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Virtual Collaboration
8 min

5 ideas for bringing people together in a socially distanced world

by Cathy Lynk, Kalev Peekna June 29, 2020

Although Summer always has a way of flying by, this Summer is happening in the middle of a time warp. Graduates are lining up 6 feet apart for drive-by ceremonies. Office buildings are reopening with elevator and conference room limitations. Streets are filled with peaceful protesters veiled by face masks.

During the next few months, public health guidelines and restrictions will continue to vary by location, and every day will probably look and feel a bit different. For those planning events, this degree of uncertainty is daunting at best. In an attempt to relieve some uneasiness, we’ve pulled together a few suggestions to make your virtual events stand out among a Zoom-fatigued audience.

For Those Eager to Hit Their Step Goal

Large-scale conferences often grant time for smaller pockets of individuals to connect – either for the first time or to reunite after a long time. Rather than hosting a post-event happy hour, why not arrange for breakout groups to “meet up” outside?

Chicago Street Art (Mural)
  • Share a dial-in only conference line to release attendees from their laptops.
  • Encourage attendees to get some fresh air and take a walk, weather permitting, during the “meet up” session.
  • Depending on the conference theme or topic, you can also provide specific guidance for where walks could lead. Offer a few general destination ideas: find a local sculpture, piece of outdoor art, patch of grass, shade under a tree or surface for bouncing a ball.
  • If you are interested in documenting event participation, you can request that attendees take a picture of their local destination. Then, as the host, you can collect the images and craft a post-event collage of all the outdoor settings, from across geographic regions, to share with attendees following the event.
  • During the session, moderate the small-group discussion, sharing summaries from earlier presentations or podcasts that the walk-and-talk is framed around and posing specific questions.
  • Send a follow-up email, reminding attendees of the names and faces on the call so they can continue to mingle offline.


For Those Who Miss Paint and Sips

Ship branded swag ahead of your event to greet and delight your participants and get them excited to join you virtually. Fresh notebooks and smooth pens are especially handy when colleagues are working from home and don’t have an office supply closet to turn to. Even better, consider hosting a hands-on workshop or activity to bring attendees together while learning something new. You can share pre-event supplies along with a branded note.

  • Create flower arrangements together with a local florist.
  • Invite a guest chef to lead your next team building session.
  • Send local coffee or tea along with a unique mug for a wake up gathering.
  • Enjoy wine tastings or cocktail kits in branded glassware to end the day.


For Those Who Love a Celebrity Sighting

As concerts and comedy shows were canceled earlier this year, celebrity cameos began to rise. Well-known drop-ins are keeping audiences captivated. From Mark Cuban sharing stories of resilience to Jerry Harris of Cheer offering personal birthday messages, we are seeing celebrity access become more prevalent. See if budget once reserved for a ballroom, stage and/or audio-visual technicians can be reallocated to securing a memorable and meaningful guest speaker. If scheduling does not allow for a live speaking slot, then the special guest can prerecord a video to be aired later as a kickoff to the live event.


For Larger Gatherings

If you are hosting a large-scale event, HubSpot suggests sending a “video kit” to presenters with a production-ready microphone and natural lighting to create an optimal viewing experience for participants. For an even more polished setting, you can reach out to a local sound stage or studio to record or broadcast your keynote speaker with professional equipment. Many video and event producers are lending a hand now and offering such services given the current environment.

If you have multiple speakers or panelists, consider prerecording their segments into succinct, pointed video clips, under 10 minutes each. The videos can then be promoted as independent vignettes or woven together with an emcee and breakout discussions for a “live” virtual event.

For conferences that typically draw in sponsorship interest and funding, the virtual stage can offer original and compelling avenues for organizations to reach target audiences.

  • Create a ‘Digital Sponsor Hall’ landing page where sponsors can collect leads in exchange for digital media giveaways.
  • Digital gift packages may include a temporary subscription to a virtual collaboration platform, such as Miro, a free code for a productivity app, like, or even a voucher for some downtime by covering 6-months of Hulu or an Audible membership.


For the Adventure Seekers

As you aim to redefine what “webinar” means to your customers, remember that there is no bar right now. No standard has been set. You have the opportunity to create a suite of new, ownable experiences. In this quest, we encourage you to keep an open mind and explore new platforms.

Spatial Screenshot
  • Twitch integrates a live chat feed into remote gatherings, keeping participants fully engaged and free from distractions. Check out the GDC Twitch channel to see how organizers of the 2020 Game Developers Conference (GDC) converted the annual multiday event into a collection of talks with plenty of two-way dialog.
  • Spatial uses AR/VR technology to bring people together into a 3D environment.
  • Discord creates spaces to build communities, share ideas and stay connected, through both live streams and asynchronous conversations.
  • Poll Everywhere allows hosts to gain instant input by posing a question and capturing real-time responses via text message. Response data is then promptly presented into customizable, branded charts, text feeds and word clouds.
  • Animal Crossing provides an escape from reality and a fun team building activity for the truly adventurous. The Nintendo life simulator game caught on quickly at the start of the lockdown and remains popular among both avid and novice gamers.


We expect events to look different for a long time. As you continue transforming in-person conferences and networking outings on your events calendar, position your team for the long-lasting benefits of virtual events. You can create memorable experiences that cast a wider reach, break down location-based barriers and bring people together by their interests – rather than their proximity to your office or a rented banquet room.

Though you are moving quickly, anchor your event strategy in a measurable goal, such as:

  • Increase awareness – for your brand, for new offerings
  • Generate new leads – to then qualify and nurture
  • Drive a surge in activity – in target accounts, or key service offerings
  • Retain customers – targeted by segment

From there, you will have more freedom to experiment and see what is working and where you might want to shift your approach for continued success.

Cathy Lynk
Manager, Digital Strategy

As Manager, Digital Strategy, Cathy partners with our clients to create and execute long-term, data-driven digital strategy programs. Her background in User Experience design drives her to stay close to the needs and behaviors of target audiences through user research and testing.

Favorite hobby: I love to run for fun. I try to run at least 3 miles in every city I visit.

Creative interests: I recently completed a full-stack design program where I had the opportunity to create functional prototypes for Chicago-based startups.

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.”

Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

Key Takeaways
  1. Rather than hosting a post-event happy hour, arrange for breakout groups to “meet up” virtually outside.
  2. Consider hosting a hands-on workshop or activity to bring attendees together while learning something new.
  3. See if budget once reserved for a ballroom, stage and/or audio-visual technicians can be reallocated to securing a memorable and meaningful guest speaker.
  4. Create an optimal viewing experience for participants by not skimping on the production of your virtual event.
  5. Explore new platforms to promote collaboration, conversation and real-time feedback.
  6. Be sure to anchor your event strategy in a measurable goal.