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Meaningful Connections in Our New Now

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

"This is NOT a new normal, only a new now. We can seize this moment to help create a true new normal, post Coronavirus. A more equitable and just society."

- Dr. Gail Christopher

It’s 2020, and as if that isn’t enough, we are facing one of the worst pandemics in global history. Just three months ago we were celebrating the beginning of a new decade, yet today we find ourselves celebrating being able to survive days and weeks away from our peers, friends, and even families as we practice social distancing. Our lives have shifted dramatically over the past several weeks, which means that the way we work, learn, and connect with one another has also changed.

What makes Vital Village so special is our commitment to connection and community leadership; though our means of work have changed, our core principles and mission have not. We are a network centered on creating spaces where all who desire to be with us belong; where we seek to engage one another so that we may learn with and from each other to transform lives for children and families.

While our journey into a new now - of webcams, Zoom meetings, and virtual family reunions - continues to evolve, it’s important to consider how we continue to foster safe and welcoming spaces that keep us connected across cyber waves instead of rooms. As a facilitator, one of my favorite, yet most challenging, things to do is create space and opportunities for people to show up as their authentic selves. In a very short amount of time, it is the role to make sure people are comfortable sharing their most valuable assets - their thoughts, knowledge, and experiences. Though the way we work has changed, the work that needs to be done continues; in order to adapt we must build and flex a different set of muscles to keep our work going. We are not able to spend time together physically, but we are certainly still able to connect and ensure the children and families we serve still have ways to connect with one another and thrive.

We forge ahead to leverage the tools and resources literally at our fingertips to create a different space for connection, for learning with and from one another, and most importantly to thrive together. As we adjust, here are few quick tools and tips to support you in fostering meaningful professional and personal connections virtually.

Preparation: Give yourself time to plan and prepare for your virtual session. Whether it’s a routine team meeting or you’re getting ready to lead a brainstorming session, make sure you have set aside adequate time to design the experience. Get familiar with the platform you intend to use - try out the various tools and features. Think about what you want your participants to know or be able to do by the end of your time together and design with that in mind. If there are readings or specific conversations you would like your team to be ready to have, consider sending materials for review a day or so before the meeting; adding a guiding question in your prep materials can also help participants be more focused.

Here are the platforms we have been using more frequently over the last few weeks:

Purpose: The key to any productive gathering is having a clear understanding of why you’re meeting. Begin by articulating your goals and outcomes for coming together. Working remotely can certainly have its perks, however with families and other distractions at home with us it can be difficult to concentrate; so it’s important that we’re about the purpose of each meeting. To ensure your meeting is productive, it’s helpful to be able to identify and share exactly what you need by the end of your time together.

Practice: Using new tools or technology can be intimidating, so give yourself time to practice and test it out. Walk through your agenda a few times; watch a tutorial or two; test transitions, navigation, wifi connections, and sound. The plethora of platforms and frameworks can get overwhelming, so pick one or two and give it a try. Practicing can also be a fun way to connect with family or friends before jumping in with colleagues.

Principles: We are operating in new times, so that means we need to revisit our working agreements. One huge barrier to working remotely is unreliable connections, background noise, and not being able to read non-verbal communication. During one of your next meetings ask the group to identify a few principles to make your session successful, then stick to them. Some norms we’ve begun to use lately are:

  • Mute your mic when not speaking

  • Use your webcam

  • Say “I’m complete” at the end of your statement/question

  • Use participant feedback tools (i.e. hand raising; thumbs up/down; polls)

  • Watch your air time (i.e. take/leave space for everyone to contribute)

It might be a little clunky at first, but as you keep practicing virtual gatherings will get smoother

Patience: Be KIND to yourself and to others - practice patience. This is new territory for many of us, so don’t expect to get it all right on the first (or first few) try. There will be mistakes and faux pas, just pause, take a deep breath, and jump back in.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, but it’s a start; here’s a guide that has been really helpful to us as a team: The Definitive Guide to Facilitating Remote Workshops. Remember to have fun and embrace the opportunity to strengthen our virtual muscles. This virus and its impact on our lives is quite serious and stressful, but our determination to stay connected is more powerful than our current reality. We’ll come out on the other side stronger and more nimble; so find ways to laugh, love, and connect with one another.

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