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Moving beyond work – video conferencing for social connectivity

Chris Moule
Chris Moule, Head of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, shares the advances taking place in social connectivity through video conferencing as we push to not let social distancing measures get in the way of work and fun.

Most of us would have been there. Sitting in a pub or bar trying to remember the capital of Croatia, with your friends, as you navigate only the fifth question in the local pub quiz. Looking blankly at the answer sheet and knowing that the “know-it-alls” on the table next to you already have five out of five correct! But as millions retreat into their homes to escape coronavirus and turn to video calling apps to work and stay in touch with friends, family members and colleagues, how can we use them to connect and have fun ‘socially’ with our colleagues and friends? In times of societal stress, staying at home runs counter to what evolution has hard-wired people to do – seek out, support and care for one another – our families, friends and communities – to be social.

Most large scale video-conferencing services, such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been primarily used for the world of work. The rise of large-scale video conferencing in response to the pandemic comes at a time when these platforms have been expected to become an increasingly popular alternative to in-person events. Gartner, for instance, estimated that by 2024, remote work and changing workforce demographics will impact enterprise meetings so that only 25% will take place in person, down from 60% today.

But what about moving beyond work and using it for social connections and casual interactions? That’s something HouseParty is doing for the millennials. Owned by Fornite developer Epic Games, HouseParty has spiked in popularity since the coronavirus outbreak. According to App Annie, it recorded two million downloads worldwide last week, compared to 130,000 the same time last month. It is hugely popular with the younger generation as its designed to replicate a real house party, offering a more casual experience than alternative such as Facebook and WhatsApp. 

Last Friday, I held our first #StartUpSocial for RGU entrepreneurs going through the current Startup Accelerator programme. #StartUpSocials are new online events, using the Zoom platform (earlier this week, Boris Johnson's Cabinet started using Zoom video conferencing). Held every Friday afternoon, the event promotes social connection and fun, where participants can join together virtually and take part in quizzes, bingo, karaoke, mindfulness and origami sessions. Our first live session had around 20 participants answering questions on TV, Music, Sports and Literature. My team and I are hoping to roll this online live event beyond our entrepreneurial community under the banner #WorkfromhomeSocial for our RGU colleagues.

In these strange times, staying connected to our values and to each other is imperative. Human beings have an amazing capacity for empathy and caring in times of uncertainty and suffering. Maintaining social distance doesn’t need to change that.

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