Covid & User Groups – Counting the Impact

An image of a Salesforce "social capital/social energy" gauge meter, pointed towards Low

Written by Paul Ginsberg

2nd November 2021

How’s your pandemic going? Judging by my conversations with European Community Group Leaders, not so great; or at least it’s causing a recalibration of priorities.

In this piece, originally published by YeurLeadin, I’m thinking out loud. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree; both are fine, this is just my perspective. If you fancy discussing, then why not come along to the next YeurLeadin “open” session on 18th November, or tag @YeurLeadin (and me, if you feel like it) on twitter.


Let’s remind ourselves of the basic facts to see if we’re on the same page. The pandemic largely hit in March 2020. Meetings that were in person went online; in person socialising stopped, to be replaced by looking at a screen all day every day, with 50%++ of people still not going back to the office regularly 20 months later. This may not be what you signed up for as a group leader/organiser.

Great though they are, none of the online meeting tools are perfect. Whether it’s the software-controlled “winner takes all” dominance of the first person to speak, or being able to see too much of your own face on screen, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face meetings. And who wants extra screen time at the end of the business day anyway? It’s not entirely healthy.

But I think there’s something more fundamental at play. When you’re presenting in a room, you can see your audience’s reaction (whether they want you to or not), you can feel the energy, unconsciously you can smell the chemicals people are giving off. And it’s not possible to do this online.

An image of a Salesforce "social capital/social energy" gauge meter, pointed towards Low
After 20 months of “putting on a show”, this lack of reaction, means CGLs (etc!) are exhausted. Maybe our reserves of social capital/social energy have finally been depleted? We put a lot of effort into our meetings and we’re not having enough of the positive feedback loop that tops us up and keeps us going. And we’re human and might be fed up with online meetings. 75% of the leaders that I speak to are thinking about quitting.

The bigger picture
I feel we need to recognise and acknowledge the causes before we move on. 75% is a large number (albeit of a small sample), but even in normal times people think about quitting but don’t do anything. 

"The meeting replenishment cycle" showing a virtuous circle with: Feel Energised / Prep for Meeting / Having Meeting / Positive Feedback (highlighted) and then returns to Feel Energised

We’ve been effectively frozen in time since March 2020 without the natural replenishment cycle that we get from in-person events, where people can be (relatively easily) identified to step up. Also all those ideas, conversation and recommendations which we bounce off each other at the larger events (e.g. Conferences, World Tours), haven’t been able to happen. 
Covid has also allowed us to step back and think about what’s important – work/life balance, getting out to appreciate nature, etc.

But our calling is to the community, those we empower and give the opportunity to pursue new careers and life chances that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to have. What can we do to ensure all our hard work, in building up this wonderful community, isn’t wasted?

Some suggestions
One size rarely fits all, so here are some options which may help get the brain (and enthusiasm) cells chugging back into life.

  1. Make sure you are putting on content and activities you enjoy. Take a step back and make sure you aren’t just “ticking the box” but putting on engaging content for the medium you are using. Perhaps a conversation or panel will work better than yet another presentation.
  2. Less is more. Thinking back to burnout (an earlier discussion), we don’t have to do everything, “just” put things on a sustainable footing. Better to have a session once a quarter that you enjoy, rather than thinking of trying to do too much, and not doing anything because it all becomes overwhelming. Small, sustainable goals.
  3. Go back to your succession planning. Tap someone on the shoulder, ask for volunteers, bring some fresh blood and perspective onto your team. What do you have to lose? You may be thinking of quitting, but by shaking things up, perhaps that will make things fresh again. Use this as an opportunity to mentor new CGLs, and then you have someone to hand your group over to, should you want to step down later on.
  4. Go back to in person meetings? (even if in limited form). If you feel the option is to quit rather than host an online meeting, perhaps consider in-person meetings again. For most communities, vaccinations are readily available and you can decide what form of social distancing you are comfortable with. It could be sitting outside a pub in a warm winter jacket. Maybe numbers have to be limited. It’s something that I have always been against previously, but when the facts change, that means re-evaluation time. Maybe smaller groups are the only practical option currently available. You can rotate attendees, to allow a chance for everyone to attend, rather than just those that are quickest at hitting the “reply” button. And at least the meetings then happen, recharging your energy and that of others in the community. #win
  5. Try something different. Not my idea in any way, but the Amsterdam User Group are running a virtual workshop, rather than their usual collection of presentations. Shake it up 🙂

But it’s not all doom and gloom
I’m sure there’s a phrase for this, but do you sometimes feel “I can’t go on any more”, when you’re very near the summit of a project or mountain, but not quite there? That’s where I feel we are. Perhaps if we have a quick boost of energy, we can do it. We just need to remind ourselves. The situation now is different from that in March 2020, with lots more known about covid.

Also, perhaps some of us are the old guard? Remember organising events pre-2020. Sometimes it could be hard (venue, catering, content, advertising) but it turns out that now it’s harder. That said, new participants (of which I spot plenty on Twitter) don’t realise that previously it was easier. They accept the situation as it is now, and just get on with it. So engage with them and help them on their way 🙂

Lastly, I spotted this:

Maybe it’s the food, but someone has worked out how to make online engaging content. More investigation required!


Take a deep breath. Work out where you are (mentally) now. Remember why you decided to help out with a User Group (or similar) in the first place, and perhaps use this as a moment to reflect on where you want your User Group to realistically be in six months time, and then decide on a strategy to get you there.

p.s. Thanks to a few lovely anonymous reviewers/advisors for helping build upon my first draft.

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