Tips for a Successful Virtual Family Reunion

December 10, 2020

Tips for a Successful Virtual Family Reunion

It seems like the only thing we can rely on in 2020 is that everything will be different than it has been in the past, and our holiday traditions are not likely to be an exception. Many families will be holding their holiday gatherings virtually this year. In some sense, there couldn’t be a better time for our family gatherings to go virtual, with widespread video conferencing technologies in place and high-bandwidth internet more common than it’s ever been.

Still, with difference comes the need for adaptation. With a little planning and foresight, you should be able to have a holiday gathering that, while distant, will allow you and your loved ones to feel connected this season. Here are a few ideas to help you along the way.

Establish Expectations

With everyone meeting online, it’s best to have firm plans for when the meeting will begin and end. Everyone will be able to plan better and feel less stressed if they know when they’re expected to be available and what type of activities might be going on. 

If you’re planning to eat together remotely, everyone will need their meal ready at the same time and will need a way to broadcast themselves and see you from their dining area. 

If you’re playing a game of Pictionary together (easy with Zoom’s whiteboard feature), the scene might be set differently. Some members of your family may have other family groups they need to meet with as well, so make it easy for everyone by establishing clear plans about when video conferences will occur.

You might wish to create a printable schedule of events so that family members can keep it posted on their fridge and be reminded of meeting times. Add a touch of flair with holiday clip art or festive backgrounds!

Test Technology In Advance

While some members of your family might be professionals with video conferencing technology, others might not have used it at all. Talk to everyone in advance and see how comfortable they are using Zoom, Google Meet or whatever platform you’ll be meeting on. If someone needs some assistance, maybe one of the “pros” in your network can show them the proverbial ropes.

You don’t want to fall behind schedule or have food getting cold while someone who is new to video conferencing has to be talked through the process, so make sure everyone knows how to sign on, and be seen and heard, in advance of the scheduled celebration.

Adapt and Maintain Traditions

Holiday gatherings are a time for us to come together and reaffirm each other in our ways and traditions. While it might seem tempting to put them on hold this year, try to think of ways they might be adapted for the moment. Do you normally watch a movie together? You might be able to watch while staying connected on the video conference. If you play board games, you can likely find an online version of one of your favorites.

Video conferences can become hectic when many people are connected audibly at once, so if your traditions involve verbal contributions from every family member, try collecting these in advance and designating one person to read them all.

Consider Everyone’s Needs

Video conferences can be difficult for those with autism, ADHD, or another speech or language disorder. Talk to these family members or their guardians in advance to see whether they’ll be available for some portion of the celebration, and try to plan something they’ll enjoy for the part they’ll be present for.

Remind everyone to participate on the largest screen they have available. Smartphones can be wobbly or need to be held, which can get tedious after a while. A laptop can be easily set on a surface so you can focus on each other instead of the devices you’re using.

Give Communications Gifts In Advance

If you’re planning to give a communication-oriented device as a gift to a loved one, send it in advance of the holidays and encourage them to open it early, so it can be used during your online celebrations! Some gift ideas include:

  • Webcam lighting kits, to brighten them up on their screens
  • TV adapters and amplification systems, so they can hear the TV audio directly in their hearing aids and adjust the volume independently
  • Phones and phone accessories, like Bluetooth-capable devices or amplified phones for when they’re not wearing their hearing aids
  • Hearing aid supplies like batteries or communication-oriented accessories

Most importantly, have a happy and joyous holiday to remember!