Life during a pandemic is a shared experience, but even as it’s being said that we’re all in the same boat, our boats look different.
Some work at home now, sweeping the cat off the laptop during Zoom meetings. Others go to an office, where quarters are no longer so close. Jobs have been lost or put on hold, yet some are busier than ever learning new ways to meet without being together.
Yet, no matter how the boat looks, everyone seems to be riding the same wave of anxiety, facing a foe that has the stealth of a shark.
Mental health experts say one effective anecdote to pervasive anxiety is action. Hand wringing doesn’t count, by the way. Here are five ways to do something meaningful and positive in a time of uncertainty.
Like vinyl, voice calls are back in vogue.
Remember when the phone was for talking instead of texting? As we work from home or in more isolated-than-normal situations, we crave connection. For the first time in several years, voice calls have gone up — way up. Verizon says the average number of wireless calls is more than double the number made on Mother’s Day, one of the busiest calling days of the year. Calling loved ones and friends is helpful, but there can also be value in calling peers and industry partners. There’s a good chance they have more time than usual to talk. Now might be the time to call your audiovisual supplier to talk about new tech and how it might be used for a future conference, or to put in a call to a couple of possible venues or cities for future meetings to get acquainted with management there.
Go somewhere without leaving your chair.
Planes are grounded. Your luggage is dusty. But you can still see new places via a growing list of virtual tours. A March 18 story in the Washington Post featured 12 historic sites to explore from the couch, from the Louvre and Yosemite to the Smithsonian and the San Diego Zoo. The possibilities, though, go far beyond the big-name tourist destinations. Lots of museums in smaller cities, like the Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, have opened virtual doors. Zoos and historic sites, too. Virtual tours allow you to check out potential future off-site venues. Or if you just need some blue skies pouring into vast blue water, tap into a beach cam; dozens of beach towns have them, including Panama City, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Alternatively, follow author Reif Larsen’s lead and use Google Street View to “travel” to a city you are considering for a future conference. Larsen and his family visited Charleston, South Carolina, in that manner when their spring trip was disrupted by the pandemic.
Hang out with your peers.
Chances are your staff meetings have continued, thanks to Zoom and Google Hangouts. But what about the coffee talk, the chit-chat, the small talk? There’s value in informal conversations with workmates and peers. One group of freelance writers now meets weekly online to talk about work, talk about problems, share hacks, and discuss worries and victories. They call it a Pandemic Potluck. This might be the time to join one of the online forums for meeting planners, make new friends and draw comfort from connecting with a community that understands the challenges you face in a world where face-to-face gatherings are out of the question for the time being.
Do something for your audience.
Make your action altruistic by doing something for your audience. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association realized that caregivers for those with dementia, who are already isolated, could benefit from around-the-clock virtual assistance. It recently created a 30-minute demo of virtual tools that are available 24/7. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists had special webinars on Trauma Management and Resilience and Self-Care in March and April. Others are offering tele-town halls with various health care experts to answer questions about coronavirus and how to protect and care for those who could contract it. It might be a good time to collect ideas and stories from your members about what they or their communities are doing to get through the long weeks, or perhaps a slideshow of faces of youngsters with art work and hopeful messages. Or remind members of fun times with a Facebook page flashback of photos from past conferences with the assurance that they will gather again.
Work your crowd.
The audience you serve might come out of this experience with different motivations, mind-sets and priorities. Will the chance to reconnect in person thrill or chill? Will elbow bumps permanently replace handshakes? Given all the experiences delivered through virtual means, will there be less demand for in-person meetings? Dig in now to what your future attendees will want and need by crowdsourcing. Airlines are already doing this, asking their loyal passengers what it will take for them to fly again. The overwhelming answer? Clean planes. Use email or even the phone to poll longtime members and the rest of your audience. Ask what they’d like in terms of meeting design and length, destinations, programming, speakers and topics, networking ideas. Chances are professional needs and goals will shift as a result of the global pandemic; go into the new era stronger with firsthand research at your fingertips.