Networking in remote spaces
The covid-19 pandemic forced many of us to communicate remotely, using phone, video call, email, newsletters, instant messaging, web forums, post and social media.
On this page, learn about the different types of networking remotely in peer support, and find one which works for you.
Benefits of remote communication
- It can help you to include people who live further away. This means you can benefit from contact with people and opportunities that would be impossible in person.
- It can help you to make initial contact with people locally who you might not have met otherwise.
- It can offer opportunities to connect with minority communities. If there are few ethnic minority members in your peer support group, you and they might benefit from connecting with others with a shared culture.
- It can help you to promote or advertise your group and attract new members through new and different routes.
- It can be more accessible to people with disabilities or health conditions that make travelling difficult.
- Some people find meeting remotely more comfortable than meeting face-to-face and is less likely to provoke anxiety.
- It can support consistency and sustainability if access to physical spaces is limited or inaccessible for some members.
- It can save you and your group time and money that would have been spent on travel.
- It can enable you to be creative with your communications. Consider posting materials to your group for discussion. Remember to think about all the possible options, not just a video meeting or phone call.
Challenges of remote communication
It's important to be aware that keeping in touch online or by phone doesn't suit everyone, so using remote communication alone will exclude these people.
Some people just prefer to interact face-to-face, while others encounter real barriers that prevent them from communicating remotely. Keep the following in mind:
- Not everyone has access to technology and other resources that facilitate remote communication. For example, someone might not have an internet connection or mobile phone signal. It is often a good idea to check with people how they prefer to keep in touch and be accommodating where possible.
- Many of the ways in which people communicate are non-verbal. These include tone of voice, hand gestures, and facial expressions. These are often lost when you just hear someone’s voice or read their words, which can lead to misunderstandings. Some people find it challenging to communicate well without these non-verbal elements.
- Many forms of remote communication need you to be confident with using technology and reading and writing English. You or your group members might need to ask someone to help you or seek out some training. Or you might need to take a different approach in order to reach your intended audience.
It's essential that you consider how remote communication might compromise people’s privacy. Do not share confidential information or details of group members without their consent.
Could your messages or newsletter be picked up by someone other than the intended recipient? Is your social media post public? If you're not sure, always check. Don't take risks with what you share.
Using different types of remote networking
Many peer support groups use a mixture of remote and face-to-face communication to interact with others outside the group. This is important to sustaining membership if some methods of communication don't work for some people.
This balance might naturally change over time, depending on how your group evolves and what your support network looks like. It might be useful to reflect on how much of your group’s networking and interaction happens in person and how much is remote. How is that working for you now?
Most people have preferences about which methods of remote communication work best for them. Someone might not be able to easily access a computer, but they might be happy to talk on the phone or read a newsletter.
Alternatively, someone might be uncomfortable committing to a phone call or video call at a specific time, but they might be able to pick up an email when it's convenient for them. It's often best to ask people directly how they like to communicate, but this is trickier when you're trying to reach several people at once. Think carefully about your intended membership, while accepting that you might never please everyone.
Below is a grid to help you consider different options for remote networking. You can write what would work best for your peer support group or project in the third column. We strongly suggest you do some research before using any new platforms and technologies, to check they're suitable for your group, they're private, and they'll keep your confidential information secure.
Activity: Types of remote networking
|Types of networking||Ideas for doing this remotely||What would work for you?|
|Newsletters||You could send these via email or print and post them. You could leave copies at a community centre, GP surgery, or other public space.|
|Keeping in touch with people individually||You could use email, telephone, text message, an online instant messaging platform like WhatsApp, or connect on social media. You might like to schedule regular or semi-regular phone or video calls to catch up.|
|Spreading the word about your group||You could make leaflets and add them to notice/bulletin boards in public spaces like community centres or cafes. Your group could have a presence on a social media platform like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and use that to engage with others locally or those with similar interests.|
|Mutual support for peer leaders||Peer leaders could pair up with a ‘buddy’ in another group. You could arrange monthly or quarterly phone or video calls to catch up. You could create a closed Facebook or WhatsApp group for people to encourage one another and problem solve together.|
|Shared learning events or conferences||You could host these over Zoom or Microsoft Teams and invite other local groups or people who share the aims of your group.|