Engagement in the Age of COVID-19

by Jessica Delaney, Principal, Engagement + Communications

For those of us in engagement, human connection is our life blood. We work to make meaningful connections based on values…not germs. In the age of COVID-19, though, every cough makes me cringe; every sneeze gives me anxiety; and, every sweaty person makes me wonder…fever? So, while we are working hard to support our own team’s health and wellness in this stressful time, we’d like to suggest three things to consider when engaging in the age of COVID-19.

  • Think of every in-person engagement as tentative

A good facilitator is always flexible and nimble, AND also looks out for the health and wellness of participants and staff. Sometimes, we just need to stop and ask: Is it responsible to bring people together? Generally, communities will appreciate it when organizations prioritize their health and well being – even if it means postponing, rescheduling or changing approaches.

  • Online, online and online

Consider online engagement and increase the frequency. Think about not having to set up a community centre, and in lieu, use your set up time to run additional online engagements. These could be conference calls, webinars, or using a dedicated platform. Sometimes, it could be as simple as calling people, instead of running an in-person focus group. Remember: This is not (God willing) forever, but a short-term measure to engage responsibly during a challenging time.

  • Health and wellness first

While I believe all Delaney projects are important, they are typically not life or death; so, I believe most can be postponed, rescheduled or done differently (e.g. online). If you MUST engage, then think about health and wellness first. This includes:

  • Focusing on health and wellness in opening statements and facilitating wellness supports to participants (We recently have included EmergenC in our training and facilitation kits.)
  • Being open to, and respectful of, traditional approaches to wellness expressed by participants
  • Thinking like a participant (lots of people are feeling anxious right now) – it’s not just about getting the “right” number of people to a session
  • Setting up a “stay healthy” station, with hand sanitizer, Kleenex and water readily available – ideally one at every group setting and definitely at the entrance
  • Reminding people about hygiene practices (e.g. cover your mouth, wash your hands, if you are unwell go home, drink water)
  • Wiping down hard surfaces – Not glamorous, but that’s part of the work we do!
  • Minimizing “shared” food sources such as buffets

As an asthmatic who had an extended hospital stay in 2019 due to the flu, I am very aware of my own immune system limitations and have experienced the difficulties of a long recovery. So, a personal request: if you are unwell, even if you know you don’t have and haven’t been exposed to COVID-19, I would ask that you rest up and don’t participate – not forever, just for now. We all have a role to play in engaging with our shared wellness in mind.