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Opportunity out of adversity

Budget planning and business development faced many challenges at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a revenue generating sector with many public-facing services supplying the community, what happens when there was no community to serve?

“We needed to respond quickly to the evolving situation,” says Sabrina Lavoie, executive director of Budget Planning and Business Development. “We saw all our events cancelled, our stores and restaurants closed and our residence shut down in a very short period of time. Our team truly pulled together and saw this crisis as an opportunity for growth and change.”

Despite the initial shock, it provided opportunities to evaluate existing campus services offerings, collaborate across sectors and develop entirely new service offerings.

Residence life

In spring 2020, as COVID-19 became a reality, Residence Life was left to manage the evacuation of the Grey Nuns Residence, Hingston Hall and the Jesuit Residence as the government announced closures.

Students were forced to leave behind what they couldn’t carry, and staff were left organizing a system to pack and store belongings which would be returned when restrictions eased.

Dozens of students were also placed in difficult situations, trying to navigate travel restrictions or outbreaks in their home countries.

“It was a difficult time, but our staff came to together to make sure that there was enough space between rooms and meals were provided with minimal contact,” says Lavoie. She adds that she was happy that none of the residents fell ill with COVID and that the team was able to help them though the crisis period.

As restrictions began to ease, the team began to develop reopening plans.

“Many of the plans dealt with operations, and connecting to the community needed to be reworked,” says Lavoie. “With regulations that are constantly evolving, we needed to find solutions to a wide variety of logistical issues and ensure the safety of our students at all times.”

Opportunity for feedback

With a vacant campus and no one in residence, Concordia’s food services team got to work using the unexpected free time as an opportunity to look forward, work together and re-energize the food service offerings on campus.

A food services survey was launched to gather information on everything from food preferences to expectations around pricing options. Respondents were also invited to participate in focus groups open to all students, faculty, and staff. These forums were created to address specific needs and further shape food on campus.

“We really want people to be happy with the options we provide, on campus and we cannot provide what we don’t know about,” says Lavoie.

With the same idea in mind, a virtual bookstore feedback forum was held in collaboration with partners from Follett Higher Education Group, which took over the operations of Concordia’s Book Stop on June 1, 2020.

“It’s important for us to have a good understanding of the needs of our students, faculty and staff and how those needs evolve over time so that we can respond to the to the best of our abilities and enhance operations where needed,” says Lavoie.

Going virtual

As health authorities predicted the continuation of lockdowns and capacity limitation, all major events scheduled to take place on campus were either postponed or outright cancelled, recounts Lavoie.

“Events and conference are essential to the academic community because they provide a space for sharing research, exchanging ideas, and developing collaborative relationships. COVID provided us with an opportunity to rethink and redesign events in a virtual environment,“ says Lavoie.

In collaboration with IITS, hospitality began to pool information on how to provide the community with functional support and consultative services to convert planned conferences from in-person to virtual.

“The technology and capability for hosting virtual events has existed for some time but not everyone was equipped with the tools and training necessary to attend virtual events. As the world shifted into a virtual environment, this changed,” she says.

Gradually, high profile events such as Open House and convocation successfully transitioned online, and internal events like virtual town hall meetings became the norm. Pre-existing tools such as Teams, Zoom, Grenadine and YuJa, to name a few, with the guidance of Hospitality and IITS have made the transition to virtual a success.

Even as restrictions begin to loosen, Hospitality plans to continue offering virtual and hybrid event planning services to the community.

“Virtual provides the opportunity to be truly inclusive and accessible, allowing people from across the globe to attend an event from the comfort of their own home, without costly travel or being pulled away from obligations,” Lavoie says.

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