Zooming in

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Technology is helping to make sure that recovery workers and clients stay connected. While it can never take the place of face-to-face working we should retain the best parts of the ‘Zoom boom’, says Charlotte Hadaway

The lockdown has changed my working day. As an outreach worker in Devon I can travel up to 60 miles a day to see my clients. We’re a very rural county, so I work from a number of Together/EDP hubs as well as GP surgeries and community locations.

Before lockdown, technology enabled me to do simple things like keep an online diary so everyone knew where I was and who I was seeing, or write up my notes on the hoof using Wi-Fi and phone tethering. When lockdown hit, all this changed. We had to adapt quickly to be able to offer a safe and secure service, and I have to say Together/EDP have been brilliant at supporting us during the changes. We have daily virtual meetings with managers and team members, we’re kept really well informed of developments and what we need to do to keep everyone safe, and we’ve been encouraged to use virtual groups utilising Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom and other technologies. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve adapted well and changed the way we work – we continuously share the experience, reflect on what’s working, and keep each other going.

When we started setting up Zoom meetings we didn’t know how tech savvy people were, but I was really surprised that clients jumped at the chance of joining an online group. They really wanted to see each other and know how they were getting on in their recovery. It’s never quite the same as being in the same room, but it’s a great alternative. I don’t think you can beat human contact because you see people’s expressions, you see their movements, you can look into people’s eyes and you can see behaviours better up close. You can still see that on Zoom, but it’s not as powerful as face-to-face.

We are very clear about our meeting rules with Zoom, especially around respecting each other and confidentiality. I find that when people do share their feelings, others still connect well with them – they are very respectful, they are listening to that person and that person feels held by everybody in the virtual group. The online meetings have kept clients in contact with each other. It’s often just talking about the little things that makes people feel they’re part of something. Just knowing they’re being heard is really important.

Charlotte Hadaway EDP
Charlotte Hadaway is an outreach recovery worker at Together, part of EDP Drug & Alcohol Services (EDP is a subsidiary of the Humankind charity).

What will happen beyond lockdown is hard to tell, but I would like to offer an evening virtual meeting going forward. It will be easier for some clients who experience high anxiety or who are trying to work full-time and manage their recovery. I know that just getting to an appointment can be quite stressful for some people, so these digital solutions are a great way for people to have more choice in treatment. I’ve also learnt that it is important to be patient while clients are setting up Zoom accounts, as tech can be daunting for those not used to it.

It’s fair to say that most agree there is a new place for virtual groups post lockdown. Of course, nothing beats face-to-face group work. The interaction between clients can mean everything, especially in early recovery. A hug, a conversation over a cup of tea, a chat in the break – it’s bonding, friendship and fellowship all rolled into one. But to meet online is the next best thing, and I’m looking forward to keeping the best bits as we move forward and offer more choice and variety to our clients.