Looking to stay in touch

Technology is making it a little bit easier for us to navigate the stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines and limits on the size of gatherings that we have been learning to live with as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having an easy and reliable way to get in touch with co-workers and colleagues has meant that some business can still be done and, since a greater number of employees have been able to shift much of their work to their homes, it has helped to provide a safer work environment. In addition to helping with productivity, it’s easier to stay in touch with friends, family members and neighbors.

You’re likely familiar with one or many of the different applications that are out there. Whether it’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype or something else you have discovered, the cloud-based platforms that offer video conferencing services have certainly changed the way we can get together.

All you need is a tablet, smartphone, laptop, desktop, smart TV or just about any other device that can be connected to the Internet, through cable or Wi-Fi, and you’re able to conduct a virtual business meeting with multiple participants, catch up with friends or even do an interview for a news story.

Count service clubs as being among the organizations that have been turning to the technology to allow members to attend virtual meetings and to conduct the week-to-week business they handle on a regular basis.

“I think our online meetings have worked out a lot better than we expected,” said Mike Mehalik, president of the Rotary Club of Steubenville.

“Obviously, it can be a challenge, especially for those of us who are challenged by technology. But by and large, it has worked without too much trouble.”

Like most organizations, the club has not met in a regular setting since the middle of March when stay-at-home orders went into effect. Since then, the organization has held a couple of board meetings and a regular meeting by Zoom.

“It has affected the number of people we have had at meetings because some members are afraid of getting on, but it lets us continue club business,” Mehalik added.

With all of the restrictions on travel and gatherings in place, apps such as Zoom are increasing in popularity. In fact, first-time installations of Zoom’s mobile app have increased by 728 percent since March 2, according to the market intelligence firm SensorTower. Teams, meanwhile, now has more than 44 million daily active users, a considerable increase from the 20 million it had in November, according to Microsoft.

For those members who choose not to participate in a virtual meeting, Mehalik said there are options to stay in contact, including e-mails, texts and a weekly newsletter.

The Steubenville Kiwanis and Weirton Heights Rotary clubs, meanwhile, have not yet turned to technology beyond e-mails, texts and phone calls.

“We’re not doing anything with virtual meetings right now,” explained Janna Rusinovich-Sims, president of the Kiwanis Club.

The club, she explained, has seen its annual trivia night event, one of its big fundraisers, postponed, as well as a regional Kiwanis meeting. She added that with no one knowing for sure when the next in-person meeting can be scheduled, she liked the idea of doing a virtual or online meeting.

Joyia Lytle, president of the Weirton Heights Rotary, said her club also has not tried to do any business in a virtual or online setting, but board members had been staying in touch by other methods.

“Right before this all started we had planned a business planning session,” Lytle said.

“As soon as we can meet as a group outside, we are planning to do that,” she explained, adding that she can’t wait until face-to-face meetings can resume and she can meet with the club members.

Service club meetings tend to follow a familiar formula. Members gather for either breakfast, lunch or dinner, conduct a little business and then welcome a guest speaker. Members of the Pittsburgh Rotary Club have found that while they can’t enjoy the camaraderie that goes along with having lunch as part of their virtual meeting, they do have a chance to hear a guest speaker.

“We’ve been doing the virtual meetings since the first week and have had tremendous success with them,” said Jim Emmerling, president-elect of the Pittsburgh club. “The meetings have been very well received. We’ve had the speakers, and it has been phenomenal.”

Emmerling, who was a longtime member of the Steubenville club and served as president in the 2012-13 club year, said the lineup of speakers has included Roberto Clemente Jr.

“We’ve done quite well with it,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity when you can’t get to the meeting. There are still people out there who won’t go out. I understand that, and I don’t want to lose them as members.”

Current plans are for the club’s weekly luncheon meetings at the Omni William Penn Hotel to resume in the middle of June, Emmerling said. He added that the technology is being embraced by club members of all ages.

“Personally, I miss the face-to-face contact and would much prefer for the meetings to be in person,” he said.

“Our older members are the ones who like the virtual meetings the best. They are the ones in the vulnerable age group.”

Mehalik said the technology being used now should open doors for the future.

“I think it will have a positive impact moving forward,” he said. “It offers a great option to call a quick meeting or even have a committee meeting. It also makes some of us old-timers learn to use new technology.”

No matter where technology leads the clubs, Rusinovich-Sims, Lytle, Mehalik and Emmerling said it won’t take the place of physically gathering to enjoy a meal and a little conversation.

‘It just doesn’t make up for the face-to-face interaction,” Emmerling said.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He is vice president of the Rotary Club of Steubenville.)


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