FACE to face meetings and real world networking will not be coming back any time soon for Dorset Chamber.

The organisation – which has more than 700 members – says physical events will remain suspended to safeguard guests and its own team.

The chamber is thought to have been the first in the UK to ban handshakes and physical gatherings at the start of the coronavirus crisis earlier this year. It will continue to focus on its programme of events via Zoom.

Chief executive Ian Girling said: “Covid has not gone away.

“We recognise how important it is to get the wheels of business turning once again but we felt that it was too early for physical face to face meetings.

“This policy is one which is echoed among many of our members, who very quickly have adapted to new ways of working.

“We will continue to review the situation and government advice as we move forward.

“During the lockdown we provided vital support for businesses and continue to do so.

“We also innovated very quickly to launch our virtual networking and events programme, which has been embraced by the business community very successfully.

“Businesses in Dorset are incredibly resilient, and the mood remains buoyant although we all recognise that there are challenging times ahead.”

The decision not to resume face to face meetings was taken by the chamber’s board.

The move also means that the chamber office at Ling Road, Poole – where staff have returned to work with social distancing – is open only for deliveries. Physical meetings will only happen where “absolutely necessary”.

Dorset Chamber was among the first to send staff home and has published online its own risk assessment for returning employees. Its fortnightly Zoom events, called Simply Networking Online @9am, are regularly attracting 60 business people.