If your job has gone remote during the pandemic, you’re likely already spending a LOT of time on Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms. “Zoom fatigue” (grab our smart facilitator’s guide!) is very real, and the thought of adding anything else to your daily dosage of screen time (and even hearing me mention it here — sorry!) is probably making your head spin.

But let’s cut to the chase — how are you doing with your social time on Zoom? Do you schedule catch-up talks with best buds, celebrate birthdays and special occasions with family and friends, or even play games together via video?

Maybe you’ve mastered the art of socializing from a distance and this is no problem for you. Or maybe you’re balking at the thought of even trying. I totally get that. Not only has the pandemic been stressful and scary, but at the same time, we’ve also had to learn to rearrange our lives and adapt. That means learning new things and being willing to deal with some initial awkwardness.

Yup, I said it: socializing on Zoom is extremely awkward –– at least during your first go-round. There’s no way of getting around the fact that because you can’t read a room, feel people’s energies, and easily and instantly pick up on their nonverbal reactions, you’re going to have moments where everyone talks over each other at once, then abruptly all silence themselves…at once. You’ll have people talking who are unknowingly muted. There will be technical issues.

And guess what? That’s okay. Which leads me to my first tip on how to make Zoom social gatherings, in general, work:

    1. Forgive yourself and others, and go in knowing that it’s going to be awkward. If you go into any type of new Zoom meeting or gathering for the first time with high expectations (or even reasonable ones), you’re probably going to leave disappointed. Expect anything and everything to go wrong. A short list of the possibilities include dogs barking, kids crying, connectivity and other tech issues, muting and unmuting faux pas, and people getting bored and tired. There are great ways to mitigate all those things , but no one is 100% in control of these meetings, so expect something to go wrong.
      In fact, you can set the stage and be upfront by making a joke about these inevitable issues at the beginning of your meeting. We’re all in this boat together and the more you can do to make people laugh and lighten up, the better.
    2. Have a plan. Much like virtual work, which requires some extra effort and rethinking the way we plan ahead for meetings, your social gatherings on Zoom will be much more successful if they are thoughtfully planned. Unlike playing yahtzee, it’s not a good idea to just roll the dice. Not to say there isn’t any room for going with the flow, like we typically do at in-person parties, but as Zapier’s blog post on remote team activities points out, “Having something to do other than talking removes that awkwardness because there’s something else to think about during the down moments. It also gives you something to talk about if you do want to talk.” Planning ahead with engaging activities (think polls, emoji votes, and answering questions in chats) keeps positive energy flowing, keeps the gathering moving at a good pace, and keeps people from spacing out. Plan to intersperse these into your gathering — one engagement activity every 5-10 minutes is doable and gives people a chance to chat freely in between. You don’t have to use them all, but you’ll have a plan in your back pocket in the case of a long, awkward silence. The key point here is to give your participants something to do so they stay present with you.
    3. Don’t go it alone. This is especially true for more formal social gatherings, like club meetings. Just as you would for a work meeting, team up with a buddy and have one of you facilitating the fun and the other tackling any technical issues. To be on the hook for everything in any kind of Zoom meeting is overwhelming. Even for more casual gatherings, involve your participants in the planning. Ask them for feedback on your plans and if they have any ideas to make the gathering more fun. Not only does this help you plan for a fun event, but it also gives the participants buy-in and makes it more likely they’ll attend at all.
    4. Adjust for the virtual environment. For the most part, you can continue with the activities that you used to do when you all got into a room together. But think about these activities in the new context of meeting online and the fact that you have to deal with things such as typing versus speaking (if you’re using chats and polls, for instance). Give your participants a little extra time to complete these activities rather than expecting a response right away. Keep the awkwardness factor in mind and expect there to be a lot of talking over each other. That’s the nature of in-person meetups sometimes, too — especially when everyone is excited to see each other. For casual gatherings, just go with the flow here. If you have any type of meeting that follows a sort of round-table discussion, however (like a wine tasting club), you can use a speaking order to help combat some of the interrupting. In the wine example, you would use the same order for every wine your participants try and simply call on people by name to respond.