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How to stay connected while social distancing
// By Lydia Schrandt
Photo courtesy of iStock / ersinkisacik
Stay home – together
If we were to guess what the phrase of 2020 would be, we'd put our money on "social distancing." The spread of COVID-19 has made homebodies of us all. But just because you're staying at home doesn't mean you have to ditch your social life.
Modern technology lets us maintain our current relationships (from co-workers to family) and even make some new ones. Here are ways you can connect while social distancing.
Photo courtesy of iStock / SDI Productions
Volunteer your time
We’re all in this together, and there’s no better time to step up and give back to your community. According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering can reduce stress levels, therefore reducing the risk of disease.
Options are abundant. Those healthy and in a position to safely leave home can look into local organizations helping to deliver groceries or other necessities to high-risk individuals. Communities across the country have turned to the Nextdoor app to coordinate and mobilize. Similarly, many local food pantries are in need of assistance as more people are relying on their services.
There are plenty of ways to volunteer from home, as well. Many nursing homes and senior living centers are looking for pen pals to help boost resident morale, so grab a pen and paper and practice the art of correspondence.
Alternatively, become a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line, a 24/7 text-based hotline for those in crisis. All you need is a computer, internet connection and some compassion.
Join an online fitness community
With gyms closed and many Americans under a stay-at-home order, even the number of steps we're taking each day is taking a hit. To keep health and fitness in the forefront, many local gyms and fitness studios are taking their workouts online via Instagram Live and other social platforms, allowing participants to interact and become digital friends while getting in a workout at home.
To maximize the communal feeling, opt for live-streamed workouts rather than pre-recorded ones. Some brands offer even more interactivity. Peloton, for example, offers a whole host of live classes through their app. And you don't need to splurge on a $2,000 bike to take advantage.
The company is offering a 90-day free trial, with access to yoga, cardio, strength and stretching classes that require little or no special equipment.
Photo courtesy of Netflix/Screenshot by Lydia Schrandt-USA TODAY 10Best
Have a movie night or TV watch party
Packing into a busy movie theater or heading over to a friend's house to watch the latest blockbuster isn't possible for many people right now, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out on the social comfort and nostalgia of a good old-fashioned movie night.
Netflix Party, an extension for the Chrome web browser, lets friends or family members watch a movie or show together online. Long distance movie night attendees can choose their own user icons and nicknames and chat during the screening, sharing emojis, screenshots or GIFs, while Netflix Party synchronizes playback.
Keep in mind that every participant will need Chrome with Netflix Party installed. To keep things social and crank up the nostalgia factor, consider a movie or TV show everyone already knows and loves.
Grab the popcorn – you don't have to binge alone.
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Host a virtual happy hour with your co-workers
Office furniture startup Branch is one of many companies that have implemented this strategy to help keep employee morale up while everyone is working from home.
"For those who can 'tune in,' we do it over Google Hangouts," explains Torin Rittenberg, Manager of Growth at Branch. "We like to encourage folks to keep their microphones on for it (unlike how folks usually turn them off for conference calls) in order to encourage people to chime in at any time to foster a more organic conversation."
Here are a few more tips from Rittenberg:
- Leave an "agenda" out of this. These are meant to recreate the feelings of a happy hour, which means unstructured discussion and organic conversation topics.
- Encourage folks to embrace their home situation instead of feeling embarrassed or reserved about it. If you have roommates, it’s okay; if you have a kid that might walk in, introduce us to him! It’s about creating an environment of inclusiveness.
- Ensure that folks aren’t always keeping themselves on mute while another person is talking. Leave this type of business etiquette for conferences and not happy hours. It’s also crucial that everyone be tuning in over video and not phone.
- Lastly, implement an odd rule that everyone must abide by. Ours is that you must have a drink next to you. But teams can create their own. Maybe everyone must be wearing sunglasses, or everyone has to be standing up. Make it fun and light.
Photo courtesy of iStock / gorodenkoff
Let gaming bring you together
Streaming development company StreamElements reported a 10 percent increase in viewership on Twitch on March 14 over the previous weekend. Gamers are on to something. This popular streaming platform creates a place for people to virtually "hang out" and chat while playing (or watching others play) just about any video game you can imagine.
"When we were kids, we took turns with the controller, offering our siblings or friends advice or commentary as they played," says Twitch Director of Community and Creator Marketing Erin Wayne. "Twitch allows you to do that – but with friends and gamers around the globe. Gaming has always offered an opportunity for people to escape the real world for a while, and online gaming allows people to do that together."
The platform has evolved beyond gaming, as well. In the past few weeks alone, Formula 1 drivers have faced off against gamers in a grand prix, Willie Nelson streamed a live show and a pair of students created a "Corona Madness" tournament to replace March Madness.
Discord, a free voice and text chat app, offers another social distancing alternative to LAN parties or casual gaming get-togethers. This platform is primarily focused on audio, so you can chat with your buddies without leaving your game. And according to Gabe Madway, VP of Communications, the platform extends far beyond gaming.
"Discord's audience is much broader, with interests ranging from soccer to fashion design, from book clubs to faith organizations to LGTBQ groups," Madway explains. "Discord is the place where millions of people come together to talk, which couldn't be more important right now."
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Photo courtesy of Tapletop Simulator
Play your favorite board game
Much like movie nights, game nights can still bring people together during this age of social distancing – just in a different format. Tabletop Simulator brings board gaming online through its online sandbox that allows gamers to play pretty much any game they want.
The program includes several classics, including backgammon, chess, dominoes, mahjong and poker, but users can play a whole host of other games through user-generated or downloadable content created in partnership with game developers and publishers. Sçythe, Euphoria and Settlers of Catan rank among the popular titles already available.
Socialize while scrolling
Even before social distancing, many of us were guilty of having our faces glued to our phones when we could have been connecting with people. Now Instagram has released an option to keep up with your social stream while also connecting with friends.
This Co-Watching feature, launched on Tuesday, March 23, lets users scroll through posts and watch Instagram live videos together, while apart.
Facebook has its own method of adding more "social" to social media by turning pre-recorded videos into live events. It’s called Watch Party. Users can create a watch party from a timeline, group, page or newsfeed to watch public videos on Facebook in real time with a group of friends or family.