Coronavirus isolation has got everyone feeling anxious and looking for ways to bring a bit of normalcy to everyday life. And for most of us, normalcy means human connection. While we can’t necessarily do that in person, we can make it happen virtually. Here, then, are some easy ways to set up a virtual happy hour, playdate, prayer group or any gathering in a few simple steps. They’re free as long as you have wifi or a paid phone plan.
While there are a bunch of chat apps, these are the easiest options for the general public. If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll need to have a camera and/or microphone installed. Otherwise, your phone or tablet will work.
This is only available to people who are your friends on Facebook, but each person can invite someone into the chat. It can be set up on your desktop using Facebook, or on your mobile device with the Facebook Messenger app.
- Go into Facebook Messenger and click the “write” icon on the top right.
- Select the people you want in the chat.
- You can send them a group text message, or on the top right just click the phone for an audio call, or the camera for a video chat.
iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
You’ll need iOS 12.1.4 or iPadOS on one of these devices: iPhone 6s or later, iPad Pro or later, iPad Air 2 or later, iPad mini 4 or later, iPad (5th generation) or later, or iPod touch (7th generation).
Earlier models can join via audio, but not video. Here are the instructions from the Apple website.
- Go to Settings > FaceTime, and make sure that FaceTime is on.
- Open FaceTime and tap the plus button in the top-right corner.
- Enter the name of your contacts, phone numbers, or emails.
- To start your FaceTime call, tap Audio or Video.
You can do the same thing if you have a group text chat set up. Just click the Facetime or Audio button at the top of the text chat and it will call everyone in the group.
There have been some changes at the house of Skype, but the good news is that Skype video calls (or “meetings) are free anywhere in the world. You can use Skype on a computer, or on a mobile phone or tablet with the app. If everyone is using Skype, the call is completely free.
- Log into your account or sign up.
- Download the app to your device for easiest access.
- Click the “Meet Now” button.
- Copy the link and send it to your friends, or add people directly from your contacts.
- Once you’re ready, click the “Start call” button.
The other people don’t need a Skype account to participate, they just need the link. This makes a virtual happy hour, family chat, or prayer group easy to execute if everyone is on different devices.
Android or iPhone — Google Duo
The beauty of this option is that you can make calls to Android or iPhone users, as long as everyone has the Duo app. If you’re on an Android, make sure you have the latest version of the Duo app (link below) and you’re running Android 7.0 or higher. Here are the instructions from Google.
- On your Android device, open the Duo app.
- Tap a name to call. You can choose multiple people to call.
- Choose Video call or Voice call.
A Word About Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts are a go-to option for most people, but they can be a little confusing. If you use it for work, you just set up a meeting, invite people, and there’s a link for them to click to join the video call on their phone or desktop.
However, if you’re trying to set up a Hangout from your personal Gmail account it’s a little different. In this case, groups are limited to ten people. Everyone participating also needs a Gmail account and/or to download the Hangouts app. While that might not be an issue with most people who use Gmail, if you’re dealing with older folks or less tech-savvy users, it can prove challenging.
For our money, it’s easier to choose one of the above options for your virtual happy hour.