New data in a recent report from Dr. Joel W. Harder, founder and president of Oklahoma Capitol Culture, and Scott Klososky, founder and principal at Future Point of View, provide insights into the impacts of digital communication on interpersonal relationships, connectedness, and cooperation moving forward through COVID-19.
This report presented 7 key findings:
- Private business was better prepared to switch to digital communication than were governments and non-profits.
- People found strong levels of connectedness despite social distancing requirements.
- Access to quality internet is not true for everyone.
- People were less connected to social organizations, friends, and their faith community than they were to their work and family connections.
- People connected better through real-time interaction.
- Organizations adopted existing platforms and processes more than they invented new ones.
- Remote work has become a permanent way of life.
This research should be helpful to churches and non-profits as they seek to connect with their audiences in a season of continued restrictions and social distancing.
“The technology that helped many organizations survive the pandemic are becoming commonplace in all of our lives,” said Harder. “Through effective techniques when using the digital tools, pastors and church leaders have a wealth of resources to incorporate into existing ministries.”
One encouraging finding from this data was that digital communication was effective in allowing people to feel a sense of connectedness even with social distancing requirements in place. The study found that “when people were required to socially distance and switch to digital platforms, they found their contributions were valued as much as in person, were able to give and receive feedback to accomplish objectives, and reported they felt supported by colleagues.”
Although there are some unique challenges that come with social distancing, digital communication provides a way to connect with people in meaningful ways.
However, as many were forced to work from home and connect with others online, people tended to be more connected to their work and family than to social organizations, friends, and their faith community. For many, connection to social groups, friends, and faith communities were hindered or even completely blocked for at least a period of time during COVID-19.
A lot of different factors could play into this. After a full workday of virtual meetings and digital communication, some may have been too fatigued from this kind of communication to be motivated to connect virtually with friends or faith communities. Beyond this, it’s possible that connecting on a deep, personal level is more challenging when done through digital platforms.
“The data indicated people seemed to prioritize their work relationships,” Harder said. “Churches can play a vital role in helping people develop the social, emotional, and spiritual balance that faith communities uniquely provide.”
Even though connecting with faith communities has been challenging with social distancing guidelines in place, research also indicates that digital communication will continue to be an important factor to consider moving forward. In fact, this report said that “online participation with faith congregations may become the preference for some people over regular in-person attendance.”
In light of this, even as communities open up and begin to return to normal, non-profits and faith bodies need to be creative and intentional in communicating their message and connecting with stakeholders and members of the faith body through digital means rather than only by events or gatherings.
As organizations try to connect via digital communication, one thing to keep in mind (that was a significant finding in this report) is that people tend to connect better through real-time interaction.
Although asynchronous communication (including text message, email, or message boards) allows people to respond at times that are most convenient to them and to gather their thoughts or additional information in order to be able to respond in a more thoughtful manner, real-time interactions are reportedly more beneficial for the parties involved.
Whether through phone calls or videoconference, real-time interactions allow people to “speak more candidly at times, have conversations of a more personal nature, and pick up on verbal or non-verbal cues in the moment.”
Furthermore, specifically regarding faith communities, the research found that “where people reported their connection to faith community was greatly hindered or completely blocked, as real-time interaction increased, so did the connection to faith community.”
Even when continuing to engage digitally, the synchronous experiences were more successful in creating a sense of connectedness and promoting personal relationships.
Organizational leaders should continue to look for ways to improve the real-time interactions.
Find Dr. Harder’s companion resource, “Using Tech to Connect: A Guide to Digital Discipleship,” used to train ministry leaders and pastors here or connect directly with him here.