With many people needing to stay at home in the coming months, and isolated and vulnerable people likely to be unable to have visitors, this is a time where the virtual world will become a vital lifeline.
This page gives some suggestions for staying in touch when you can’t meet in person. It may also be useful for workers that are finding that they are working from home for the first time and need some help getting started.
This is often installed already on Windows computers and comes as standard with Windows 10. The Skype app is available for Android and Apple smartphones.
Skype works on any computer or laptop with a webcam (camera), and can also be used without a camera for audio calling only. Up to 50 people can be on a Skype call at once, but realistically for video we suggest up to 4-5 participants at a time so you can see them clearly.
If you have a Windows 10 computer with a Microsoft account you can start using Skype right away. Otherwise you need to sign up for Skype, and on older computers will need to download and install Skype.
You can find out more about Skype at www.skype.com/en
WhatsApp is an instant messaging service aimed at smartphone users. To get started, download the app from Google Play or the Apple app store, start it up and follow the simple instructions. You will need to know your mobile number and will receive a text to verify it. Once this is complete you are ready to go.
You can use WhatsApp with anyone that is in the contacts list on your phone that also has WhatsApp installed. WhatsApp also works on tablets but still needs to be linked to your mobile number.
WhatsApp can be used to send text and share content including pictures and videos. You can set up groups, for example for neighbours, family or friends that share your interests.
You may already use Facebook, but did you know that you can use it for video calls to any of your Facebook friends? On a smartphone you will need to install the Facebook Messenger app first, and this functions quite similarly to WhatsApp – but you can only talk to people that are on Facebook and currently logged in. On a computer look for the Messages icon at the top right or click on a friend’s name and select Message. As well as using text and sending pictures you can also click on the phone or video camera icons to make a call.
If you’re not on Facebook you can sign up on the web at facebook.com using an email address, and install the Facebook and Messenger apps on your smartphone or tablet. You will then need to find people you know and connect to them as ‘friends’.
This is similar in function to Skype. Everyone involved in a Hangouts session will need to have a Google account. Android smartphones usually have the Hangouts app already installed, and it is also available in the app store for iPhones and iPads. If you don’t have a Google account you can create one in a couple of minutes at accounts.google.com. This also gives access to Google mail, but if you already have email with another provider you can ignore this feature.
Hangouts can also be used on a computer. The easiest way to get started is to use the Chrome browser and download the Hangouts extension from https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-hangouts/knipolnnllmklapflnccelgolnpehhpl
For non-profit organisations
Originally mainly aimed at business users organising a videoconference or one-to-one video chat, Zoom has become very popular for social use too and has a reputation for being easy to use. The free version is limited to 40 minutes per session for 3 or more participants (no limit for two people), but this may be adequate for a call with family and friends or for small non-profit organisation or small business. To start a Zoom call you need to register on the Zoom website and create a new meeting. Zoom creates a unique link for the meeting, which you then send to all participants, generally using email or WhatsApp. If you have the free version and want to go beyond 40 minutes you can all just click the same link again to continue.
Details and how to get started at www.zoom.us
This is useful for webinars and larger conferences. The free version has quite limited features but is fine for small sessions. If you have an Office 365 subscription you can access all the features and hold larger webinars. There is a Teams app for smartphones and tablets as well.
Details at teams.microsoft.com/start