With many parts of Australia still under lockdown, connecting with others can feel increasingly difficult.
Whether video calls stifle your usual banter with friends, or the problem is how to hear them in the first place over a patchy internet connection, zoom fatigue is real.
Fortunately, after 18 months of video conferencing, virtual classes, and online events, lessons have been learned to make digital connections a little less disconcerting – especially by those who now run them for a living.
We asked experts in the pivot-to-virtual industry to share their insights into solving some common video chat dilemmas.
What to do if … you have young children
Tim Cuthell, a youth librarian at Casey Cardinia Libraries, recommends keeping video calls interactive with children. Stories and songs are a great way to create that intimate connection. When you’re reading a story, he suggests bringing the book close to the screen so the child can see the pages.
Consider telling stories with your hands or props. Many songs and rhymes that involve clapping or gesturing hands (e.g., finger rhymes, like five little ducks) work very well on a screen. If you want to use a doll there is no need to buy it, you can make your own cardboard cutouts that you move around on the screen.
Cuthell says one of the challenges of lockdown is having fun with what you’re having and recommends activities like making a rice-in-a-glass shaker that kids can groove with.
For older kids, digital programming is a good activity, Scratch and Python can help you learn two languages at home for free. If they create something like a video game with newly acquired programming skills, it can be shown to family or friends with features like sharing the screen on zoom.
For adults interacting with children on Zoom, Cuthell advises “be ready to laugh at yourself”. He says wearing bright colors, dressing up and nightclubs, or playing around with filters and backgrounds are ways to make the online experience more fun.
He also recommends bringing the same level of energy as for a personal activity. “It’s about increasing the energy and not being put off by the distance between you.”
What to do if … You find videos socially uncomfortable
Brett Blewitt, Masters of Fun team building and event host, is well aware that digital chases can quickly spiral. “If you only talk about the word that is not mentioned, you lose motivation to meet up with friends because you leave the conversation more anxiously.”
His solution is to add a little more structure. “When you put a game behind it, you move away from talking about the obvious, and that’s why we’re at Zoom in the first place.”
Here are some suggestions from Blewitt:
You can download board games online to play in a group, like Monopoly or codenamed, with sites like Horse paste. It can also work to turn quizzes or crosswords into group activities.
Create a MasterChef home experience with your friends. Give each one a core ingredient and 20 minutes to cook something with. At the end of the time, everyone comes back to show what they have created and eat together.
Have a list of friends and take turns doing a 20-minute fitness class every week.
“The most important thing is to find the impetus to have fun,” says Blewitt at the end of the day.
What to do … for a special occasion
When it comes to organizing celebrations from birthdays to baby showers, Joshua Mason Browne, Creative Director at FCM Meetings and Events, recommends getting back to basics. He says that despite social distancing, thinking about ways to connect through eating, music, and play are “simple things that make us feel less stressed” and “connected”.
Browne also says that before the event you can foster a sense of the occasion by designing a virtual backdrop to make everyone feel like they’re in the same room or suggesting a theme that everyone will need to dress up for.
eat: Sharing food and drink can be as simple as sharing a recipe or designing a cocktail that everyone prepares before the event. Also, if all of your guests are in the same city, consider ordering the same food for delivery to all of them.
music: Playing music over video calls is difficult because you end up losing communication skills. This problem can be overcome by using an app that anyone can tune into, like Spotify’s Group session Function. Let your guests work together on the playlist so everyone can hear the music they want. You can also add songs throughout the event, like a jukebox.
game: How play activities are organized depends on the group of people you supervise, but aim to ensure that each activity is collaborative. Browne recommends free gaming platform Kahoot because it offers the possibility to personalize games or to play standard versions. For a baby shower, he recommends the game Who’s That Baby? where you have guests send baby photos of themselves and create a multiple choice contest to guess who each photo is during the party.
Finally, he suggests opening the video chat an hour before the formal process begins. This gives early arrivals an informal moment to casually connect or possibly cook and prepare together.
What to do … if your internet is really slow
Zoran Tasevski, the managing director of Technetics Consulting, says there are a few workarounds to join video calls when you have a slow internet connection:
Option 1: Connect to a phone hotspot. “If you don’t have a 4G or 5G connection on your own phone, ask someone else who does to activate the hotspot on their smartphone and connect it so you can connect to the internet wirelessly. If Telstra doesn’t have a strong 4G or 5G signal, depending on the region you are in, you can try a different provider by asking someone in the family if they have a different connection with Optus or Vodafone. “
Option 2: “Buy a 5G WiFi hotspot device like this one … Then you can wirelessly connect your laptop or iPad to it. “
Option 3: “Buy a data SIM card from any provider with good WiFi coverage in your area and plug it into a WiFi router like this one from TP-Link. Everyone in the house can connect to this wireless router and you can take the wireless router with you wherever you go. Sometimes it works faster than an NBN connection! “
Other ways to stay social instead
Stephanie Bendixsen, host and video game creator, has a curated list of virtual games to play with friends or family that you can’t see in person.
Gartic telephone: “All you need is access to a web browser to play this free version of the phone game. One person is asked to write down a sentence or an idea, the next person has to draw it. The third person receives the picture without notice and has to interpret what the drawing is. You don’t need fantastic artistic skills, it’s actually funnier if you don’t. “
Jackbox party package: “Contains different types of word games, drawing games, quiz games that are really well produced with funny graphics and speech dialogs. A person must own the game through the video game platform steam and all other participants only need access to a browser. “
Between us: “This game came out a few years ago but has become very popular over the past 12 months through live streaming. People saw how fun and social it is. It is a deception based game in which you play astronauts who are trying to fix a ship but two unknown players are trying to sabotage the efforts. It’s fun because it’s discussion based, you watch people try to keep their face straight when they lie to their friends or sometimes people sound guilty when they aren’t. Everyone has to own the game. “
Fall guys: “Can be played on PC or console and is fun for everyone, even children. In a candy world aesthetic, you play a jelly bean that is thrown into an obstacle course. It’s very simple, but very fun and chaotic. “