2020, the press were calling it as it was, with headlines like:  ‘Coronovirus: business events industry faces devastation’ (The Times).  There was no denying it. The future looked bleak.

Evolving ways of working

As the pandemic raged on, resourceful humans from all walks of life found ways to work around the restrictions they faced. Event professionals were forced to adopt an entirely new way of working. We needed to quickly embrace entirely digital and hybrid (digital and in-person) solutions.

Here at First Network, we pride ourselves on our technological prowess and we had already been using some state-of-the-art virtual events tech. We quickly realised our future would depend on our ability to evolve, and we needed to embrace this in earnest. Our first action was to move events online wherever we could, live-streaming to delegates who were tuning in from home offices across the world.

In early summer 2020, we transformed part of our West London warehouse into a fully equipped recording studio and event venue. This meant we were able to offer our clients a covid-safe space where they could come to produce and record presentations either for live streaming or to pre-record to be accessed and viewed later.

Silver linings and unforeseen benefits

By last summer, we were starting to see the resurgence of some of the larger in-person events we were used to and in 2022 we delivered a busy, year-round calendar of large and small events, both in-person and hybrid. Whilst digitalisation cannot replace the in-person interaction of most events in the long run, it has become clear that both hybrid and purely virtual events do have their place. Virtual can offer big cost and time savings when compared to in-person events. There’s also the added benefit of a significant reduction in environmental impact when you remove travel and transport from the picture.

Changing perspectives

One of the lasting legacies of the pandemic has been a new, more flexible approach to our personnel. We have found that as things have restarted, many of our team prefer to work on a freelance basis, which keeps our core business lean and agile, and gives employees scope for more flexible working.

Now as we head into our third post- pandemic summer season, we can reflect on how the landscape has changed for the industry. Some of the new working practises are here to stay and there are certainly some silver linings. We have learned such a lot as we’ve improvised and evolved to meet the changing landscape.

It’s been a long road to recovery, but we are delighted to say that the future for the events industry is once again looking bright.