Right now, every person, family, and business owner is in an unprecedented situation.

For those of us who like to plan ahead, or who need to plan ahead, "Taking it a day at a time" is a mode we find extremely uncomfortable. Living from day to day without having certainty can generate a huge amount of stress in people, which over time can lead to mental and physical illness.

As humans we like to feel in control, and for a great many of us in the UK it's been our default position, having a reasonable amount of control over what happens week to week, and month to month. It is one of the blessings of being born in the UK, a very stable democracy. So we expect it, and feels almost like an assumed part of our lives!

We have been in situations a bit like this before...for example the 2008 financial meltdown. That caused great uncertainty, and hardships which lasted a long time, a lot longer than any of us would have expected.

But nothing really is comparable. Let's face it. People are fearing for the lives of their loved ones, as well as imminent and future financial security. It's like a period of global war in terms of reach and impact.

Because of that, it's requiring and generating extraordinary responses, from the government all the way down to individual people, volunteering as NHS 'helping hands'.

An awful lot IS happening, and resources ARE being mobilised. But information to help you understand whether your business still has a future, and to plan its survival (as far as you are able), feels like it's dribbling out.

So for those of us who manage a business, or are responsible for people in work, this is a really complicated crisis. We are being encouraged to keep staff on, forced to change working their  environment overnight, and for us to be a lifeline of hope and encouragement to them. All of this without knowing whether our businesses still stand on rock, or are now built on sand.

And to make things harder, you now have to do this by devising new styles and methods for getting in touch, and staying connected, with your scattered workforce. It would have been so much easier to get everyone into the reception area, or around the meeting room table, or gathered in the kitchen space.

The effectiveness of your communications with your staff/employees is likely to lose a fair amount of its usual human touch over the "virtual space", and become less personal, which let's face it, is the last thing you want people to think about you as they are going through a rollercoaster of emotional challenges!

In case you are new to communicating with multiple people who are remote, the stalwarts of the past (Skype, Lync, Skype for Business, etc.) were tools which allow teleconferences (everyone dialled in together, like the good old 'party-lines' used to be), or video calls, where multiple people have the joy of seeing their poorly lit webcam views thrown somewhere onto the screen!

There is a new 'go to' crowd of tools, of which some of the commonly heard names are MS Teams, Cisco Webex, Goto Meeting and Zoom. These powerful comms platforms are designed to take advantage of  improvements in connectivity, which given the UK is below some African nations for average broadband speed, means a "great" tool still might not be the best tool for you!

The good news is that you can use some of these for free, in a less fully-featured (but perfectly acceptable) mode. This will give you the chance to see if they meet YOUR specific need, both in terms of you being able to manage them, and your staff being able to access them given they are sharing their home bandwidth with partner, kids (you'd rather they were streaming than screaming, any day) , and nowadays the pets too (my friend's dog has an Instagram account).

If you just want a great FREE conference call facility, check out WHYPAY, which I really like. Considering it's completely free to you and your attendees, they've included some really helpful features as standard. Also, they're offering features of the fee paying level, free for 3 months, for example call recording in meetings (great to help the attendees who just couldn't make that time slot but need to be kept in the loop).

Click here for WhyPay price plans & corona virus assistance

Both Cisco Webex and Zoom will allow you to sign up for a free plan, from which you can bring up to 100 people onto video or audio calls as attendees. Zoom's video calls are limited to 40 mins per call, but for Webex it's unlimited.  If you are already using Skype then one thing I would say is to consider using Zoom if people are struggling with the bandwidth. Before changing at times I found Skype video to be unworkable when everyone in the area was hitting the 'net. Zoom requires less data throughput to transmit the video than Skype, so you won't end up going to audio only just to stay on the call. 

Click here for Zoom sign-up

There are some really good resources very relevant to the now, on this link.

Click here for Zoom's Covid-19 resources

And to checkout Webex, which now has no time limit on your video meetings and audio calls (in response to this current crisis), go here.

Click here for Webex pricing & sign-up

Let's talk about Webinars. If you haven't experienced a Webinar, or run one yourself, then I want to explain why I think they could be particularly helpful right now.

There is a lot of important information we need to communicate within organisations at the moment. As individuals, the public at large, we can access the official news on TV and Web, radio, social media, and print (are people still buying newspapers?). These tested channels work well.

But if you are a business and you need to share a lot of info with your staff, customers, and with other stakeholders, all of whom are likely to be dispersed, how can you best do that?

Webinars (Web-based Seminars) are a way to communicate with small to large numbers of people, remote from you, in a way which can actually be better than face to face.

Webinar delivered messages can be very visual, which helps keep people engaged for longer periods. Looking at other people's faces on screen does tire after a while, and is just not dynamic enough to keep "waking up" our brains. We tune out from anything fairly static, anything that stays the same for too long!

A Webinar can be built around a slide deck, and can be a compilation of images that make the point you need to get across. Because it's for internal use you can drop the concerns around "perfection" and just get on with making it "good enough". The rate at which we need to get new information out there means that "rough but ready to go" will trump perfection every time, in terms of effectiveness. Effective communication is exactly what you need right now.

Most Webinar platforms generate recordings of the event, which can include the audio of others (if you open it up for them to lead) or your repeating questions and answers fielded during the session. So again, if some of your people are busy with kids or shopping, they can still get the latest and feel in the loop.

Because Webinars allow us to use chat (a bit like texting, but just within the meeting space), we can "hear" or gather the contributions and thoughts of all the people is the session. Neither teleconferences or video-conference calls do this well. Some of us are all too familiar with the experience of waiting for a speaker to pause, so you can get a word in, only to find you both then speak at the same time!

Chat within Webinars allows the people who would not push themselves forward to have their voice heard, which would not happen in the clamour for airtime we experience on teleconf-calls. Not everyone likes to have their face full-screen either, which some video-conf platforms do when you are the active speaker. So I think it actually beats the other methods hands-down in this respect.

The other thing I'd suggest you look at is using polls, where you present a set of options and let people select a choice. Once they have voted the results are summarised within the call for you all to see, and discuss. Because people's votes are anonymous it also gives people a chance to really express how they feel without fear of being challenged, and therefore I think you are more likely to get the "truth" of how people are feeling.

We shouldn't use polls just for the sake of it, to check people are still awake! That's clearly just wasting people's time and they will see it for the gimmick it is. A good set of poll questions for your attendees are ones which they will be interested in hearing the answers to, as well as you, and which can serve as a springboard for constructive dialogue. Beware of using "leading" questions, because people will feel like you are hijacking their voice. Also, polls can be immensely helpful in finding out what you don't know. Say what?

Well, imagine these questions in a poll to your staff today:

Please select the answer which you feel strongest about.

Which of these issues has caused you most concern in the last 24 hours?

A. Not being able to protect the elderly or vulnerable people I care for

B. Not being able to move about freely without fear

C. My financial security

D. Other (please use the space below to say what it was)

Hearing which of options A,B or C people feel most strongly about as sources of concern or anxiety will help you focus where the discussion goes next, and also inform you how you might need to provide further support for staff from that point on.

But the answers to question D will be especially insightful if we already set up the first 3 questions because they are what WE thought was going on in people's heads. Far better for them to tell us themselves, in a way which is completely open and non-judgemental.

Talking through A, B and C with your attendees, then going through the responses to D in the same way, can give them the same sense of importance and relevance. For people who were struggling with things they felt they couldn't raise, or maybe even weren't very consciously aware of, they are not out in the open. So we can offer help, and be helped!

To find out more about how quickly you could get your first Webinar up and running, drop me a line at [email protected], or call me on 07974 231566. It could be easier than you'd think, and more useful than you'd hoped.

Jason Gray,
Training Director,
Virtual Works.