It can be difficult to immediately think how to adapt your engagement projects to remote working conditions, and even if you have an idea of how you might make changes, it’s tough to know what your options are.
We’ve pulled together a list of ideas that we think will help you continue to engage with young people while you’re all self-isolating, as well as some top tips to keep everyone safe.
You have an array of choices available to you here, and it really does depend on your needs, and whether you have existing digital infrastructure to plug into. These tools help to keep teams, workshops, classes and groups engaged when they can’t meet in person.
You can use the below options to run skills training, hold meetings, and generally keep in touch with one another.
We tend to steer away from email as the primary tool. It is overly formal, and our experience is that not everyone likes to check it often. A better route is to choose a platform that you can either get everyone to agree to use, or to go where the young people you work with are (whilst avoiding those they use purely for socialising with peers).
Heralded the email killer, Slack is an app that allows teams to communicate together in real-time. Unlike some other instant messengers – Whatsapp, for example – you can bring your colleagues and young people into one Slack team, and then have specific ‘channels’ for certain topics. For example, you might have a private channel for staff to talk logistics, another for announcements to young people, and another where people can share their pet pictures – because we all know that dogs make everything better!
You also have the option of video and audio calls in channels, where up to 15 people can participate at once. So this is great not just for communicating all the time, but for holding your weekly consultation or planning sessions too.
It plugs into a number of online services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Calendars, making it easy to manage everything in one place. It’s what we use at Voice to stay in contact with our Contributors. Another top tip is that if you have an RSS feed for news on your website, then you can send updates straight in to a channel too. You can always feed in the latest posts from Voice too with our RSS feeds!
Slack has apps for Macs, Windows, iOS and Android phones. It can also be used in any browser. So it’s very versatile.
More about Slack: https://slack.com/intl/en-gb/
Originally an app for gamers, Discord has since grown to a more consumer focused version of Slack. On Slack, your organisation is called a Team, while here it is called a Server, but they mean essentially the same thing – a private place for people you trust to communicate. Unlike Slack, though, you can have a mix of text and voice channels. In voice channels, you are basically in a live call where you can talk to whoever is in the channel without needing to specifically dial them. Again it works across major platforms.
More about Discord: https://discordapp.com/
Great for video and audio calls, Skype will allow you to talk to up to 50 people at once for free. You can also create group chats where you can share files, send emoji and share web links, and then call everyone in the group if there is something important you need to talk about. You also have the option of recording the calls and saving them locally to your desktop, ready to share with others should you choose!
More about Skype: https://www.skype.com/en/
Zoom is conferencing software that allows you to schedule voice or video calls. It has apps for all the major platforms, and can be quite powerful. You can share your desktop with call participants if you want to show them something, and have Zoom record and save a copy of your call to the desktop once you’ve finished – great if you need to share it with other people or want to upload it to YouTube! On the free version, conferences are limited to 40 minutes when there are more than three people on the call.
More about Zoom: https://zoom.us/meetings
Google Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet
Now Google can be a bit all over the place with communication apps, but they have built two very solid apps that can help teams communicate: Chat and Meet. As the names suggest, Chat is an app that focuses on messaging, and Meet is video conference software, similar to Zoom. If your organisation is already using GSuite (Gmail, Drive, Calendar etc), this might be an easy option. It has apps for iOS and Android, but also works in the browser.
More about Google Hangouts Chat: https://support.google.com/hangoutschat/answer/7653601 And Meet: https://support.google.com/a/users/answer/9282720
It’s hard to find people who aren’t on Whatsapp. If you work with a specific group of young people, and your safeguarding policies allow it, you might find it easiest to just create a Whatsapp group for everyone to communicate together. You can share documents and pictures to the group, and you can check who has read specific messages. It also has integrated audio and video calling – although that’s only in groups of up to four people.
Bare in mind though that Whatsapp requires a mobile number to work, and that will be visible to everyone in the group. This is why we’ve put it last on this list.
More about Whatsapp: https://www.whatsapp.com/
Collaborative working and file sharing
So you have all of your young people on your chosen platform, but what do you do if you want them to work together on creating something? Or what if they are meant to be submitting things for you to look at? Or do you need to share your usual meeting agendas, notes and files?
Answers to those questions will depend slightly on the work that you’re doing with your young people, but a few great options are below.
Google Drive is great for collaboratively working on documents, spreadsheets or presentations. You can work together in real-time, seeing edits and leaving comments. If you need young people to create any written work together, this is an ideal way to do it. Even better, it can be used for free!
You can also store, share and comment on images, videos and other file types too.
More about Google Drive: https://www.google.com/drive/
OneDrive with Office 365 (and free Office)
Microsoft has an array of tools at your service, including Office steadfasts Word, Excel and Powerpoint. These have improved in recent years to allow you to have real-time editing functionality with others over the web, and it all gets saved in OneDrive, which is an online storage folder.
You can also upload your own files to OneDrive and then share them out via a link, or, depending on the version of Office 365 you have, you can also get people to upload their work for you to check through Request Files.
More about OneDrive: https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-gb/ and Office online: https://products.office.com/en-gb/free-office-online-for-the-web
Dropbox started as a file sharing service but has since expanded to more general document editing too. If you want to share files with a group of people, you can upload them to dropbox and then share a link for people to access it.
If you need to edit documents you are also able to do that directly from your browser with direct links in to Office online. There’s also their own text document system called Dropbox Paper. Another great feature of Dropbox is Dropbox File Request. This feature allows you to request files from people via a shared link, and they just upload them to your chosen Dropbox folder. Your young people don’t even need to have Dropbox to use the feature, and it circumvents pesky email attachment limits.
It has a free version but you only get 2GB of storage, which you will find gets chewed through very quickly.
More about Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/
A key thing to consider whenever you’re working with young people, but especially when asking them to use online platforms, is safety. Think about how much data you are asking young people to share, and how much of it you actually need. Do the young people you work with already know each other, and would they naturally have each-others contact details?
It is a good idea to think about how you will monitor conversation to make sure there are no safeguarding issues you don’t know about. We also encourage you to mention these simple rules for online engagement to your young people to help keep them safe:
Don’t post any personal information online – e.g. address or mobile number
Think carefully before posting pictures or videos of yourself or others
Keep your privacy settings as high as possible
This is equally important for you as staff – you don’t want the young people you work with looking you up and seeing untoward pictures or comments you’ve posted
Don’t befriend people you don’t know
Don’t meet up with people you’ve met online (at least not alone & not in a private space)
Think carefully about what you say before you post something online – it can be misconstrued or interpreted in a way you didn’t intend
Respect other people’s views, even if you don’t agree with them, it doesn’t mean you need to be rude
We have more guidance on staying safe at: https://www.voicemag.uk/stay-safe
If you are looking for ways of turning a physical event digital, Charity Digital have created a resource to help you explore your options.
There are many ways to set-up conferences or social gatherings online; use some of the communication tools above and add things like a Calendar with scheduled meeting links to Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts to join keynote or panel talks, breakout rooms, and even a slack chat for those conversations usually over coffee. Then use Surveymonkey, Google Forms or other survey tools to collect feedback, advanced questions or run audience polls.