Some you might remember the Hanna-Barbara cartoon, The Jetsons from the 1960/70’s. A couple generations later and we are experiencing that which was depicted in this series. From video phone meetings to tele-medicine.

We have adapted our communication style to meet the changing landscape. This started long before COVID, for many of our clients, family members are scattered around the world, and meeting in person is not always possible. This article highlights some of the ways we are working with families across time-zones and through cyberspace.

The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbara
  1. Family Meetings: The beauty of in-person meetings is that you can sometimes feel the dynamics of the participants and feed off of their energy. This is somewhat lost during an online meeting. There are a few things to keep in mind when planning a virtual family meeting – Script out everything, especially if you are co-facilitating with someone who is in a different space than you. The most important thing to remember is to have regular touch-in type questions that go beyond, “how are you?” and “does this make sense?” Engaging through dialogue vs. questions that can be answered in a single word is key for online meetings because it helps manage the fact that you can’t always feel the energy of the individuals on the call.
  2. Family Reunions: Gena is just in the midst of planning a Virtual Family Reunion for this summer. She anticipates that there will be over 100 people in the gathering from around the world and with varying degrees of tech savviness. In order to plan for what will likely be a few hiccups, Gena and the family reunion planning committee are breaking down the different components of what will be done and designing things around what people want to get out of the experience. Because family culture and traditions play into this it is important to provide ways to translate those traditions into a digital setting.
  3. Collaborations and Social Impact Lab Facilitation: What makes Karma & Cents unique is the process we undertake multi-sectoral discussions around complex social issues to provide a funding framework for our clients. One of the first labs we moved into a virtual setting was the Emerging Adult Mental Health initiative. Leading into this experience we had set up a Collaboration Agreement so that everyone around the table had a clear understanding of what their roles and responsibilities would be and how we would go about mitigating any challenges and issues. Running a lab virtually requires all the participants to come prepared to the meetings. The medium does not allow for on-the-fly prep in the most effective way, so regular pre-lab communication has been key to keep the project on time and on budget.
  4. Workshops and Webinars: By now most of you have experienced at least one online session where you have said to yourself, “Thank goodness they can’t see me!” so that you can multitask while listening to the presentation. As facilitators we know that this is going on, but we also want to make sure that if you are passively listening that you are getting some nuggets of information via osmosis. One of the ways that we have to be most effective is to periodically jump in with a poll or a call out for participation. This brings people back into the moment and also provides us with insight as to if our message is resonating and if not, what do we need to change.

For all four of these cases, we work hand in glove with our clients to design an experience that fits their style. An example of one family meeting: The third generation expressed that they want to have the matriarch of the family share stories. So we are practicing with her how best to deliver the story through visual aides (artifacts) and pictures. Where normally we would prep a client and to present and encourage questions from the group, in this case part of our preparation includes “testing” if the artifact and the imagery translates well through the video experience. 

How has your family adapted to the use of technology interfaces as part of your communication? What have you struggled with? What do you like? How have you shifted your communication style?