Fostering Human Connection Online

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Below are 9 methods and ideas for making online sessions human, personable and engaging instead of dreadfully impersonal and a bit uncomfortable. Also helpful for getting more of a ‘feel’ for volunteers as people. Not a definitive list at all – just ideas to get you thinking!

1. Invest the time:

– Build in activities and exercises that foster connection into every single session and allocate ‘training’ time to them – it’s worth it.

– Encourage reflection and feedback on whether activities would also use for mentoring and what the limitations would be. It’s not unlikely that in-person mentoring will be limited in some way over the next year (either by restrictions or weather), so the more and the earlier you get volunteers to think about games/activities/conversation starters for online/phone mentoring, the better!

2. Use people’s names:

– You’ll end up doing this anyway, but it helps! Also encourages them to remember and use each other’s names which creates a bit more of a group feel.

3. Bring in the whole person:

– To ensure people can be ‘who they are’, be intentional about giving them opportunities to express their personality. Not only lets them get to know each other but also makes them more open to sharing their experiences.

– Activity ideas and more on this in the next article (Doing better than “How are you”).

4. Bring in the senses that online communication lacks (think taste, touch and smell!):

– Have everybody join with a warm mug of tea/coffee and spend a few minutes on this shared physical experience. Have everybody taste their drink and come up with a fancy adjective to describe it (like at a wine tasting, also works with cold drinks).

– Workbooks also fulfil this function and you can reinforce the shared physicality of using them during a session, e.g. by having everybody hold their workbook into the camera to check you’re all on the same page (literally and figuratively!).

5. Acknowledge the different surroundings:

– Have everybody tell you or give you a look around the room they’re in.

– Talk about the weather – it might be different in different places!

– Integrate physical objects from the room they’re in into activities (e.g. Box of Lies, etc.).

6. Use synchronous actions (do the same thing at the same time):

– Even watching a video over Zoom is in some ways a synchronous shared experience!

– If you’re sending workbooks to your participants in the post, think about whether there’s anything else you want to add to the envelope for activities.

– Quite a few icebreaker and communication exercises also work a treat for synchronous actions that aren’t talking in pairs/groups or screen-focused, e.g. dictation/drawing games.

7. Disconnect/reconnect/stay connected:

– When setting individual or reflective tasks during a session, set a time limit and get everybody to turn off their camera and mic (and do the same yourself). When it’s time to ‘come back’ they turn them back on – this also gives them a break from staring at a screen and makes the session more varied!

– The opposite goes for short breaks: Have participants leave their camera (and possibly mic, too) on when they go away to get a coffee and just come back when they’re ready (also encourages chat between the early returners).

8. Be honest and transparent

– Set the right expectations – more on that in the planning section

– Be honest about your own capacity and capability (e.g. if you’re doing training on your own and realistically won’t be able to monitor the chat during the session, let participants know; same if you’re using a tech thing for the first time)

9. More ideas:

Deepr, an organisation focused on making digital more human, have put together ’40 methods to support human connection’, including everything from burning a candle at the same time (risk assess!) to using jargon-free language.

Deepr Method Cards