Four Ways to Offer Digital Connection in a Time of Physical Distancing

By Silje Lier and Sarah Dubow

March 23, 2020

March 23, 2020 – The past several weeks have brought about unprecedented changes to handle the growing COVID-19 pandemic with digital at the forefront. Though digital information can lead to sensationalized headlines and misinformation, companies are stepping up to the plate by offering innovative ways to connect during this time of disconnection. Here are four tips to help people effectively use digital as a powerful tool for connection.

One: Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate. 

Trusted communications are essential during an outbreak, especially in the age of misinformation. As social media and online mentions of COVID-19 have seen exponential growth in the last few months, it’s increasingly important to ensure related content reaches its intended communities. A great way to do this is through collaboration.

Tech and digital companies have been partnering with health organizations in new and exciting ways to ensure all individuals are getting the right information on the right platforms, like Facebook providing unlimited free ads to the World Health Organization, in efforts to support and elevate credible public health messaging, and Instagram prioritizing COVID-19 updates from public health authorities at the top of users’ feeds. It is incredible (and unprecedented) to see the massive scale of this coordinated effort between technology companies and health organizations to ensure communications are clear and have the highest reach.

Whether it’s COVID-19 updates or simply keeping your team together, a collaborative mindset can make all the difference. Consider collaboration with a technology platform like Zoom to connect your team, a partnership with a local yoga studio to offer your employees live streamed fitness classes, or syncing up with a non-profit, advocacy organization, or influencer to better address your patient population’s needs during this time. As the needs and behaviors of your audiences have changed, think through innovative ways to adapt to things like where they may be going for information and support, or how they’re now spending their day. Especially focus on organizations and businesses who may not be able to operate as usual and collaborate on how you can mutually add value.

Two: Go Virtual & Scalable With Planned Events

Many conferences and congresses, from SXSW to Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit, are offering digital solutions to cancelled IRL events, with many other conference hosts and sponsors exploring virtual and augmented reality options, to give an even stronger sense of community. Studies have shown that virtual reality can increase empathy, and this becomes essential for conferences that attract patients and caregivers who will miss the in-real-life connections of conference attendance and often face isolation and misunderstanding.

Consider taking a step up from a typical Skype or Zoom format and adding in virtual reality and interactive components to your events. Some virtual reality tools we love are Altaspace VR and Spatial IO which provide full worlds you can build – from office spaces to conference halls – for attendees to interact with each other without any VR glasses needed. Explore how to model the real meeting experience, ensuring details like personalized agenda builders or networking sessions are still available digitally. And to ensure your attendees are attentive and stay interested, keep your event interactive with tools like Slido which adds polling and quiz options, Mural which adds highly visual brainstorming options, and Meeting Pulse which allows for audience feedback and analytics post-meeting.

In healthcare and beyond, this unique situation is providing a call for adaptation that so many organizations are rising to, challenging people to show up in new and unconventional ways. Innovation is an essential component to this digital connection formula.

Three: Call In Creativity and Get Comfortable Coloring Outside The Lines 

As in-person interaction declines at this time of physical distancing, companies are quickly adapting. Some of these adaptations have included Instagram Live meditations for studios that have shut down, drone deliveries for food services, and chatbots providing access to medical professionals. Adoption of contact-less payments and voice activation (search and commands) has increased while healthcare professionals have been forced to fast-track adoption of clinical chat and virtual consultation tools. This will no doubt be seen in years to come as a tipping point in digital health adoption.

Take this moment as a time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Creative ideation to find new solutions to work together and connect more deeply despite being apart is not simply suggested, it’s necessary. During times of crisis, it’s this human spirit that thinks up how to make the impossible possible that truly shines through. It’s this creativity that cuts through the fear and the noise.

Many of our clients have an advantage here, as for years we’ve thought outside the box with them to help patient populations that can’t often attend real life events find connection through the digital opportunities we have co-created with them such as Facebook groups, virtual chat roulettes, and online conferences. Our ideation process is pretty simple.

Start by brainstorming with no boundaries – temporarily put on hold limitation, boundaries, and legal approvals. This limitless thinking helps ideas to free flow and a good idea can be sized up or down afterward within necessary limits. Get out of your typical setting. Sit on the floor, walk while you talk (even if it’s in your apartment), or invite your kids or dogs into the video frame; changing our environment even slightly activates different parts of our brain to help with ideation. Finally, be OK with imperfection, and be nimble. We’ve found that patients we work with are looking for a place to connect; sometimes technology will stall, or an event session can’t come together exactly as originally planned, and that’s okay. We are all in this together.

Four: Find Opportunities to Spread Positivity

We’re seeing crowdsourced creativity and acts of human kindness emerging across markets – individuals using the hashtag #SelfIsolationHelp to help those in self isolation who need food or other support, or influencers challenging their communities in light-hearted activities. #FeedTheHeroes has emerged as a crowdfunding campaign to have food delivered to the medical teams on the front lines, working long shifts at hospitals. More than 5,500 physicians, engineers and designers are coming together to co-create low-cost ventilators and other essential equipment to fight against COVID-19.

Encourage your teams and your audience to channel this positive energy which is a uniting factor during an uncertain time. Start or jump in on a hashtag. Consider a virtual donation drive for food banks, small businesses, and front line health workers. Brainstorm ways to keep your team connected, motivated, and inspired as it’s all of our jobs right now to communicate a positive, informative, and encouraging message.

Community and connection are essential components to human well-being, and digital innovation is offering  tools to allow us to connect from remote places like never before. While the pandemic has had far-reaching effects on our communities and economy, we’ve seen the powerful role of digital in sharing essential public health information, providing support, and collaborating with each other during this unique time in history. Together, with the help of digital, we will come through this stronger and more connected.