Travel bans. Gathering bans. Working-in-the-same-building bans. Over the last week, we’ve been inundated with questions around bringing people together, physically.

Our advice: DON’T STOP bringing people together. Instead, START thinking about what together really means.

Why? Simple. We’re social creatures. The sense of community we gain from being together matters. It matters for our sense of identity, our sense of community and our productivity. Most importantly, good things happen when we’re together.

‘Together’ doesn’t always need to be physical. The nature of togetherness has been changing for years. In the current climate, we have an opportunity to try something totally new – and the good news: it could be from the comfort of your disinfected sofa at home, virtually.

If you need to bring people together and you can’t do face-to-face (F2F) here are six tips.

1.    Re-think the what.

Verbs are the holy grail for learning geeks looking to move away from F2F interactions. Practicing could become producing. Discussing could become debating. Examining could become exploring. It’s OK to play with verbs to change an interaction, transforming a F2F experience into a whole new one, virtually, from your sofa. Think about your verbs.

2.    Connection correction.

As social creatures, we’re hard-wired to connect with each other. The best F2F experiences are designed for this. Think of moments where we welcome, break, feedback, celebrate. In these moments, an exchange happens that builds a social currency. It often binds and bonds the group. Connection comes in so many different ways. What tools do you have at your disposal to help it happen on the sofa? Technology is obvious but what else? Clothing, physical articles, colours – small things bind us as much as big things. Sitting on your sofa or at your desk, wearing green holding the same widget as your virtual colleagues that you’re online with. Now that’s connection for the 21st century.

3.    Virtuous variety. 

Think about the best experiences you’ve had online. You probably remember them because of how they made you feel, not what they made you think.

For the virtual world, start thinking about how you can be the Chief Design Officer of someone having a great experience online with your content. Variety should be at the heart. Think of a great online experience as going to a funfair – your experience wouldn’t be good if the funfair was just automatic bumper cars. Think about how you can use technology and smartphones to:

  • Involve. How can a two-way path exist virtually?
  • Enable agency. How can people help curate or add their own content?
  • Surprise. A surprise ice lolly on a hot day. What’s your equivalent in a virtual world?

Make your experience a real funfair.

4.    Be the scientist. 

So, you’ve got variety sorted – now it’s time to be the scientist. There are tons of ways to convey information. Yet the majority out there come in the form of one-way transmissions. You know it – it’s that boring person who speaks at you without taking a breath. Sometimes they don’t even blink.

Here’s a tip: think of information as a ball. One-way transmissions are the equivalent of you throwing the ball at your audience. In fact, throwing lots of balls. Ouch. Better transmissions are possible. Going with the ball analogy, you can dissect information, build it, debate it, play with it, swap it, etc. Think about how you can convey information better in an online environment. Sometimes just doing something differently is enough. Throw that ball back. Bounce it. Play with it. Make something out if it…

5.    Add some STAR sprinkles.

Be brave and try out stuff that will pique interest for someone sitting on their sofa. Some tools in the toolkit should include: Stories, Curiosity, Anticipation, Gamification, Celebration… Starry eyed. Reach for the stars. Any star – just make sure you have some.

6.    Execute impeccably: effort wins.

Put another way, if an attendee or learner sees and believes that effort has been expended to create their interaction – it changes how they see it. The glass is half full. Sounds simple – expending effort to make your experience as seamless as watching something on Netflix counts for a lot.

That sofa just gets better and better.

Saj Jetha is Founder of the multi-award winning learning and training consultancy, The Smarty Train. The Smarty Train builds immersive online and face-to-face experiences with some of the biggest (and smallest!) brands in the world.  He is also author of the bestselling book, The Smarts (Penguin, 2019).