After a long hiatus, HBS programs have started to return to campus. Vicki Good and Lisa Hughes, portfolio directors for the Advanced Management Program (AMP) and the Program for Leadership Development (PLD) respectively, weigh in on the transformations the pandemic has wrought, and what is the same-and different-about in-person programs now.

WAS IT HARD TO KEEP THE LEARNING MOMENTUM GOING DURING THE PAST EIGHTEEN MONTHS?

Vicki Good (VG): We knew the faculty would do a great job in class. The question was: Could we build a community in a virtual program? How could we engage participants outside of class, with us and with one another? But we did-and our participants were amazing partners throughout this process.

Lisa Hughes (LH): Interpersonal interactions are an extremely important and valuable part of our programs. Our biggest challenge was to create the trust, affinity, vulnerability, and social effervescence of our on-campus experience in a fully virtual online environment. The key to our success with the virtual programs was that the faculty, staff, and participants were all willing to dive in with enthusiasm and just go for it!

WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO HAVE EXECUTIVES BACK ON CAMPUS?

VG: We were so delighted to bring participants to campus again. And it was amazing how quickly we fell back into our routines.

LH: We have always known that our beautiful and carefully designed Executive Education campus is a real treasure. People truly enjoy staying here. When executives started coming back to campus, we realized just how much we had missed it. The overall program experience relies on the technologically rich ecosystem of classrooms, living groups, residence lounges, libraries, outdoor spaces, beautiful dining rooms, and other welcoming spaces. Shad Hall's athletic facilities, Baker Library and the Bloomberg wing, the Schwartz Pavilion, and the new Chao Center all draw participants, faculty and staff out of our solitary spaces and into sparkling social interactions.

HOW DID PARTICIPANTS FEEL ABOUT BEING BACK?

VG: They love it. Many have waited quite some time, as much as two years, to come to campus and attend a program. We have been glad to hear so many participants talk about how safe they feel on campus, knowing that HBS has covered all the bases in maximizing community health.

LH: Our October 2021 program participants were the pioneers. Most of them had to go to great lengths to come to campus, overcoming all sorts of obstacles including getting vaccines, navigating overall travel restrictions as well as their own company’s restrictions on travel, and much more. Once they arrived, they went through the usual pattern of starting out nervous, testing the waters, and then diving right in with gusto. They were thrilled and super engaged.

WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THE PROGRAM EXPERIENCE NOW? WHAT CAN PARTICIPANTS EXPECT?

VG: The program experience and the benefits are as exceptional as they have always been, but there are some changes. For example, we are now more deliberate about the flow of participants inside and outside the classroom. Safety protocols are everywhere. We continually remind participants about mask wearing. We have breaks outdoors whenever possible. Class seating rotations are less frequent, and must be documented for contact tracing. After a classroom session, it's very natural for participants to "pit dive" to talk with the faculty. We love their enthusiasm but have to discourage crowding.

HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE OF WORKING AND LEARNING FROM HOME CHANGED EXECUTIVES' EXPECTATIONS OF HBS PROGRAMS, AND HOW THEY INTERACT ON CAMPUS?

LH: Everyone is doing a slightly different version of "flexworking" now. No one is going back to exactly the way it used to be. That will likely be to everyone's advantage, as both individuals and organizations seem poised to take advantage of the new reality of "succeeding from anywhere." Our participants all have become much more capable of interacting and collaborating via online tools. Similarly, here at HBS, we have had to innovate rapidly to shift to virtual programs, and along the way, we have learned a lot of new tricks about engagement both on campus and off campus. We have so many new ways we can be teachers and learners together before, during, and after the program. It is a very exciting time.

The participants are coming back with some pent-up excitement. They're very eager to talk in class, interact one-on-one with faculty, and engage with us and our teams. Now that everyone can experience one another in real life, they are desperate to squeeze every bit out of the experience. And we're so very happy to welcome them back to campus!

Vicki Good

About the Author

Vicki Good is the Portfolio Director of the Advanced Management Program for Harvard Business School, Executive Education


Lisa Hughes

About the Author

Lisa Hughes is the Portfolio Director of the Program for Leadership Development for Harvard Business School, Executive Education