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5 Things I’ve Learnt from Hosting 27 Online Community Gatherings Over The Circuit Breaker

“What’s something new that you’ve done this Circuit Breaker?”

“Stay at home.”

Hilarious but true. Unusual times create unexpected experiences.

For me, a new experience was pivoting our Friendzone gatherings online, and hosting so many of them! For the unfamiliar, Friendzone is a community building organisation that designs and hosts community building experiences. Our gatherings connect participants to form new friendships ("friend") in their organisations, communities or neighbourhoods ("zone"). Hence the name "Friendzone"!

Adapting our community gatherings online was a blast. Here are 5 takeaways that will hopefully help you too:

1. Communicating over video calls is a skill in itself.

It can be learnt, but it does take time.

I found myself being more animated and expressive in my facial reactions to compensate for the lack of body language cues I was able to give and receive. Introducing hand gestures like “thumbs up” or “heart” helps to convey empathy without disrupting another from speaking, and provides more visual cues to encourage the speaker.

2. Connections formed online are not inferior to those formed offline

It’s possible to build trust, have deep meaningful conversations, and form real friendships through online events (like Friendzone!). In fact, some people are more comfortable opening up online because of the screen that separates.

More importantly, openness breeds openness in engaging people online. Setting the context, acknowledging the discomfort and constraints of the online environment, and encouraging everyone to make the most of it helps. A clear facilitator and a well-structured programme that ensures equal opportunity for sharing are crucial. Relevant and thought-provoking conversation prompts can facilitate meaningful conversation.

3. No one is spared from the disruption caused by COVID19.

Different people at different life stages have different concerns weighing on their minds. From the student bummed about ‘A’ Divs Dragon Boat being cancelled, to another worried about organising an online orientation camp, to the newlywed wondering about the sales of his company post-circuit breaker -- everyone’s affected. But we can use our words to encourage, appreciate and provide new perspectives to each other.

One of my favourite breakout groups was where everyone was on the opposite end of the spectrum from each other. One person was managing their personal disciplines well but struggling relationally with family and friendships. Another’s relationships were thriving, but struggled with maintaining regular routines and habits. Another found adapting to the circuit breaker easy at the start but progressively struggled more emotionally. Another struggled emotionally in the beginning but was now managing and coping well.

4. Zoom fatigue might not be due to zoom but stress in general

In my personal experience, in the earlier weeks of the circuit breaker, I was having lots of headaches. I hated how all I was doing was shifting between screens of different sizes at the same spot. But things got better as the weeks went by and I realised that the tension was the result of being stressed over the variety of disruptions and adjustments related to matters in my personal life and work than the medium of communication. I know this might not be everyone’s experience, but shifting to voice calls is another way to mitigate the screen fatigue.

(totally unrelated cute GIF)

5. What comes next matters more

Online or offline, it’s not about the medium but about what you do with the new connections you make after your initial connection. Continue conversations with the new people you’ve met. Be thoughtful, check-in, send a word of encouragement. Ask a question or share a resource that you come across that may resonate with them. Relationships are strengthened in the follow-up exchange.

This reflection was written by Grace. She has an unwavering vision to see the unity in community materialise and she co-hosts all of Friendzone's online gatherings. One of her best discoveries this Circuit Breaker has been the Teh Si Kosong at the stall beside the Female Toilet at Blk 50 Marine Terrace Market. It legit.

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