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How Do We Reconnect?

As one industry tradeshow after another is stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, what other ways of networking can coaters, finishers and suppliers embrace?
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One of my pet peeves is reading or hearing something expressed in a non-imaginative way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of it myself and my judgement of such things is surely an act of hypocrisy. The truth is, we all use clichés and buzzwords and shortcuts almost without knowing it. And, of course, sometimes particular turns of phrase can be used at just the right moment or just the right way so that they become fresh and charming again. For example, almost every day when I find myself comparing notes with my colleague, Products Finishing managing editor Jenny Rush, she will at some point say, “What a time!” And that simple phrase is about the most diplomatic way to sum up current events.

As we deal with the constant upheaval that the novel coronavirus has caused in our own work lives and the day to day, I constantly remind myself that, yes, we are all in this together. Now, I could easily find myself annoyed by the concept of using an emoji to communicate in a single cartoon nuanced concepts that should be conveyed with sincerity through written communication — I’ve gone on plenty of tiresome rants about such things in the past. The truth is, when something like the COVID-19 pandemic happens, you need a sort of shorthand. We are all navigating these times of uncertainty and struggling with the cumbersome details of our new normal. If you’re anything like me, your eyes probably begin to glaze over whenever the ‘rona lingo starts rolling. The true repercussions of what is currently happening in the world around us right now cannot be accurately portrayed with trite turns of phrase. So, when it gets too much to handle, slapping a huggy-heart thingy on it in order to show that we care but we need to move on to the next bit of business becomes kind of necessary.

So, in this together, we’re all evolving and trying to share information and new ways of doing things. We can learn from each other’s solutions and forge a path forward with good ideas shared with one another. For example, in this issue of Products Finishing, you’ll note an article on a virtual gemba walk implemented by Process Technology when they found their productivity being stymied as their gembas fell by the wayside during the quarantine. Like many companies, they got to work finding a solution — a system for continuing their gemba presentations via video conferencing. While it may seem like a simple solution, such ideas require systems, processes and thought to make them happen. As someone who hit the ground running trying to produce a magazine with a new editorial team in the middle of a pandemic, believe me, I know such things sound easier than the sum of their moving parts.

A lot of these types of solutions seem to be working. However, I’m finding myself with the need to get real with folks. The lack of chances to network and get to know people within the industry is becoming a growing concern. Zoom calls and GoToMeetings and new ways of working have been a balm, but I’m missing the nuance that you get speaking with someone face-to-face. The small talk you might have at a tradeshow doesn’t feel the same over a video conference. So many big ideas can get their start at a happy hour or in a coffee shop.

This sense of connection is something that my colleagues at Gardner Business Media have been working on since the lockdowns began — all hands on deck. A good example is the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). Originally planned for mid-September, the 2020 installment of the show regrettably had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Gardner immediately got to work on other ways to gather and network. IMTS Spark was born. IMTS Spark is a digital experience that connects exhibitors and visitors through educational programming, demonstrations and networking opportunities. (More information about the platform is available at IMTS.com.)

As I look ahead at the remainder of the year, I’m hoping to implement some of the great ideas that our team has been sharing in my own day-to-day interactions with coaters, finishers and suppliers. When I stepped into the role as editor in chief of Products Finishing back in March, my first week on the job was spent working out travel plans that filled up a large part of the year. As one tradeshow after another has fallen, I find myself constantly rethinking my strategy for getting to know this industry. Sure, there have been Zoom meetings and the like. But, maybe, we can still have that coffee together? It might have to be on screen, but why not? We can swap clichés.

If you’d like to chat please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at sfrancis@pfonline.com.

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