Greetings fellow WWID members. If you feel like you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months, you’re not alone. What was assumed to be a two or three month interruption in our normal routines has become a protracted experiment in social isolation, and adaptation to new routines. At first it was great having an excuse for not going to the gym. Now, many months and pounds later, the reality of the situation has set in.
The beginning of this journey is clear for me. My last trip was to Austin, TX in early March for the ISA Strategic Leadership Conference. The impact of COVID-19 was just beginning to be felt. My Southwest flight home was surreal because the plane was almost empty. Glad I didn’t pay extra for a seat upgrade! I returned home not knowing that my intended plans for the WWID would be so thoroughly disrupted along with those for my personal and professional life. Now I know.
Eight months later, the situation is still precarious as we face another resurgence of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Even if a vaccine is made available in the near term as expected, there is tremendous uncertainty as to when we will return to something called normal. At least we have football, well, sort of. Regardless, plans for traditional New Year’s Celebrations in New York City to usher in 2021 have already been cancelled, replaced with virtual festivities. The same is true for water industry events as well. As of March of this year, all in-person events were cancelled for the year as COVID’s impact came so suddenly that many events were cancelled entirely, including ISA’s 2020 Energy and Water Automation Conference (EWAC). As much as possible, many formerly in-person events have have resumed as virtual events. For example, WEFTEC, the year’s largest water-sector event was transformed into the virtual WEFTEC Connect conference.
I have now participated in several virtual industry events, and I can say the virtual experience is not the same as the in-person experience in terms of direct interaction with industry colleagues. However, and this is an important point, the virtual event is superior for delivering content. As noted on the WEFTEC Connect web site, “In addition to experiencing WEFTEC virtually, you can connect and learn 365 days of the year – WEFTEC Connect offers year-round access to WEFTEC content and contacts.”
I do not know what to expect for 2021 industry events. I have read that it will take years for in-person trade shows and industry events to return to pre-pandemic activity levels. I am certain that virtual events and hybrid events (mix of in-person activities with virtual content) will become commonplace going forward because of the benefits of virtual events: increased accessibility to content, reduced costs to participate, and increased flexibility in scheduling. We see that already. The WWID and the Power Industries Division (POWID) conducted four webinars this year to replace the 2020 EWAC. Overall, ISA has conducted numerous webinars and virtual conferences in 2020 that filled the void of cancelled in-person events. I expect that trend to continue in 2021 and beyond regardless of what happens with in-person events.
COVID-19 has brought abrupt and indelible changes to all aspects of our lives, and challenges us to embrace new approaches to personal and professional development. The virtual world is expanding opportunities for learning, collaboration, and communication. Let’s make the most of the virtual resources that ISA offers that now includes ISA Connect, an online community for ISA members to engage in technical conversations and share best practices. Join your fellow members in the journey forward into the virtual realm.
Have a wonderful fall season, and let’s all continue to stay safe and healthy.
WWID Director (2020-2021)