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Faculty & Research


OM Forum -In-Person or Virtual? What Will Operations Management/Research Conferences Look Like?

Journal Article
Problem definition: the authors examine the environmental implications of shifting from in-person to virtual conference formats and identify the effects of such a shift on the value conferences provide to our societies. The authors extend work from other fields to present a more comprehensive comparison of the environmental impact and perceived value of different conference formats for the operations management/research communities. Methodology/results: the authors leverage a series of COVID-19-induced natural experiments to precisely evaluate the environmental footprint and societal value difference between in-person and virtual formats via life cycle assessment and survey techniques, respectively. Specifically, the authors focus on Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Production and Operations Management Society, and European Operations Management Association conferences that were conducted in both formats between 2019 and 2021. The environmental assessment reveals a huge impact reduction: for climate change, on average, from 941.9 kg CO2eq per person for in-person formats to 1.0 for virtual. The value assessment emphasizes, instead, a detrimental utility loss with the overall perceived value derived from attendance moving - on a scale from 0 to 10 - on average, from 7.9 to 4.0. When investigating the drivers of conference valuation, virtual formats show some merits, such as lower perceived costs and the added value of flexibility. The preference for in-person formats is unambiguous though, justified by the large performance gap related to socialization and networking, the two most important value drivers identified by the authors' analysis. Managerial implications: these results highlight an inherent trade-off between virtual and in-person conferences. To overcome it, the authors discuss four strategies as to how our societies can reduce their environmental footprints and remain true to their essential purpose: (1) reduce in-person impact, (2) improve virtual design, (3) hybrid and decentralized formats, and (4) revise conferencing model and societies’ role.

Professor of Technology and Operations Management

Emeritus Professor of Technology and Operations Management