Staying Connected During a Pandemic: COVID-19 Edition

Not even a month ago, most of us in the United States were still going about our usual routines and daily habits. The thought of COVID-19 affecting us seemed distant and unlikely.

New York state is now two weeks into practicing social distancing, one week into self-quarantine, and less than a week into a stay-at-home order in order to flatten the curve.

Anyone who can complete their work or classes from home is doing so, including all of us here at HIPB2B. That makes us some of the lucky ones, given that in the US:

The majority of companies in many of those industries have since shut down and can no longer employ their employees. This doesn’t include a large chunk of the health care and retail workforce who are on the COVID-19 frontlines or are considered essential to the population. To add insult to injury, 40% of Americans say they can’t deal with a $400 financial emergency.

So – for those of us who are waking up to work on our computers at the kitchen table or on our couches – how do we stay connected and keep business running smoothly?

If you’re like us, you heavily rely on Slack.

Slack

The majority of people I talk to about their main mode of work communication tell me they use Slack. Whether you’re a B2B marketing agency like us or a local restaurant like the Tipsy Moose, Slack is a very easy and intuitive chat and collaboration tool. With Slack, you can:

  • Use status messages
  • Use threads
  • Create user groups
  • Mark as unread
  • Pin important information
  • Use message reminders

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft’s chat and conferencing app, Teams, gained more than 12 million daily users in one week as more people work from home. Since the start of this crisis, Microsoft has also rolled out several features to “help with telemedicine and working from home, such as a bookings application for Teams to help hospitals manage virtual appointments.” In China, “Microsoft has seen a 500 percent increase in Microsoft Teams meetings, calling, and conferencing, as well as a 200 percent increase in Teams usages on mobile devices.”

In addition to these features, Microsoft Teams also include:

  • Cloud recording with automatic transcripts
  • Guest access
  • Adapt Teams to suit to your industry
  • Analytics and business intelligence
  • Ability to sync Teams with Slack and Cisco Webex
  • A personalized view of apps and contacts

RingCentral

Another popular business communication option is RingCentral. RingCentral is a popular business option because it allows you to work on any device, including their preconfigured desk and conference phones. To navigate the coronavirus outbreak, RingCentral is offering free access to its SaaS, RingCentral Office, to US-based healthcare providers, schools, and NGOs.

Their features include:

  • Cloud phone system
  • Online meetings
  • Team messaging
  • Online fax
  • Secure VoIP service

Zoom

You’ve likely seen more of Zoom lately with the recent crisis (we’ve seen a lot of funny mishaps come out during a Zoom meeting, like this one), or maybe it’s the first you’ve heard about it. “Overnight, Zoom has become a primary social platform for millions of people, a lot of them high school and college students, as those institutions move to online learning,” according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Their features include:

  • Hosting up to 100 participants
  • Unlimited 1-to-1 meeting
  • 40-minute meeting limit: Because of the crisis, Zoom has lifted the 40-minute limit on free Basic accounts for schools
  • HD audio and video
  • Screen sharing
  • Whiteboarding
  • Virtual backgrounds
  • Local recording

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts feels like the original virtual hangout session. It’s free, is already connected to your Gmail account and is very easy to use. Google Hangouts are ideal for personal video chats with multiple attendees.

  • Through July 1, 2020, all G Suite customers can use advanced Hangouts Meet features, like larger meetings (up to 250 participants), live streaming, and recording
  • Ability to join meetings from the web or through iOS/Android
  • Ability to call into meetings with a dial-in number
  • Password-protected dial-in numbers
  • Integration with Google Calendar for one-click meeting calls
  • Screen-sharing
  • Real-time, AI-generated closed captioning

Outside of (Home) Office Hours

Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, Discord

Lest we forget the original social messengers.

Facebook Messenger offers ease and convenience, as most users seem to already use Facebook to keep in touch with family and close friends. With Messenger, you can easily send messages, start video chats, add stickers, gifs, and emojis to any chat, and even send money.

Skype has long been the best-known video and voice chat program. Millions of people and businesses have used Skype to make free video and voice 1-to-1 and group calls for years. They also offer messaging, screen sharing, call recording, and live subtitles.

WhatsApp is most known for its free, international messaging. They also offer voice and video calls, web and desktop apps in addition to mobile apps, end-to-end encryption, and document sharing. In the UK, the government has deployed a chatbot on WhatsApp to share COVID-19 information and updates.

Discord is a “service that has mainly been used by gamers since its release in 2015 but has resources that can be harnessed to bring together large groups of people on one online platform.” Discord offers servers, channels, and calls to connect with friends or groups of friends. If you’re interested, you can stream your gameplay and other things, such as movies and shows, to fellow users.

Netflix Party

Do you miss watching tv shows and movies with friends? Netflix Party fills that social distancing gap. It’s a Chrome extension that lets you watch videos with your friends and chat together at the same time.

Here’s how it works: “You and your friends log in to your separate Netflix accounts. Pick a movie or show to watch, and Netflix Party will sync the playback across your accounts, so you’re all watching the same thing at the same time from your individual accounts. Netflix Party includes a text chat function on the side of the screen (much like YouTube does during a live stream), so you and your friends can react and chat in real time.”

Online, Multiplayer Board and Card Games

Game nights are an underappreciated social activity that makes you yearn for the comfort of childhood, especially during a quarantine and social distancing. The remedy? Online board games.

Colonist.io
Colonist is an online board game alternative to the popular game Settlers of Catan. With Colonist, you can create a standard 4-player game and invite friends to play with you.

Pandemic
While it may be one of the too-close-to-reality options, the board game, Pandemic, has an online version. Accessible on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, the App Store and Google Play, Amazon, and Steam, you can play local multiplayer to “keep four deadly diseases at bay while discovering their cures.”

Jackbox Games is a game studio that creates party pack games to play online with friends. Each party pack contains “a variety of different games that might ask you to draw weird doodles, write the best inside joke, or answer hilarious trivia questions.” Their games are available on almost every single possible platform: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV and iPad, Mac App Store, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Humble, Fanatical, Epic Games, and Comcast Xfinity.

Exploding Kittens’ main objective is to avoid exploding kittens. Makes sense, right? They offer a mobile app, on both iOS and Android. They also have an amazing, kitten-loving idea called the “Kitty Convict Project” that helps return lost cats back to their owners.

Monopoly
Anyone remember Pogo? It was at the height of free Internet gaming in the early 2000s, along with Miniclip, MSN Games, Newgrounds, and Habbo Hotel. While all of these classic sites still exist (but why?), Pogo offers Monopoly Classic that you can play with your friends.

Words with Friends is by no means a new phenomenon, but if you’re looking for an online or mobile Scrabble-alternative to play with friends, it should be your go-to.

Working remotely and keeping communication up to par can prove to be a challenging task. Avoiding cabin fever and losing your mind during a quarantine can also prove to be a formidable feat. One of the best things anyone can do for themselves is be prepared. With these resources, being prepared to communicate is one thing you can cross off the list.


 

  • What has been your biggest challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Do you find communication to be stronger or weaker during these times?
  • What activities have you been keeping yourself occupied with?

 


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