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Hospitality / Good UX for groups

I have a whole series of posts coming up, where I talk about hospitality in a particular context (spoiler: the context is interviewing and hiring). But some recent threads on the Code4Lib listserv make me want to write about it in a different context, maybe a little more broadly. Also, perhaps, a little more quickly than I generally write my blog posts. 🙂

When someone is serving as a host, no matter the audience, no matter the context, there are things that they can do to make their guests’ event or stay more pleasant. I’m referring to that collection of things, that work, as “hospitality.” Another way to think of it—and an easy substitution if you don’t like my use of the word—is “good UX for groups.” Because, no matter how we phrase the goal, as a host, you should want your guests to have a good experience. Hospitality, as I’m using the word, is the work that goes into making that experience good.

(Sumana Harihareswara probably deserves the most credit for the way I think about hospitality. Her Code4Lib keynote, in 2014, really stuck with me.)

The case for hospitality in formal settings

If friends or family are visiting, depending on the length of time, it’s pretty standard host behavior to have something for them to eat or drink—and to make sure that nobody is left out. (Sugar-free and non-alcoholic drinks, snacks/meals without wheat or nuts or meat or whatever ingredients might hurt our loved ones, etc.) This is fairly obvious, and most of us do it without much thought.

It’s strange, to me, that we don’t automatically do this when we’re planning get-togethers with colleagues or strangers—more formal events. I would argue that our position as hosts compels us to make sure everyone is included and nobody is left out, whether we’re talking about food and drink, or accommodation for disabilities, or any other aspect of our guests’ experience. And, sure, we don’t automatically know (for instance) the dietary restrictions of every attendee, the way we would with friends or family; but the added formality of most professional events gives us the opportunity to find out, as part of the registration process.

I realize my case for hospitality as the right thing to do won’t compel everyone. So you could think of it this way, instead: the more comfortable our guests are—the less unnecessary stress or cognitive load we subject them to—the more mental and emotional (and maybe physical) energy they’ll have at their disposal for this event that we’ve put all this work into. The more engaged everyone is, the more valuable the event.

For that matter, the more welcoming/inclusive/hospitable our event is, the more likely it is that any particular guest will show up, and that goes especially for people from marginalized groups. I’m not going through the whole “diverse groups do better work” argument, here. It’s been done. Most reasonable people acknowledge, at this point, that leaving out whole segments of our population decreases the value of what we do. So, we should be hospitable, welcoming, and inclusive. Good hospitality before the event will increase the turnout, especially among marginalized groups; and good hospitality during the event will improve turnout for future events.

I can also add, from my own experience: as we work harder to grow our empathy, all of this hospitality stuff becomes more and more natural, until it’s built into our formal event planning processes just as much as it would be for a small gathering of loved ones. (Which is not to say it’s the same amount of work.)

Hospitality for meetups and professional gatherings: a how-to

This isn’t going to start out as an exhaustive list, though I welcome people to add whatever I leave out, either in the comments or by contacting me directly, and I’ll add it. (I’ll clearly mark edits as I make them.) I’m always looking to improve the way I host formal events.

  • Choose an accessible venue – Near public transit. All on one floor, or on multiple floors with easy elevator access (add signage to make elevators easy to find, if needed). It should have at least one gender-neutral restroom (or at least a restroom that the venue owner will let you re-sign for the event). If there will be a large gathering in a large room, you’ll need a microphone. Don’t make people stand for long periods of time or walk long distances. (OK, I’m not going to hit all the points. Google for “venue accessibility checklist,” and you’ll get helpful links like this one.)
  • Have a web presence – It can be as simple as a page on a wiki or a Meetup event page. It should have information about every other bullet point on this list, and if you get questions, the answers should go on the event site, too.
  • Have a code of conduct and a group of clearly-identified people to enforce it – The code of conduct should be strong and specific. The duty officers should have some amount of training—at least, they need to have familiarity with the guidelines for handling disputes, which is a part of most codes of conduct (steal/modify PyCon’s if you have to). They should have some clearly visible marker—a hat, a different colored name tag or lanyard, a specific color of shirt, something—so that they can be easily found and identified, and there should be some digital way to contact them, as well. (An email address or a Twitter account with open DMs is fine.)
  • Have a schedule, and put it on the website as early as possible – Even if it’s just a “networking event,” with no real agenda, having a start time, a time when the host will speak, and an end time will help your attendees plan. If it’s a more structured event, consider bringing copies of the agenda/schedule for people to take. Aim to have copies available for ~60% of your attendance count.
  • Have a registration method – It can be “send an email to ___,” or “fill out this web form,” or whatever. Do what you can to make sure the registration method is accessible, though. (Google Forms are … not perfect, but here’s a video that might help.)
    • Make sure your registration asks the question “Do you need any sort of accommodation?” – I find it helps people to give examples, e.g. “Wheel chair accessibility, no stairs, large print, a quiet space, etc.” It’s hard to ask for accommodation, so letting people know it’s OK to ask for what they need really helps.
    • (If there will be food) Make sure the registration asks about dietary restrictions – Again, examples help.
    • (If there will be pre-printed name tags) Ask for preferred name and preferred pronoun – Put those on the name tags.
    • Include a requirement that they agree to abide by the event’s code of conduct – It should be prominent on your web presence, and nobody should be able to register without seeing/agreeing to it.
    • Confirm the receipt of every registration – Don’t leave people wondering.
  • Communicate clearly with attendees – An email should go out a few days before the event, listing any information people might have questions about, such as directions to/information about the venue (including parking and public transit, if both are available); an agenda or schedule; a list of what to bring (if applicable); a list of foods/beverages to be served (if any); a link to the code of conduct and instructions about how to identify duty officers; information about the restroom situation (mostly the existence of the gender-neutral one, as well as how near/accessible they are); and information about wifi availability. Sub-divide the email into sections so people can skip the parts they don’t care about, but include everything anyone might be anxious about. If your email is getting too long, don’t repeat the website; just provide links (“information about food is here”; “information about restrooms is here”; “directions are here”). Everything in the email should be findable on the website, too.
  • Put up signs to help people find/know they found the venue – Never increase your guests’ anxiety or cognitive load more than necessary.
  • Welcome people when they arrive – This goes especially for smaller and ongoing events, where large swaths of the group may know one another. Having someone available to tell new arrivals that they are in the right place and that they are welcome is so helpful. And, honestly? If you’re going to have a greeter, you could put that on the website/email, too, so people know they’ll have an easy first few minutes, when they get there.
  • Have name tags – If you’re not doing pre-printed name tags, that’s fine. Have people fill them out as they walk in. Have an example with a first name and a preferred pronoun, so people know to do the same.
  • Talk about the code of conduct during the intro – This helps people from marginalized groups feel more welcome and safe—and, ideally, helps guarantee that safety.
  • (If there’s food) Make sure all of the food is labeled with its ingredients – Not all food allergies are obvious. I, for instance, don’t usually list “artichokes” or “milk thistle” when I’m asked for my food allergies, but those’ll give me every bit as bad an asthma attack as tree nuts. (Worse, usually.) If you can get the ingredient list ahead of time, that should go on the website. Those of us with dietary restrictions are used to having to bring our own, but if we know what will be safe ahead of time, we can plan better. Also, if you’re serving a meal, not just snacks, the vegetarians need a source of protein.
  • Repeat audience questions – Always. Especially if there’s a microphone. But even if there isn’t, we project sound forward; people will hear you better than they’ll hear a fellow audience member.

I wrote this in kind of a rush and no doubt left out not only some things I do, but some things I’m not aware I should be doing. What did I miss?

(Banner image courtesy of Mosaic NEO Church, though they use the word “hospitality” very differently than I am.)

Published incodes of conductcommunicationdisabilitydiversitygenderleadershipusability

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