Quarantine Connections: How Virtual Coffees Can "Brew" Renewed Connections
When stay-at-home orders went into place in Ohio, I immediately felt sadness as I had hoped to do more in-person qualitative work and workshops this year. After traveling for the past year and focusing on digital methodologies, I was excited to connect live with consumers and colleagues in-person again in 2020.
As a naturally curious researcher, I began to think through how I could stay connected with consumers and clients while still honoring the mandates to mitigate COVID-19. “I can still deeply connect with consumers and colleagues virtually… After all, that’s solely what I’ve been doing while traveling the world for the past year!” While my Plan A had to be tabled, I had a new, intriguing idea that began to emerge.
Enter Plan B... my idea to have 30 virtual coffees with 30 different people within the next 30 days.
Little did I know I would learn so much from this experience about how to creatively plan research occasions, how to stay in touch with colleagues digitally and how to keep the human spirit alive despite social distancing.
Here are the top five things I learned:
- People are enthusiastic to connect: I was blown away by how many people were eager to catch up. From former colleagues to college friends to mentees I had not caught up with in a while, it was such a joy to reconnect with people who have meant a lot to me over the years. Do not underestimate the fact that we are all looking for connection during this time. People will be enthusiastic to catch up with you!
- Innovative ideas can come through casual conversation: During one of my coffee chats, a client and I tossed around ideas for how to tackle an upcoming research objective. We were not talking through a specific brief. We have not even booked the work (yet). But, I do think we gained a deeper rapport with one another because we entered a deeper “circle of trust”’ Use this time to pursue depth with people. It is mutually appreciated!
- Using a calendar service: Sure, I had heard of calendar services like Calend.ly and you can book me. But it was not until my “30 for 30” quest that I used a calendar service. And, my oh my, it was the point guard to my playbook! I am now convinced that leveraging one of these services is an incredible way to broaden conversations with clients and potential clients in a way that is convenient for you and them.
- Digital rapport-building is a craft: Though I have spent the past year focused primarily on digital research, this experience reaffirmed my belief that engaging authentically online requires skill. Sure, there are lots of articles on “how to design your background and how to have proper lighting,” but truly connecting with audiences via screens takes practice. Spending time with people over virtual coffees can help you build this muscle if digital moderating is something you aspire to given our current working conditions.
- Everyone is learning something new these days: I was amazed that each conversation I had resulted in me taking a note or two to research further. I learned about a community garden in my neighborhood; I learned more about GDPR; and more! My point is, we all are exploring new topics these days and you can learn so much from others. Instead of getting straight to business, find out what your clients might be expanding into these days.
In the book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi states, “Wherever you are in life right now and whatever you know, is a result of the ideas, experiences and people you have interacted with in your life.”
My plan B ended up being a foray into renewed relationships, creative thinking, and potential future business. While we may be quarantined and craving in-person connection, I encourage you to consider a Virtual Coffee quest of your own. You will likely cherish each conversation and perhaps learn something new. Embrace Plan B. Something beautiful might be brewing inside Plan B.
Cynthia Harris is the founder of 8:28 Consulting, a boutique qualitative research and marketing strategy company focused on designing digital and in-person experiences to amplify the voice of consumers. Cynthia’s career spans market research and marketing experiences across many categories ranging from health and beauty to the food industry. She is passionate about advocating for consumers in creative ways. Cynthia has an MBA from the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University.