“After our basic physiological (air, water etc) and safety needs (safe neighbourhood, job security etc) are met, the next stage is to fulfill our social needs . We need to feel a sense of belonging to a larger social group and feel socially connected to our family and friends.” (Healthhub.sg)

I know we have all been using the different video conferencing tools out there for work related meetings, but there is a whole other and fun side to virtual videos that helps connect families and friends with one another, near or far.

After the first few weeks of just getting over the abrupt stop to our lives, I realized that it was so important to connect with our friends and family to maintain some sort of continuity of our “normal lives”. After a few conversations with friends, whom I haven’t met in a long time, I realized, we could have done this all along rather than waiting for the perfect day of our calendars aligning.

It amazes me that it took a pandemic for all of us to connect with tools that have been available to us all along. The difference is that we now realize the value of connecting with one another and making the time to connect with one another.

For my family, having a large group of family and friend gatherings has always been a part of who we are, so I definitely can’t let that stop simply because we are unable to meet at the present time. Our weekends are complete with Friends Friday and Family Sunday gatherings online and its been a treat. Some include all the kids and others are just us adults chatting over a glass of wine.

I know the effort sounds like more work than fun, but sharing laughter or playing games with familiar faces makes it all worth it, while being in the comfort of your own home.

So, if you haven’t already done so, what has stopped you from connecting with your family or friends locally or around the world? It seems daunting but once you work out the kinks during your first virtual party, its a great time.

Here are some tips and tricks on planning and making your virtual parties a fun experience:

Use a platform that is easy to use for any age and accommodates the number of members in your group. The last thing you want is to offend someone who couldn’t join the party because the virtual room is full. Zoom allows up to a 100 users, but limits the call to 40 minutes if you are using the free version. Google Meets, Microsoft Team are among many of the other choices out there.

There are also apps which are ideal for smaller groups, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Houseparty. Some of these even allow you to play games while chatting.

Do your homework on the options out there and select a platform or app that works for you and your family, best. There is always an expert among our groups, so ask around.

? Like any other gathering, be sure to set a mutually agreeable date and time, in advance, so everyone can plan ahead. Invite them to enjoy their beverage of choice or meal, if your gathering is over dinner.

? Plan a theme for the gathering and if you meet weekly, then you can change it each time. Make sure the theme is practical and allows everyone in your group to participate.  Most importantly, establish the ground rules of the game and etiquette, prior to start.

Some of the theme parties I have been a part of include karoake, sharades, mixing a cocktail, bingo etc. All are a great way to keep the laughter going.

? If applicable, decide up front whether kids are a part of this virtual party. This helps any parents in your group to plan ahead with their kiddos or request a later time.

? Make sure you don’t over book yourself and start with one or two a week, well spaced out. If you have many work related video calls already the a social one is definitely needed but at appropriate time of course.

? Finally, common courtesy and conversation etiquette equally apply to any virtual gathering as those in person. Remind folks to use the mute button if they are interrupted or need to tend to something else during the gathering. Set up some ground rules about appropriate interruptions, dominating discussions and avoiding side bar conversations.

Depending on your group size, games may not always work but you certainly can have some fun icebreakers to lighten the mood and set the tone.

As we enter into week 7 of physical distancing and lock down, bring some family and friends into your home, virtually, along with walks and fun projects to add value to your day. Whether you are an introvert or otherwise, connecting with others is very important to our mental health and well being.