Communities / COVID-19 / Entrepreneurs / Events

How Delaware is staying connected during the (yes, still ongoing) pandemic

How are local organizations faring as they've moved meetings and events to virtual — and how might COVID-19 change the way those gatherings are done in the future?

Delaware community members on Google Meet. (Screenshot)

Connecting with your community looks different nowadays, and won’t return to “normal” anytime soon.

On May 20, when Delaware neared Phase 1 of reopening after over two months of shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gathered (virtually, of course) several of our community member for a “Delaware hangout” on Google Meet.

Now, as we near the June 15 date of Phase 2 — during which teleworking remains in place whenever possible — we’re recapping part of the event, focusing on how businesses stay connected during social distancing, and what business leaders have learned during this time of mandatory virtual meetings, networking and events.

For the most part, these dozen community members work in tech-related fields or have jobs that allow them to work at home. Jessica Glassco, makerspace coordinator at the Route 9 Library, is one exception: While libraries are closed, she goes in regularly to use its 3D printers to make face shields for healthcare workers.

Greg Plum is a board member for Tech Forum, which previously held live events exclusively in person. Going virtual has been a surprising advantage.

“Our typical events would get about 30 [people] — and it’s always the same 30,” he said. “For our virtual event, 78 people showed up.”

The Women’s Leadership Initiative at the University of Delaware has gotten a boost from virtual events, too.

“They’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Blue Blaze’s Wendy Scott. “They have had over 800 people register for [their sessions] in the last couple of months.”

There are disadvantages of not having face-to-face networking opportunities, of course.

“I miss going to Brew HaHa! to meet with one person and running into four or five others,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Ken Grant. “I think we’re going to suffer from [the lack of] those kinds of serendipitous connections.”

Similarly, at in-person conferences, “you can connect with people spontaneously,” said Glassco.

The pandemic will affect how events happen beyond stay-home-orders. It’s up to organizers to make the difference for the better.

“We’ve got to find a way to build on what’s being shared into substantive partnerships, collaborations and business models,” said Sharon Kelly Hake, whose Great Dames events have quadrupled in size since going virtual.

“Where I’m seeing the trends go post-COVID — meaning probably 18 to 24 months from now — it will be a hybrid of this,” said Charles Vincent, whose Spur Impact organizes the Millennial Summit. “I think nine out of 10 meetings can be converted to a Zoom conference. MillSummit 2021 or ’22 will have an in-person component, but I can’t imagine that it won’t also have a virtual component because of the access.”

Keeping an eye on what is working — and what is not working — is going to be a vital part of getting back on track.

“There are winners and losers in this,” said Ben du Pont of Chartline Capital and Zip Code Wilmington. “There are parts of the economy that are shining right now, and I think that might be the key to how we might get back to work.”

Series: Community Building Month 2020 / Coronavirus

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