Getting the Best from Zoom Groups

What we learnt about digital engagement during Covid
Written by Emerging Futures

What we learnt about digital engagement during Covid

‘On the Ground’ with Jo Rowan

In our latest ‘On the Ground’ feature, Norfolk Psychosocial Interventions Worker, Jo Rowan, talks about the pros and cons of delivering high quality behavioural change programmes digitally. Jo tells us how her team stepped up to the challenge of Zoom group work when Covid ended face-to-face delivery. The service has since moved to a blended approach to capture the best aspects of both approaches.


What happened when the pandemic struck?

I remember that week like it was yesterday! We wondered how on earth we were going to continue to provide bespoke support to clients at different stages of recovery when all we had ever known was face-to-face work. Only one thing was certain: we were passionate about providing the best possible service during those challenging times and knew we could make it work. Once the initial state of anxiety and fear had passed, we quickly adjusted and were up and running on Zoom within two weeks.

What were the challenges of facilitating a Zoom group?

Zoom and face-to-face group work require a very different set of skills and knowledge. At the outset, building group cohesion and synergy online was challenging and alien to both the facilitator and the clients. We had to learn how to build a rapport with people we had never met through little boxes on a screen. I am pleased to say with patience, practice, and resilience both clients and facilitators have now acclimatised and learnt to build that crucial group experience via a screen.

Security was also a challenge. As a facilitator it is hard to actively listen to clients whilst also ensuring they are in a confidential environment, adhering to group boundaries and that client information is secure. This is much more difficult to monitor online and needed more preparation to ensure new clients had the necessary equipment, a safe environment for participating and understood the group boundaries that keep everyone safe.

What are the advantages of Zoom?

Break-out rooms are great as are digital whiteboards which can be sent out to the group via email to reinforce learning. Some people also find digital groups less stressful than in-person sessions and so easier to engage with. We do also recognize that some clients struggle with technology and prefer to see us in person, so it is important clients can choose the option that makes them feel most empowered, confident and motivated.

Zoom is also really accessible and inclusive. With Norfolk being the fifth biggest county in England, we have a lot of rural clients who live in hard to access places with very little public transport. Our blended offer means that no client is unreachable!

What learning will you take forward?

Switching between face-to-face and digital work has improved our knowledge and facilitation skills and made us more adaptable and resilient. Not many positives came from Covid, but it has taught us that the blended offer is the way forward. We have ‘Emerged Stronger’ in the face of adversity and now offer a more robust and accessible service that reaches out to a wider client base.

Finally, what is the best part of your role?

The diversity of the people I meet daily and the connection it gives me to people in all stages of their recovery. Helping clients meet their challenges and identify the changes they want to make to align their lives with their values is a real privilege.