I am the Associate Director for Research and Improvement, and lead the Academy, its core team and the clinical academic programme for Solent NHS Trust. I also work nationally and across Wessex on a number of areas, such as quality improvement, research strategy, patient and community partnership working and workforce development.
Embracing Zoom and virtual connectivity
Like many of us, I'm spending a lot of my time on video calls at the moment, mainly Zoom. I am someone who has spent years actively avoiding this stuff; I dislike FaceTime-type interactions and I’m not that great on the phone.
I prefer the efficiency of a quick text message or the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation, but that isn’t an option at the moment, and I’ve been surprised at how accustomed I've become to 'virtual' catch-ups. Not withstanding the glorious freedom that comes from only really needing to worry about what others can see through the screen (leggings on under the work tops - check! Only straightening the front of my hair - check!), it has made such a difference to see people’s faces during this difficult period.
It took me a bit of time to warm to the world of video chatting; for the first week or two of lockdown there was a lot of panic and numerous phone calls. In the midst of this, I could feel myself sinking. I realised quickly that I needed to see people, and jumped at the opportunity to use a Zoom license provided by the Trust; not only did this change my world, but it changed things for my whole team.
In a normal non-lockdown world, our Research and Improvement team meet weekly to 'huddle' - these huddles are a precious get-together where we can reconnect and share with our peers. We talk about all sorts of things; one week a team member shared their woes of having a snail attack their precious sunflowers and how to cope with garden 'predators' humanely – do broken egg shells really work? Since lockdown, our huddles (as well as clinical supervision, formal meetings and quick catch ups) have become virtual, but that hasn't stopped us sharing. We've laughed (and empathised) with those struggling with home schooling, and we try to virtually send love to those who are going through tough times. It's not quite the huddling that we love, but by adapting to this new format, it does mean that we can keep this tradition alive during lockdown.
Rather marvellously, Zoom also works well for those who aren’t Solent staff. One of the most precious relationships we have is with our Side-by-Side network; a widespread, diverse and totally brilliant collection of people who work with us, and through their stories and expertise, help make sure we understand what matters. Some Side-by-Side network members have been with us for years, changing the way we work immeasurably, and some have only recently become a member, but are already providing leadership in how we learn and improve across the Trust. We’ve been determined to stay connected with this gang, so we call, we text and now, we Zoom too.
A couple of weeks ago we held our first Zoom call with the Side-by-Side network and it was easily the best hour of my week. Lots hadn't used Zoom before, but whilst on the call we had people connecting with other members that they hadn't met yet, and we also had participants who have communication challenges joining in. We talked and got to know each other really quite intensely, and so many themes and ideas were shared. Firstly, a rather humbling pre-occupation with how we were coping as a Trust and how we were as a team, which was not a planned discussion but was very touching. And then a reminder that we shouldn’t assume that people can ask for the help or support they need – that it’s important to lean in and say exactly what we can do and not be vague.
We talked about how challenging it is for many people, how the messaging around risk, shielding, and vulnerability was increasing confusion and anxiety, and how making a connection can help. The network members also sternly (and quite wonderfully) berated us about the tendency for the NHS to talk in negative and punitive terms, for example: "don’t do this or this terrible thing might happen," "you should be worried about this thing" but that this isn’t how we as humans are motivated. It would be much better to focus on the positive outcomes, for example: “do exercise as it will make you feel better, just be careful to keep your distance” or “when you go food shopping, think about trying some new recipes." The message to be safe it still there, it just makes us feel more positive and engaged.
I’m not invested in listening to our Side-by-Side colleagues because it's the right "corporate" thing to do, I’m invested because I know they know more than me, and I need them. They always know as much (or more than us) about what they and other patients or families actually need. There isn’t a conversation where we don’t laugh, but during these conversations we also get pulled up on something that we can do better, even if that's just think about things in a different way.
Everything we’ve worked on with the Side-by-Side members has been better as a result of their input, and I’m not just talking about the odd tweak, I’m talking about their involvement resulting in massive refocussing for the better. I can’t imagine my life without this input, but it won’t work on the phone - just as the patient voice is at the centre of all that we do, the very nature of working with these patients works best when we can connect face-to-face (even if that's through a screen for now).
So, what happens if you're either completely new to Zoom calls, or like me, just have a natural aversion to video calling? Here are a few pointers I've come up with:
- If you're using Zoom for work meetings it's useful to have a pre-prepared agenda to help keep the conversation on track and make sure you get the information/feedback you need from the call.
- Keep the calls short and sweet to avoid "Zoom fatigue" - even if you were in a face-to-face meeting, anything longer than one hour is too long, people turn off and you won't get the engagement you and the participants need.
- Make sure everyone has a chance to speak (this might seem obvious but it's easy to get caught up in the meeting).
- Encourage attendees to check that they have Zoom (or other virtual calling software) installed correctly.
- Make good use of the chat box as it’s a really good way of contributing without talking over each other (or highlighting that you’d like to speak). You can also use the chat function to privately message individuals on the call as well.
- If you are holding a Zoom meeting, everyone should be able to join the call using their own computer – it isn’t okay for a group of people in a meeting room to be using one computer, with everyone else remotely on Zoom. With so many people using one computer screen you can’t see who is speaking, you can’t hear and it feels very inequitable.
- If at all possible, use your camera. The whole point of Zoom is to see the faces of your colleagues, friends and family, however imperfect. DO NOT worry about how you look – just join the conversation.
- Keep smiling! It's likely that there will be a few technical issues at some point in your Zoom journey, but I urge you to stick with it! Technical frustrations are a small price to pay for the delight of seeing some smiling faces during lockdown :)