The highs and lows of connecting through video conferencing for Kelowna non profits - InfoNews

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The highs and lows of connecting through video conferencing for Kelowna non profits

Some of the particpants in last week's Zoom meeting with Kelowna non-profits include, top left to right: Diane Entwistle and Michelle Novakowski. Lower row, left to right: Celine Thompson, Ellen Boelcke and Shelagh Turner.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Kelowna Community Resources
June 05, 2020 - 5:00 AM

Diane Entwistle really doesn’t do 435 Zoom calls every day — it only feels that way.

The executive director of the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club was joking about that number when she was caught with her mic off during a non-profit town hall meeting in Kelowna last week.

She and others on that call had their lives turned around when the COVID-19 lockdown hit in mid-March but the need for their services continued. They had to turn to technology that some of them had never heard of, like Zoom, to hold virtual meetings with staff, clients and colleagues.

“That’s one of the most significant things that happened during this pandemic, how we’ve learned other ways to connect,” Entwistle told “Now that we’re on the road to recovery, or maybe we’re just getting used to it, I don’t feel as exhausted as I did in the beginning.”

Making eye contact and reading body language is a vital part of the way people communicate. That’s more difficult when you can only see the head and shoulders. Not to mention physical changes like sitting more and staring at a screen all day. Plus, people feel the need to be “on” all the time.

“Your face is constantly on,” Ellen Boelcke, executive director of Kelowna Community Resources said. “When I’m in a meeting, I might turn around, I might smile, I might say something to a person on the other side, I might take notes so I’m looking down. On Zoom, I feel that I should be looking forward all the time. You feel like you have to stare forward and have proper emotional expressions with the conversation.”

Plus, the town hall meeting was carried live on Facebook so hundreds of people were watching and evaluating the panelists, rather than just a handful.

Zoom changes how people interact.

“All of the talk on Zoom seems to be thought out,” Boelcke said. “What I mean by that is, if you run into a room you say ‘hey, how’s it going?’ You have all the informal chatter and non-work catchup even, with the person beside you.

“What I find on Zoom is, you get on, you talk formally through whatever it is that was on the agenda and then the meeting ends. It’s a tough way to connect with individuals beyond the actual agenda. Probably because of that the meetings are shorter. We do miss so much of the aspect of building rapport and catching up with each other.”

Zoom meetings have meant that Boelcke is saving time not driving around town to other meetings, setting up her own boardroom, making sure the coffee’s on and cleaning up afterwards. And shorter meetings free up time for more meetings.

She’s also been able to have Zoom meetings with colleagues around the province and country that she would never have done before.

“I got the chance to be on three different Zoom calls in the last two weeks with Premier Horgan,” Boelcke said. “That would have been unheard of before. I really feel that it’s leveling the playing field a little bit for those of us who live outside Greater Vancouver or Victoria.”

Having virtual meetings with provincial colleages may become a regular practice in the future, but that comes with a cost.

“The people I’m on Zoom calls with right now, I have relationships with because we moved to doing Zoom calls,” Boelcke said. “So, what’s intriguing to me is that, when you’re new to an office environment or new to an organization and you’re developing relationships through Zoom calls, then that must be an entirely different dynamic.”

Michelle Novakowski, executive director of the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, had a different take on connecting with others. Normally E Fry executive directors meet twice a year in Ottawa but now they’re holding weekly Zoom meetings.

“I’m getting to know everybody better and know what they do,” she said.

On the local front, many of the society’s clients have welcomed counselling sessions over Zoom, once they got used to it.

“We’re finding a lot of clients saying this means I don’t have to organize daycare, I don’t have to get on the bus to get down to you,” Novakowski said. “Particularly for the counsellors, it seems to be increasing accessibility, so that’s a good thing.”

In terms of keeping track of their workers, there’s more of a concern that they’re working too much from home rather than too little.

“We know what staff is doing and, I’m amazed, we’re actually trying to get people to shut down their computers at 4:30,” Boelcke said. “They say, ‘now that I’m at home, I still see the work that needs to be done and I’m here anyway.’ No. No. No. That’s not how this works. You only have to put in the hours that you’re paid for.”

For Novakowski there has been the increased concern for the well being of her staff working from home.

“A big part of our work is supporting each other and having a strong team and popping into someone’s office to debrief how you’re doing or consult on a case – of course, without names or anything, it’s done confidentially – but it’s part of the day,” she said. “So my first worries were that staff was stressed. Some of them have people in their lives that are really vulnerable so they have that fear and worry.

“Then they’re working with trauma survivors who are in fear and worry, not just with the violence but with what’s going on in the world and my staff were all working in separate locations. So, we spent a lot of time the first few weeks – and I continue to do that – myself doing one-on-one calls, having the full team meet each week, having the whole program team meet regularly and just trying to monitor that and being open to somebody saying ‘I need a day off’ and giving them that extra time they need to keep them healthy.”

READ MORE: Sexual assault and drug overdoses: two hidden costs of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Central Okanagan

A combination of COVID-19 restrictions easing and just getting used to using the technology means they are all feeling less of what’s being dubbed 'Zoom fatigue.' But they’re also keen on keeping it as part of their work lives.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” Novakowski said. “We will continue to use it, I’m sure, after this.”

Just not as much.

“I would way prefer to be face to face,” Entwistle said. “With Zoom you can efficiently do the business but there are a lot of other parts of our work life and the social connection that help us to move things forward that have been lost as a result of that efficiency.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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