A long-anticipated reunion occurred on 8th June, as IMD’s 2020 MBA cohort returned to the reopened campus after its almost three-month shutdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MBA course participants were upbeat about their return to campus, the resumption of face-to-face lectures and the opportunities to catch up with their peers once more.

“It feels great. I was very excited to see the rest of the class again and felt very privileged to have the opportunity to come back to class when we know some other programs won’t resume in a ‘normal’ way for a little while still,” said French MBA participant Agathe Keim.

To ensure the campus environment is adequately safeguarded for all, IMD has implemented precautionary measures in line with advice from Swiss federal authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO).

These include pre-arrival surveys for all visitors, regular temperature screening, seating and social distancing in line with Swiss regulations. To limit numbers of people on campus, IMD’s non-client facing staff continues to work from home.

The campus is cleaned throughout the day and sanitizer gels and disinfectants are accessible throughout the campus. A dedicated quarantine room is available in the event of anyone developing COVID-like symptoms.

The checks and processes that IMD has implemented have reassured returning MBA participants.

“The measures are helpful in making participants feel secure. They took a bit of getting used to, as they were stricter than people had got used to in their daily activities. It feels great, though, to finally interact in person with our peers. It only took a few hours to feel like we never left,” said Canadian/Swedish MBA participant Didier Gautier-Nzakimuena.

IMD’s teaching environments have been modified considerably; with three-sided plexiglass partitions fitted to all work and study areas, and lecturers delivering sessions wearing face shields to ensure that aerosol spray is effectively reduced. Masks are required and supplied daily on campus. Numbers of participants in small group work have also been reduced.

In lecture spaces, the 90-participant cohort has been divided into two groups of 45 in order to ensure social distancing is maintained. In practice this means that 45 of group members are in the lecture theatre with their lecturer, while their colleagues simultaneously participate via Zoom from an adjoining room. The implementation of such hybrid teaching solutions has also meant that those participants unable to travel to Switzerland are nevertheless able to continue to participate and meet their course requirements.

“While it would be great to be sharing between all 89 of us, live lectures are making such a change from Zoom. Everyone made a lot of effort to adapt, professors included, but lectures in Zoom are very tiring. Most of our classes were re-run since we returned so that everyone enjoys the benefits of live classes,” said Keim.

Nick Geldhof from Belgium agreed with his colleague’s need for interaction and felt the division of the group was an acceptable compromise.

"For me personally it works pretty fine: you regain the context you don’t get online. Online, you don’t have the spontaneous insights from classmates who just happen to pass by in daily interactions. It’s great to have the context back."

The day-to-day social interactions of the MBA cohort are often centered around the beloved IMD cafeteria, and in order to maintain the availability of bonding opportunities that shared meals offer, the campus reopening introduced an app-based, food pre-ordering service to ensure that its food service adhered to best-practice principles. 

“Now the restaurant is like a drive-in: you can only walk in one direction, with your mask on, pick up the food prepared in take-away boxes and have lunch in groups of maximum four. It’s a huge staff effort and an additional cost to get it all prepared for take-away, but it works. We are able to join lunch back together in a safe way and it’s highly appreciated by everyone on campus,” said Geldhof.

During the campus closure the MBA team offered participants specially curated lectures and talks to provide timely guidance and insights on the disruption likely to be caused by the pandemic.

In order to support and prepare 2020’s MBA cohort for their re-entry into the world of recruitment, for example, faculty rolled out sessions on coaching specific to Zoom-based interview scenarios.

“The school was swift to adapt the syllabus and program to the new situation,” said Gautier-Nzakimuena. “I benefited from the extra coaching which helped me prepare for interviews and gain detailed feedback from coaches and alumni specific to the industry and roles that I am looking for,” he added.

Despite the unprecedented challenge presented by the COVID-19 epidemic, many in the 2020 cohort expressed that, as IMD MBA course participants, they felt they were in the right place in the right time.

“I am positive that despite it being a slightly modified experience, we have the chance to reflect in turbulent times which pushes you more. So I am very much looking forward to the rest of the program to see how our batch will address the future challenges we will face,” said Keim.

IMD’s 2020 MBA cohort are certainly living in interesting times and remain positive that they are well placed to meet the challenges of the future.