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Staying on target in 2023: Workplace values from the exhibition floor

Becky Bosco, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Optica

Those of us at Optica will forever remember the week of 9 March 2020. We were on-site in San Diego with the start of OFC, the largest global conference and exhibition for optical communications. That same week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The conference quickly transitioned its focus to getting our exhibitors and attendees who chose to travel safely home despite new border restrictions. According to Google Trends, the terms "remote work" and "teleworking" spiked in peak popularity during that time on the optical networks supported by our industry.

Optica, like other organizations, closed its international headquarters building in Washington D.C. and moved operations online. Conferences are designed to bring together opportunities for companies and academia to highlight their research advancements and push the industry globally. With the onset of the pandemic, the Optica Board of Directors was very supportive in maintaining the continuity of community engagement between conference attendees, exhibitors, and speakers. Although it initially presented significant challenges, adopting a fully-remote meeting model, our objective remained constant - to provide our global attendees with learning and networking opportunities that advance their careers and the field. We continued with the hybrid conference approach in 2022 and will continue with several hybrid conferences in 2023.

"We learned from the pandemic experience that where we work is less important than how we work together. The silver lining of the pandemic was the elimination of geographical and socio-economic limitations to conference attendees and to utilize digital technology to remove barriers related to language, time zone, and travel. Now in 2023, the value of bringing conferences and meetings back together in-person are those serendipitous session room, exhibit hall, and coffee break conversations allowing for sharing, collaboration, learning and discovery," said Ryan Strowger, Optica's Chief Events and Industry Officer. "Even with the latest video conference technology, it is difficult to create those casual conversations with collaborators you may connect with just once a year at a conference. It truly validated the human need for in-person engagement and connectivity."

As we come back together in 2023, it's essential to look to meeting strategies centered on Optica's core values of innovation, integrity, inclusivity, and impact (I⁴th). These values are integral to our meeting's portfolio as we look to intentionally bring a sense of belonging for all to Optica meetings.

Abbie Watnik, Ph.D., U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, United States, Chair of Optica's Board of Meetings, explains, "Your values guide many aspects of your personal and professional life. When I became Chair, we were still working to envision meetings in a post-pandemic world. The focus on innovation, integrity, inclusivity and the impact of all scientific meetings has continued to guide our discussions. I'm pleased and proud of the plan we have in place for 2023. Looking forward to seeing many of you this year!"

Values make for even better meetings
How do these values apply to our meeting models? For our Optica team, these values are the glue that keeps us grounded in our work and relationships with our members – wherever we are worldwide. Scientific conferences organized by professional societies provide a venue for those in the community to highlight their latest work, network, and connect with new collaborators.

Strowger added, "By nature, people want to be connected, have the desire to gather, and a need to share. Events allow people to meet these basic needs. The need has only grown stronger, and people are anxious to resume previous activity levels. The pandemic allowed us to reimagine our meetings portfolio to benefit our community in the future."

Whether your university, company, or organization is still navigating workplace changes brought on by the pandemic, now is the time to use those values to drive your decisions at the start of the year. Let's look to 2023 as an opportunity to bring I⁴ to all the meetings you attend during the year. Wishing you a prosperous 2023 filled with connectedness, boldness, growth, and alignment with your purpose! Enjoy the journey, and make it your best year yet.

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