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What's it like to attend a virtual SFHA conference? Wonder no more!

Martin Wilkie-McFarlane, Director of Wellhouse Housing Association, describes his experience of attending SFHA's virtual HR and People Conference. 

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During the Covid-19 working from home period I, like many people, had attended numerous meetings via Zoom, MS Teams, etc. After a short period, I also began attending webinars and briefings, all of which went surprisingly well. Having previously worked in a UK-wide organisation, I had experience of video conferencing, however, this was different – now it was all over a computer screen whilst sitting at my kitchen table.

Nevertheless, the one thing I had not done was attend a virtual conference over two days. I reasoned this would be just like the webinars I attended and, therefore, fairly straightforward. When I then saw the programme for the SFHA Live! Virtual HR and People Conference, I realised it was to be like any other conference, only via my laptop, so, perhaps, not exactly like a webinar after all? This became apparent when I signed in on the day. It was exactly like a physical conference in its programme, plenary, speakers and breakout sessions – the virtual events platform was excellent: intuitive and easy to use. The support provided by SFHA in moving around the platform, logging in, etc. was effective and easy to access. 

With regards the conference, it was great to hear from a range of speakers who were able to give their professional insight into remote and flexible working, fully backed up by practical examples that we had all experienced – in my own organisation that saw us moving from a workplace with no remote working to full remote working and customer service within five days. I was glad to hear that we were not alone in that experience.

The quote that really sticks in my mind from the conference was from Lesley-Anne Junner of Linstone Housing Association: “the Covid lockdown has, ironically, achieved more for flexible and remote working in a few months than the previous two decades of campaigning.” 

It was great to see so many speakers discussing the issue of staff wellbeing and concerns that may arise when people feel isolated from the connections and casual interactions that take place in the office, the so called ‘water cooler moments’. There was also plenty of food for thought towards the future, with many of us embracing the 'new normal' of a blended approach to the workplace, which aims to balance staff wellbeing and customer service with a proper life/work balance and environmental responsibility. 

On a practical level, it was great to attend a conference with so many colleagues from all over Scotland, including remote and rural locations, who were able to be present in a fully equitable manner to those of us from the central belt.

In terms of future virtual SFHA Live! events, I very much encourage readers to attend them. Full conference learning and support, without the need for a lengthy commute, is excellent. For me, I will need a little bit more experience and confidence in the virtual coffee break/networking sessions. Not being a user of social media, and being of a certain age, I think put me at a disadvantage regarding that aspect.

In short, a highly enjoyable experience with genuine learning and, for me, an efficient and environmentally responsible way of attending conferences when delivered by experts in this field such as SFHA. I will, however, admit to missing the chat with colleagues and, of course, the coffee and shortbread!

You can view the upcoming SFHA Live! events programme here.

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