Communication in the Age of COVID-19

May 12, 2020

During a crisis it’s important to increase communication.

During a crisis, increasing communication is key. As New Zealanders, we quickly got used to the daily Covid-19 briefings. They continue to follow a familiar format that allows key information to be repeated. The frequency of communication gives officials the opportunity to quickly clarify things that are unclear, introduce new information or change advice as required.

It’s not just the government that has increased communication. Kiwis in lockdown are also communicating more. From “all-company” video conferences each morning, to “zoom drinks” at the end of the week, and even “virtual house parties” at the weekend.

Retirement village residents are increasing communication as well. At Alpine View, the average number of video calls between residents each week has increased by 400% since people were asked to self-isolate. Social isolation hasn’t stopped people socialising, it’s just changed the way they do it.

At Alpine View, the average number of video calls between residents each week has increased by 400%.

For people living alone, “face-to-face” contact is particularly important. While lockdown restrictions are in place it isn’t possible to catch up over coffee in the café, or talk at morning yoga. Spritely has become the preferred means of communication for people that want to see their friends in the village and have a chat. Everyone has it, it’s always on and it doesn’t require computer skills.

Residents also crave regular updates from the village. This lockdown has caused no end of disruption at villages around the country and if managers can’t communicate efficiently, their residents can get anxious.

Communication isn’t quite as simple as a phone call either. Alpine View has more than 250 households spread over 14 hectares. Calling everyone by phone every day and speaking for just 3 minutes would take more than 12 hours. Printing flyers and dropping them in letter boxes could take even longer. Emailing, texting, and using smartphone apps or websites doesn’t consistently reach enough residents.

Thankfully, back in October 2019, Alpine View’s management took the decision to install a Spritely tablet in every house and apartment. From March 2020, when the threat of Covid-19 was clear, they increased their communication via Spritely’s “always on” digital noticeboard.

Noticeboard posts have increased 10 fold.

Noticeboard posts have increased 10 fold and now average around 5 per day. Noticeboard items include news, entertainment and educational content plus regular village updates that keep everyone informed and help to mitigate disruption and uncertainty.

When Spritely asked residents to rate Alpine View’s communication during the Covid-19 crisis, 98.4% of respondents awarded 5 out of 5 stars.

Like many villages, Alpine View suspended activities when it became clear there was a risk of community transmission. As a result, residents can no longer attend activities and a vital source of regular interaction has been lost.

Alpine View didn’t end activities though, they just reimagined them. If residents couldn’t come to activities in the village, then the village would bring activities to them. Video content, which is easily delivered over Spritely, was used to create an entire series of activities to keep people active and entertained in their own homes. Activities staff have been busy recording classes and Spritely has made it possible for everyone to watch and participate at home when it suits them.

There has been a 500% increase in communication of health data.

This crisis has a very serious health element, which is particularly concerning for older people. Since people entered self-isolation we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of residents communicating health data to the village. Residents are using Spritely to record temperature, blood pressure and heart rate with greater frequency. Where necessary they’re also recording symptoms via our digital symptom tracker.

Overall, there has been a 500% increase in communication of health data. This data is constantly reviewed by a nurse and if there is cause for concern the resident receives a call. Residents can also video call the Telenurse from their own house at any time for a virtual consultation. Alpine View and Burlington villages in Christchurch are the only retirement villages in New Zealand collecting and monitoring data like this.

The village also uses Spritely to conduct wellness surveys. Residents are asked to rate how they are feeling and there is a space for them to add comments. People who rate poorly are contacted personally and they are sent more regular wellness surveys to follow up.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for retirement villages to invest in this kind of technology so they can support a better range of communication. This is going to be essential as we emerge from the crisis and villages are asked what they have put in place to manage a situation like this in the future. Technology can and should play a key role ensuring operators are well prepared to manage another mass isolation event.

At an absolute minimum residents should have access to

  • An “always on” digital noticeboard
  • Video calling from resident to resident
  • Remote health data monitoring
  • Telenurse

Operators who embrace age friendly technology will also benefit from a significant increase in operational efficiency and if other operators are slow to move, a prolonged period of competitive advantage.