The year 2020 was characterized in almost all areas by the Coronavirus pandemic. Like many companies, tekom was affected by the prevailing situation. Thus the tekom Frühjahrstagung (spring conference) 2020 had to be canceled because of the virus. tekom quickly adapted to the changed circumstances and devised a way to provide an alternative platform for topical presentations. The result was the completely virtual and free of charge tekom SummerCON, a four-day event that took place in June 2020: a novelty, for tekom as well as for many conference visitors. As there were no signs of an easing pandemic situation in the second half of 2020, tekom decided to make the tcworld conference – which has been held annually for over 25 years – purely virtual for the first time. The objective was to virtually reproduce the offerings of the on-site annual conference to enable further education, to share information about current trends and service offerings, to network and exchange ideas and thoughts. As a result, the virtual tcworld conference offered presentations, meetups, a tekom cafe, chats, and a virtual trade show on various online platforms. Although a challenging novelty for tekom, the event that attracted more than 2700 participants and visitors proved to be very successful. But how did visitors experience the new virtual tcworld conference? What were the advantages? What were the challenges? What was good and where is room for improvement? Everyone involved was eager to find out and study the conference survey. Feedback came from 423 conference participants, about one-third of which were international.
As expected, most participants (at least 77%) experienced the conference as different from an on-site event. But for many, the virtual conference did have a number of advantages: For 90% of the respondents, it was useful that the recordings of the lectures were available afterward. The fact that there were no travel expenses was also cited as an advantage by 74%, and another 71% cited the overall lower costs. For 67%, integration into the daily work routine was advantageous and 66% see the lower time expenditure as a benefit. This may be part of the reason why it was easier for about one-third of respondents to attend a virtual meeting paid for by their employer. Around 90% had no problems receiving time off from work to attend the virtual conference. A total of 96% of respondents reported that it was easy to have their costs covered by their employers. Participation in the virtual conference was easily compatible with the work schedule for 76%. The fact that virtual participation is effortless is also shown by the fact that 76% were online on all five days of the event and another 12% attended on 4 days; 37% of the participants spent an average of three to four hours on the virtual conference, 25% five to six hours and 22% more than six hours.
The offerings were well received. As expected, 98% attended the presentations, 42% also attended the keynote, 60% participated in the chats related to these, about one-third met in the meetups, and nearly half of all conference participants also visited the digital fair. In addition to the organizational and financial benefits of a virtual conference, a clear focus of the participants was on the transfer of knowledge and the exchange of information: 70% deemed the presentations very important and a further 25% rated them as important. 72% of the survey participants assessed the presentations as very stimulating or stimulating, and 22% as somewhat stimulating. For 93% knowledge acquisition was not a challenge. In contrast, only 26% of the survey participants found networking good or very good, and another 25% found it rather good. Around 30% rated it as rather poor and 18% as poor. This is consistent with the statement that around 50% saw the exchange and direct communication as a challenge. Establishing contact was also an unfamiliar challenge for 39%. However, it can be assumed that the technical possibilities will develop further and enable realistic meetings and that people through regular use will find digital contact and exchange easier – even if these will never completely replace a personal exchange.
These statements of participants sum up the virtual meeting experience nicely:
- "A virtual meeting may not replace the face-to-face contact and flair at a conference, but it does provide a knowledge-building opportunity for those to whom it would have been difficult to get a business trip approved or to fit an all-day event into their workday."
- "The experience between virtual and face-to-face events is different and both have advantages and disadvantages. To me, the value of the exchange at face-to-face events doesn’t compare to that of virtual events. But otherwise, I prefer the virtual format. I thought it was great how tekom organized everything. Hats off!"
- "I found the virtual meeting very good. Everything has been easy to use. Since I have a longer journey and the traffic in and around Stuttgart is very congested, I found the virtual participation much more relaxed and also easier to plan. I did miss the personal contact, but when the next hybrid conference takes place, I will probably participate virtually."
Overall, it is a pleasant result for tekom that 30% rated the conference as very good, 48% as good and another 16% as rather good.
Altogether 83% were satisfied with their experience at the virtual tcworld conference 2020.
Encouragingly, 85% of survey participants would attend a virtual meeting again, with another 10% likely to do so. It is still too early to predict how 2021 will unfold. In any case, the spring conference will take place as a virtual event. Regarding the tcworld conference in November 2021, a hybrid format is planned, combining effectively the advantages from both event forms.