Q&A: Meetings Mean Community Founders on Work-Life Balance During a Pandemic

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Q&A: Meetings Mean Community Founders on Work-Life Balance During a Pandemic

By Johnalee Johnston | Apr 6, 2020

Keynote speaker Courtney Stanley and event designer-energy worker Christine Mack have developed an initiative for the events industry that leverages what the industry is downright masterful at: building communities. 

The new Facebook group, Meetings Mean Community, is connecting professionals in the meetings, hospitality and travel industry who are interested in transforming conflict and uncertainty into positive collaboration and growth. We spoke with Stanley and Mack about the behind-the-scenes events that sparked the creation of the group, including their own path-finding, a.k.a., navigating the new terrain of work-life balance during a pandemic. Here's what they had to say.

How has COVID-19 personally affected you and your work paradigm and how are you adjusting?

Christine Mack: Like most people, I’m currently working from home. It’s a slower pace than usual since our events have been postponed, but I’m aware of how fortunate I am to be employed. My employer is committed to keeping our team together and has been shifting short-term work goals to ensure we are taken care of. Our team connects via video-conference 2-3 times a day, and that sense of community and continuity is a nice way to maintain consistency throughout the work day. My adjustment has been quite easy: there’s a real gift to be found in the opportunity to slow down as a society and practice more care - for our physical, mental and emotional bodies, our friends, family and the environment. This is also a rare opportunity as a society to have even more time to reach out to those in need and do what we can to uplift and support one another.

Courtney Stanley: The week that COVD-19 began to spread throughout the US was the week that I had planned to announce the launch of my brand new entrepreneurial venture as a keynote speaker, emcee, podcaster and career success coach. Talk about a curveball! Fortunately, I have a great support system and network of mentors. The first thing I did was reach out to my own business coaches and tribe and brainstorm how we can ensure that we all continue to provide value and support to our industry. After shaking off the initial shock of what the new normal of conference cancellations and self-quarantine would be, I pivoted my business services to focus on virtual engagement and support for our community: complimentary career coaching/workshops, online networking opportunities, and virtual emceeing/speaking for planners who decided to transition their events to an online experience. Right now I’m hyper-focused on doing my part to strengthen the foundation of our industry by developing and nurturing relationships with the incredible members and warriors of our community.

What advice can you offer planners who have now been plunged into all-in-one roles in home environments?

Mack: My youngest child is now 16, so I have such empathy for those going through this especially with young children at home. If you’ve suddenly been plunged into this role - well done, you’re doing the impossible! My advice would be to let go and focus on what is truly important. Kids will have plenty of time to complete schoolwork when they return to school. There’s been this sudden plunge for so many families into the idea of homeschool under the most unnatural conditions. Release any previously held ideas of learning; for that matter, give yourself permission to let go of most of the ideas you previously had to do it all, because ‘normal’ no longer exists at this moment. Your children, family, friends and coworkers will remember this time based on how well you connected and supported each other. Learning can happen organically through meal preparation, household chores and family games. Yesterday I sat and watched a flower garden for half an hour, enjoying the sunshine, silence and the sensation of my own breath. The bees, butterflies and geckos were all going about their normal business...a small reminder that all will be ok in the world again. We’re a society of do-ers. Slowing down and taking small amounts of time to just be can add up to make a big difference in your overall sense of well-being.

As planners it can be really hard to not have everything well-planned! I also suggest that you give yourself permission to not be on top of things and not have all of the answers. Ride the waves of how you feel and trust that everything will happen in its own time. No matter what your current situation, these uncertain times take a toll on our physical selves. Take time to count the blessings that remain, and make sure to give yourself additional love, self-care and kudos for pulling off the impossible.

Stanley: It’s very, very easy to slip into a new normal that isn’t healthy for you, so it’s important for you to define what your new normal looks and feels like. Try your best to block time in your calendar to keep yourself on track and to make space for exercise, getting outside, checking in with friends and family, and checking in with yourself. If you’re struggling, tell someone. If you feel alone, join a virtual hangout or phone a friend. Get out of your sweatpants and into typical work clothes at least a couple times a week. Try standing at your kitchen counter while working instead of sitting on the couch all day. I truly believe that being quarantined tests your mental and emotional health more than it affects your work flow. Now is the time to practice self-care and really show up for yourself and your tribe.

What do you feel are some of the positives of remote networking and relationship-building vs face-to-face?

Mack: There’s an opportunity to meet people we might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. Individual schedules, busy lives and geographical constraints can result in less opportunity for people to attend F2F events. With the current slowdown there’s more opportunity to connect/reconnect with those we might normally miss. Remote networking and relationship-building forces us to slow down and become better listeners simply on the basis of the platform. It’s impossible for more than one person to talk, and technology doesn’t allow for natural interrupting and back and forth that occurs in person. This gives the speaker a chance to finish their entire thought and the listener a chance to fully engage in the activity of listening.

Courtney facilitated our first virtual happy hour last week, and I will be facilitating our second one tomorrow. I was impressed with the positivity and authenticity that people displayed during the first virtual event. There was an openness to the discussion where everyone acknowledged the fears and uncertainty without giving into the negative that could so easily predominate current conversations. Feedback suggested that a lot of people felt uplifted and really benefited from having the opportunity to remain close and connected while at a distance.

Stanley: I have had the opportunity to catch up with so many people since we started quarantining. Connecting virtually has allowed me to speak with people from all over the world that I might depend on seeing at a conference once per year. There are no geographical barriers, no commute, the longevity of meetings is more flexible and because we are all going through a similar experience, we have a central topic to relate to. Furthermore, we focus on how people are really doing. We ask more specific questions about their wellbeing, the health of family members, what they are feeling challenged with and how we can help support them. Virtual networking truly has brought us back to the importance of building meaningful relationships and listening with intention and empathy.



Johnalee Johnston
Johnalee Johnston

Johnalee Johnston is a wildly creative and curious disruptor of the status quo and MPI’s digital editor.