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Behind The Scenes: Event Planning

Millie, Events and Community Engagement Manager

 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced challenges that many of us never expected to encounter, including changes to how we work. As Foundation Medicine’s events and community engagement manager, that effect has been amplified. It has essentially felt like I have worked three different jobs over the past three years.

When I joined Foundation Medicine, I was the first to fill the newly created role of internal communications events coordinator. We were still a fairly young company, and I was quickly tasked with planning lunch and learns, town hall meetings, community engagement events and more. But right as it felt like I got into the swing of things, the world shut down.

Moving to a completely virtual setting meant trying to engage our employees from their homes, which was something I never anticipated having to work through. Because Foundation Medicine’s labs have continued to be fully operational throughout the pandemic, there was an added logistical challenge. But after a while, things got easier. Running a Town Hall via Zoom became second nature for me – there was no need to be concerned that those dialing in to a meeting weren’t getting the full experience.  

Now, as we have shifted to a hybrid work model, events have changed once again. Some events have returned to in-person settings, including some all-employee town halls and our annual Summer Fest family day event. But with offices in four locations around the U.S. and one in Germany, we will never be able to reach all of our employees at once without using technology to our advantage. We strive to meet our employees where they are – whether they’re in our labs, working from home that day, in an office building or completely remote.

At our recent in-person all-employee town hall in Boston, we had about 80 people at the event in person, and about 1,000 tuning in via Zoom from around the world. Unlike when we were all working remotely at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, now I am often at these events in person, ensuring everything goes to plan – which often means you can find me mic-ing executive team members up to moments before we are ready to begin. This also means that I have to find someone experiencing the other side of the event to check in with. Usually, I am texting with another member of my team to make sure that audio and visuals are all coming through clearly online.

 

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About a month after our in-person town hall in Boston, we hosted a grand opening for our new San Diego lab site. Coordinating that event meant many Zoom meetings, delegating to the team on the ground in San Diego, and flying six hours across the country to be there on the big day. There is nothing that beats the feeling of seeing all the little pieces that I spend so much of my time on come together on the day of an event.

For the events designed to engage our employees outside of work, we’ve had to be creative too. Not only in ensuring there’s a virtual option (this year we offered a virtual paint night and whiskey and donut tastings as a virtual alternative to Summer Fest), but also enticing employees who can be in person to venture out to these events that many of them have never had the chance to attend before. For a lot of our employees, this year’s Summer Fest event was the first in-person, company-wide social gathering we hosted since they started at the company.  

 

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There was and has been a lot of learning on the job as the world around us continues to change. What hasn’t changed are the parts of my job that I enjoy the most – getting to see our employees come together and enjoy one another's company. Now that we can be together in person again, it has been so nice to find myself surrounded by my teammates and extended team in one place. Seeing the joy that an event I plan brings to them is the icing on the cake.

While we have become increasingly cognizant of the importance of inclusivity through the hybrid model we have adopted at Foundation Medicine, the pandemic has also challenged us to think more creatively about what events we put our energy into. Being an event planner often means taking care of the things I have already mentioned behind the scenes – it means working with vendors, finalizing a lot of contracts and sourcing for events. But it also requires that I have a good pulse on where we are as a company and where we are going. How can we adapt existing events and adopt new practices that are applicable, engaging and impactful? When I don’t have an event coming up in the next few weeks (or honestly, even when I do), these are the things I am thinking about.

I know that my job will continue to evolve with Foundation Medicine, and I am excited for what’s in store. Whether it’s another all-employee town hall, supporting our Employee Resource Networks in their event planning or finding ways to become more involved in our local communities, each event is an opportunity to bring our employees closer together. This strong and engaged culture helps us as we work to achieve our mission of transforming cancer care for patients. 

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