Keeping people engaged remotely


By the end of this unit you will have completed exercises exploring:

  • Staying connected - for a remote project communication strategy there are hundreds of different digital tools that you can use to facilitate your project and stay connected. Which of these will you use at the different stages of your project?
  • Digital comfort zone - reflect on how you could do some more focussed learning to help build your confidence with digital tools.

Building relationships

When you have explored who will be involved in the project, you can consider how you will work with people. Some aspects of working together will be the same as a project where you can be together, but some will be very different if you are running the project remotely.

When running any project it is essential to stay connected with your participants throughout. From the first moment of outreach when you meet a potential participant to the point at which the project is officially complete, there are many opportunities to create meaningful connections with people involved.

Contact often focuses around building a relationship with a participant in order to encourage them to come along to a face-to-face meeting. This would allow you to build a relationship with them more organically as you got to know each other from the physical meetings. When we are ‘working together apart’ there is even more emphasis on staying connected. Given we don’t have these natural moments of coming together in the same room, we need to make extra effort to make sure that people feel involved and included. The way that you do this will be specific to your group.


In order for a project to be meaningful for participants, it must be accessible. When you have identified who you would like to be in your group, have a think about what will make the project most accessible to them and provide them with the most reward. The following checklist from Evaluation Support Scotland (2017) outlines some practical lessons that can be used to improve engagement with them.

  • Find out in advance about the capacity of people to engage.
  • Build time to understand people’s readiness to engage before the start of the co-production project.
  • Ensure that the involvement of partners, particularly people with lived experience, benefits the person before benefitting the project.
  • Consider what is feasible to achieve with the ‘people assets’ and other resources available - focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
  • Be flexible in terms of timescales, resources, partner availability, and even the final destination of the work. This will help to clear blockages to genuine joint working.
  • Start conversations from what individuals and communities need.
  • Ask people how and to what degree they would like to be involved – involvement should feel comfortable and should make the most of people’s capabilities.
  • Create opportunities for people to work towards a shared aim, interest and passion.
  • Provide opportunities for reciprocity: giving and receiving builds trust and mutual respect, and helps build bridges.
  • Make use of community assets and resources already available.
  • Provide peer support opportunities for people. Reciprocity is an important motivator for volunteers. The most effective volunteers are trained and well supported.
  • Be prepared to have assumptions challenged. Bring out any uncertainties or questions into the open and explore any disconnect or ability to contribute. View these as opportunities to learn.
  • Take time and make the best use of tools available to share experiences and build relationships and trust to form your community of learners and improvers; bring their assets out into the open.
  • Explore how any planned outputs from the project relate to improving person-centred care in the local area before investing resources.
  • Working in a co-produced way takes time and cannot be unduly rushed. Be flexible and have fun along the way.

Staying connected

When you first make contact with someone, find out how they prefer to communicate, and provide a variety of options. It may be that they are digitally literate and enjoy working online or they may prefer to work over the phone, or even through the post. Depending on the needs of your participant you can begin to design your communication strategy.

For a remote project communication strategy there are hundreds of different digital tools that you can use to facilitate your project and stay connected. Day-to-day social media that many people use include Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and email, and specific project management tools such as Slack and Zoom. Each of these have their own benefits and we have provided a short summary of some of the most common and useful resources below.

My project ‘Reclaiming Our Heritage’ works with a group of volunteers from across Scotland. Some in more urban areas, others in more rural and remote places. It’s really important for us to stay connected using digital technology and tools otherwise the project wouldn’t have worked. I have found video calling apps like Zoom to be really useful. Emails are a great way to keep engaged, things like a weekly newsletter or monthly Zoom catch ups. This helps the volunteers still feel like part of the project despite not being able to physically be together in the same room. We took tools for granted before - I would have travelled previously but actually the Zoom sessions ended up being easier and more inclusive. It was difficult for people who were really far apart in the rural Highlands to make it to the sessions
Eilidh Hollow, Project Development Officer ‑ Reclaiming Our Heritage, The Mental Health Foundation

If you are new to these technologies they can be a little overwhelming at first, but persevere and watch many of the helpful tutorials online, and you will soon get your head around them.

Digital Tools

Digital Tool Why would you use it?
Facebook Facebook can be a very useful tool for online engagement and many people already have an account and are familiar with the set-up.You can create a page to support your project and a private group in which members can share their progress and information working on things together. It is easy to share photographs and multimedia via Facebook. You can also look for participants for groups that are focused on the issues you are exploring. Be aware of the challenges that Facebook poses in terms of privacy. Also, be aware that some practitioners cannot access Facebook from their work computers. Helpful tutorials about using Facebook.
WhatsApp WhatsApp is effective for sending out quick notifications to people that will go straight to their phones. You can create a group that anyone can post to, or one where only the admin can post. The latter is more suited to sharing quick news bulletins or reminders of Zoom meetings etc.
Email lists, mailchimp Email is still a very effective way of communicating. It is perfect for sharing documents and having conversations about project work. Be aware that some people have very different email habits. It can be overwhelming for people who do not use their email often, if everyone is replying within minutes. You can set boundaries about what is expected of participants in terms of engagement with emails. Consider using a service such as Mailchimp to support you to produce regular newsletters, surveys and other multimedia.
Zoom Zoom is a useful tool for meetings and presentations, enabling you to make video calls and host virtual meetings and group work. It offers real-time chat screen sharing and breakout rooms. There is more information about facilitating online group sessions on Zoom in the knowledge and assets unit. A paid plan is advised as the free plan limits call time and number of participants. A helpful introduction to using Zoom.
Microsoft Teams Microsoft Teams offers unlimited chat, video calling, file sharing, storage, and more - for as long as you want. It also has file storage, and your group can work on documents simultaneously.
Slack Slack is a remote working tool and project management platform. It helps teams communicate across projects and enables people to share ideas and comments in real time, and so is very useful for asking and getting answers quickly. It works quite similarly to a forum and also includes a phone app which is helpful.
Google Drive Google Drive, a Google suite app, is a great way for groups to work together. It allows you to easily share and collaborate on documents – you can work on documents simultaneously together. All files, including documents and photos are stored in the Cloud.

Staying safe

When you are developing your communications strategy, It is important to consider GDPR regulations. This ensures that you are keeping participants informed about how you will use their data, and how you will keep it safe. If it is also important to consider the challenges that communications can pose in terms of boundaries. Some things to consider:

  • Will participants have access to each other’s contact details? Is there a way for it to be avoided or limited?
  • Have you found a way to ensure that you do not have to provide your personal contact details to participants? Do you have an organisational social media presence and a work phone?
  • Have you worked with participants to set some ground rules in terms of online participation?
  • Do you have support from your organisation and a plan for what to do if conflict arises?
  • Do you have a plan about how you will manage if participants use the group communication to share personal information that may trigger a safeguarding procedure?
  • Have you considered how to create a safe online space for participants? For example, try to use the most secure Zoom settings to avoid distressing ‘Zoom bombing’.
  • Have you communicated to participants that the communication (whether a Facebook group, WhatsApp group etc) will be time-limited to the project.

Practical exercises

  • Staying connected - For a remote project communication strategy there are hundreds of digital tools that you can use to facilitate your project and stay connected. Which of these will you use at each stage of your project? Remember to include more traditional communications, such as phone calls and letters, if they are applicable.
  • Digital comfort zone - Think about the digital technologies you use. Write them into your comfort zone areas.

Read, listen, watch

  • Digital inclusion, exclusion and participation - Iriss ESSS Outline
  • The internet and digital technology is very much at the heart of how public, economic and social life functions. It has transformed how we work, communicate, consume, learn, entertain and access information and public services. And while it’s become integral to all aspects of life, the spread of access and use is uneven and many people remain digitally excluded (OIS, 2013; Selwyn 2004).
  • Those who are excluded can be limited or unable to participate fully in society. The social and economic gap between those who are connected and those who are not, continues to widen. (ONS, 2019; The Wales Co-operative Centre with Carnegie UK Trust, 2018).
  • How much and how often you use the internet can offer an insight into who could be considered digitally excluded, providing a way to assess how the internet and digital skills impacts on people’s lives (Good Things Foundation, 2017).
  • Fife Voluntary Action (FVA) is delighted to have worked in close partnership with Square Peg HR to develop and make available a GDPR Toolkit, which will help organisations on their journey to compliance with the new General Data Protection Regulation.

Iriss is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland: No 313740. Scottish Charity No: SC037882. Registered Office: Brunswick House, 51 Wilson Street, Glasgow, G1 1UZ.