Picture this: You get on your weekly Zoom call with your parents and grandparents. For the first 5 minutes, Gramma can't figure out how to turn her audio on. Once that's solved, she's still not sure where the camera is, so all you see are Gramma and Grampa's foreheads. Meanwhile, Dad's making dinner in the background, so the conversation is punctuated by pots and pans clattering. And after all that, in this, the sixth month of COVID, the conversations tend to be: "What have you been up to?" "Well...you know...not much. We left the house once this weekend."
Many of us have turned to the internet to stay in touch with family and friends during this time. And while the ability to see our loved ones safely at a distance is a blessing, it's also fraught with obstacles, especially for the less tech-savvy among us. While it still may not be safe to see our far away fam, here are some suggestions to make your virtual hang-outs a lot more satisfying.
Give Tech-Averse Participants a Walkthrough in Advance
Just because someone struggles with new technology doesn't mean they can't take part in virtual hangouts in a meaningful way. If one of your friends or family is new to video chat, set up a one on one video meeting with them beforehand so you can walk them through the process. That way, they get a chance to explore and ask questions without ten people all sharing their two cents at once. Useful things to point out include: how to connect to audio, how to turn video/audio off and on, how to use a virtual background, how to access the chat, and how to share their screen.
Participate in a structured activity
With every day seeming to blur together into "COVID-time," it can be hard to come up with new conversation topics each week. Try mixing up your weekly call with a specific activity or game! There are tons of ways to play games online, including board games and trivia. If your group isn't into games, or if the learning curve is a little too steep, you could plan an in-home scavenger hunt, organize a show & tell, or take turns asking interview questions about each other's lives. Now is a great time to learn a little more about your friends and family, and planning an activity with some amount of structure creates the opportunity for people to share and interact beyond talking about the weather.
Set Group Guidelines
Remember in kindergarten when you passed a talking stick around at circle time to show whose turn it is to talk? If your virtual hangouts turn into a jumble of cross talk, it may be time to bring back the talking stick. While it might seem a little formal, setting guidelines can help your hangouts run much more smoothly, with less frustration for everyone. Consider guidelines like: everyone muting until it's their turn to talk, using the "hand raise" or other reaction button to signify who goes next, and asking everyone to put their phones on silent during the call.
Pick a Theme
Even varying the little details like your background or your clothes can make a weekly call feel more fun! Choose a theme, then have everyone pick an outfit and a virtual background to correspond. Themes can range from super simple (a specific color or pattern) to outlandishly fabulous (a black tie gala, a Halloween extravaganza) or anywhere in between!