‘Handshake-free’ meetings and other coronavirus precautions

As concerns of a potential pandemic grow, event organizers boost communications, plan added safety measures.
By: | March 5, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Update: The Institute for Corporate Productivity announced late Monday that its 2020 Next Practices Now Conference has been rescheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Originally set for March 23-27 in Scottsdale, Arizona, the conference has been moved to Sept. 17-20 in the same location.

“Postponing the conference has not been an easy decision, but it became clear that it was a necessary one,” i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes wrote in an announcement about the move.

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Update: The HIMSS global health conference scheduled to start Monday in Orlando has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns, organizers have announced on their website.

The cancellation came after several large tech companies, including Amazon and Google, canceled their own plans to attend the event.

It will be the first time in 58 years that the conference has been canceled, according to organizers.

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Original story: 

As HR leaders work to prepare their companies for a potential coronavirus outbreak in the United States, many also are considering the virus’ impact on their own travel plans.

That’s because industry events and long-scheduled conferences, some of them international in scope, are falling in the crosshairs of CDC warnings, travel restrictions and overall concerns of a potential pandemic.

HCM software vendor Workday this week canceled its annual internal sales conference, expected to draw 3,000 people to Orlando from March 2-4, due to fears of the outbreak, CNBC reported.

Read also: How should HR approach coronavirus in the workplace

But organizers of other conferences that might attract HR leaders in coming weeks and months are so far increasing communications about coronavirus with registered attendees and planning extra on-site precautions but otherwise expect to proceed with their events.

The HIMSS global health conference next month in Orlando, for example, will be “a handshake-free meeting,” according to an email sent Thursday to registrants. Instead of a handshake, “we recommend the HIMSS elbow tap,” the email went on to say. Presumably, that would include scheduled keynoter U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, recently tapped as chairman of the coronavirus task force by President Trump.

HIMSS, scheduled for March 9-13, is expected to attract nearly 45,000 health leaders from more than 90 countries, according to its website. As a result, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society is accepting cancellations from attendees planning to travel from countries designated at Level 3—avoid nonessential travel—by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, that means only South Korea and China, excluding Hong Kong.

Organizers also plan to conduct on-site screening throughout the conference, to boost sanitation measures before and during the event, to provide medical-grade face masks at information booths and to provide guidance and updates to all conference attendee hotels, according to the email. Guests also will receive printed copies of safety measures upon check-in at their hotels. And anyone feeling unwell also is urged to skip the event, the email said.

Phenom People, a provider of talent-experience-management software, announced this week that its IAMPHENOM conference scheduled for March 3-5 also will proceed as planned—with some similar added safety measures.

More than 1,000 CHROs, talent leaders and HR practitioners are expected to attend the annual conference, being held in Philadelphia. In a Feb. 27 statement on the conference website that was also emailed to attendees, organizers advised that they are taking “all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety” of participants in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. As such, they are adding more hand-sanitizing stations, offering disinfectant sprays in high-traffic areas, increasing the frequency that session rooms and high-touch areas—such as doorknobs and escalator rails—are cleaned and asking vendors to regularly disinfect their work stations.

The alert also urged attendees to be proactive: frequently wash their hands, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid touching the face and sit the event out if they’re sick.

Ultimate Software, which recently merged with Kronos, will host its user conference March 2-5 in Las Vegas as planned. An email sent today to registrants said a corporate team is monitoring COVID-19. But, with no cases of the disease reported in Las Vegas and with no international attendees expected from affected areas, organizers are simply asking attendees to avoid touching their face and to wash hands frequently.

Similarly, the i4cp 2020 Next Practices Now Conference, scheduled for March 23-26 in Scottsdale, Arizona, is still on, and organizers are closely monitoring the situation, according to an email sent today.

Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.