There are many ways to stay in touch. You can speak to people on the phone, or use text messages, emails, and voice notes. Assemble, our dedicated volunteering hub, also has a secure messaging centre that means you can keep in touch with other Parkinson’s UK volunteers.
But what about when you want to see people face to face, or need to collaborate with others? You can do this with several people at the same time using free technology, such as WhatsApp, Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom.
We don't provide, recommend or support any specific teleconferencing, group chat or video calling apps for volunteers. But, on this page we’ve rounded up some of the most popular video call, chat and teleconferencing services to help you decide which tool to use and when. And some things to consider to ensure everyone stays safe.
Video call or group chat?
You'll need to decide which way of staying connected is right for you. Different options will work for different scenarios.
Teleconferencing and video calling are ways of using a computer (with a webcam, a microphone and speakers), a smartphone, or tablet, to see and speak to each other in real time, without having to be in the same location.
Video calls are a simple way to have a conversation with one or a group of people. You could think of it as having a phone conversation with the added benefit of being able to see who you're speaking to. You can simulate a face to face meeting, see the group that you're presenting to, and share documents like presentations with them in real time. The Oxford branch of Parkinson's UK have done this with their monthly meetings, for example.
A group chat is a way of sending short written messages to lots of people at the same time. Anyone who's part of the group chat can read any of the messages sent to the group. All group members can reply to these messages and see all replies.
A group chat can be useful to share information with lots of people at once, you want to give a group of people the opportunity to talk openly in a group and interact with each other, or when you want to reach a consensus between a group of people. You could use a group chat to plan your next meeting, for example.
Things to consider
Whether it's a group chat or online meeting, there are some important considerations to stay connected safely
- By creating an account for any video call or chat service, you are signing up to their terms and conditions. Only create an account if you're comfortable with the terms.
- Review the privacy settings of your chosen tool. You may have seen in the news that video calling apps have become a target for hackers. Companies like Zoom have responded to fix issues as they are identified. And many popular services, including Zoom, have step by step guides to securing the meeting against unauthorised access. As a precaution, only share links or passwords to the video call with invitees. Do not, for example, publicly share these details on social media. And, if you wouldn't normally record your meetings there is no need to now that they're taking place online.
- Only invite people who've given you permission to do so, for example by directly sharing their contact information with you. If you're in a local group, your membership list might be a good place to start to seek permission from people to be added to a video call or group chat
- Make it clear to those you invite that they can choose whether they join the group chat/online meeting or not. And that they're free to leave at any time. If someone lets you know that they want to stop receiving invites or communications from you, please respect their wishes and act accordingly
- When holding meetings or communication online, we need to stay in line with Data Protection. Guidance on your responsibilities when recording and using personal data can be found in the Volunteer Data Protection training.
- It can be helpful to set some ‘ground rules’ for group chats and online meetings, outlining how you expect anyone joining to conduct themselves. Setting this from the outset will help to manage expectations of how the group chat will be used and help you all get the maximum benefit. The Parkinson’s UK community Facebook group, for example, sets these expectations of anyone keen to join:
- Be kind and courteous - We're all in this together to create a welcoming place. And we’re all different, with different experiences to share. We treat everyone and their views with respect and kindness.
- No hate speech or bullying - Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn't allowed. We won’t tolerate degrading comments about things such as race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender or identity.
- No promotions or spam - Give more to this group than you take. Self-promotion, spam and irrelevant links aren't allowed.
- Respect everyone's privacy - We trust each other. Discussions are great. Be aware that people may share sensitive and private topics. What's shared in the group should stay in the group.
- Some video and teleconferencing tools provide paid for services. If you decide to take out a paid account, this will be charged to you every month until you cancel. The free versions of many tools will often meet your needs. We don't suggest signing up to a subscription package, unless it gives you added value.
Which tools are out there?
WhatsApp is available on smartphones, tablets, and through your computer (provided you have already set up an account using a smartphone). You need to download the app (from the App Store on your smartphone or tablet) and set up an account, which is linked to your mobile phone number. If you do not have a smartphone with the WhatsApp app installed on it, you will not be able to use WhatsApp until you download the app.
This video shows you how to set up a group chat for the first time.
WhatsApp can also be used for video calling and can host group video calls of up to 16 people, which this video explains. If you have set up a group chat with the people you want to stay in contact with in WhatsApp, you can initiate a video call from that group. You can select some or all of the group chat participants to take part in the video call.
Things to consider:
- All WhatsApp chats and video calls are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means that it is virtually impossible for any outside actors to access your calls or chats.
- Each group member (in chats or calls) will need to tailor their privacy settings to ensure they are comfortable with what other users can see.
- As well as writing messages to each other, you can use WhatsApp group chats to share audio clips, links, pictures and videos. Be aware that more complex items such as images and videos use up more data to send and receive, so use these sparingly.
- You will only be able to add people that already have WhatsApp accounts to a group chat. If the majority of people you need to stay in contact with do not appear when you are selecting people to add to the group, this might not be the best option.
- When you add someone to a WhatsApp group, their telephone number is visible to everyone in the group, whether they have shared their contact details with them or not. Always check that the person you want to add to a group chat is happy for you to share their telephone number with the other members of the group before you add them.
- Alternatively, you can invite someone to a group by sending them a link. You can see how to do that here. Inviting people with a link means people will need to accept the invitation before they are able to access the group.
- Large groups can often generate hundreds of messages. Be selective about what you share - make sure it is appropriate for the whole group. If you need to have a one to one conversation, or liaise with a few members of the group on a particular subject, consider setting up a separate group chat for this.
- If people inform you they'd like to leave the chat, they can do this by tapping on the group name and scrolling down to “Exit Group”. You'll be notified if anyone leaves the group chat, and if this happens you will need to contact them directly with any important information.
- If you feel that anyone is misusing the group chat, as an “admin” (creator of the group) you can remove them by tapping on the group name, tapping on the name of the individual, and selecting “Remove <name>”.
- Video calls work in the same way as telephone calls, so this tool is best suited to speaking face to face with one or a few people informally. WhatsApp doesn't have some of the features of other video calling services such as presenting documents, or allowing participants to type text messages as well as participating with their voice.
If you need any help with other aspects of WhatsApp, they have their own guide.
Facebook messenger is built into Facebook, so if you already have a Facebook account, you can access messenger by clicking the icon on your home screen or in the app. To set up a new Facebook account, people will need to provide their name, date of birth, gender, email address, and they’ll need to create a password. In addition to being able to access Facebook Messenger on your computer through the web, you can also use it through an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Things to consider:
- Lots of people, including those who may not be very confident in using technology, do use Facebook and already have an account. Using Facebook Messenger can mean that the people you want in your group chat will have less to set up, but you will need to be ‘friends’ on Facebook with the people you are looking to speak with
- Conversations and calls in Facebook Messenger are not encrypted. As well as making the content of your conversations a potential (if not unlikely!) target for hackers, Facebook will use this information to target ads and services to you. If you are not comfortable with this, consider an alternative platform
- Video calls work in the same way as telephone calls, so this tool is best suited to speaking face to face with one or a few people informally
- You can’t schedule a Facebook Messenger call - eg sending a link ahead of time
- As well as writing messages to each other, you can use Facebook Messenger group chats to share audio clips, links, pictures and videos. Be aware that more complex items such as images and videos use up more data to send and receive, so use these sparingly
- People can choose to leave Facebook group chats. They can do this by selecting “Ignore Messages” under “Privacy and Support”. You will not be notified if anyone leaves the group chat, so it is difficult to tell if people have left
If you feel that anyone is misusing the group chat, as an “admin” (creator of the group) you can remove them by tapping on the name of the individual within the chat, and selecting “Remove from Group.
iMessage is a messaging tool that is built into all Apple products. If you and everyone in the group chat that you want to set up has an iPhone or an iPad, you can use iMessage for your group chat. Group members will need to confirm their Apple ID in order to set up an account.
However, iMessage does not work across platforms (it is not available on devices running Android). If this is the case, the messages you send will appear to those people as text messages.
Find out how to set up a group chat on iMessage.
Things to consider:
- If you add people to an iMessage group that do not use Apple devices, the messages will either be sent by SMS (text) or MMS (multimedia content). Be aware that if this is the case, it may cost group members money (dependent on their mobile contract) to send or receive these messages.
If you need help with any other aspects of iMessage, Apple have a guide.
FaceTime is a video calling app also built into all Apple products. If you and everyone you want to take part in the video call has an iPhone or an iPad, you can use FaceTime for your video call. Call recipients will need to confirm their Apple ID in order to set up an account.
Find out how to set up a group video call on FaceTime.
Things to consider:
- FaceTime does not work across platforms (it is not available on devices running Android). There will be no way for anyone not using an iPhone, iPad or Apple computer (Mac) to join a FaceTime call, so choosing this option is likely to exclude some people.
- You can add up to 32 participants to a FaceTime call.
- Each participant appears in a tile on the screen. When a participant speaks, or you tap the tile, that tile moves to the front and becomes more prominent.
- If you have set up a group chat with the people you want to stay in contact with in iMessage, you can initiate a video call from that group. You can select some or all of the group chat participants to take part in the video call.
- FaceTime video calls are end-to-end encrypted, which means that they are very secure.
Skype has been around for almost 20 years, so many people may have already used it. You can find a guide to setting up a Skype teleconference here.
Things to consider:
- You can include up to 50 participants in a Skype meeting.
- All Skype-to-Skype voice, video, file transfers and instant messages are encrypted. This protects you from potential eavesdropping by malicious users.
- You can download the Skype app for your computer, smartphone or tablet, no matter what platform your participants are using.
- Skype allows you to send text messages while participating in a meeting, and to share their screen.
- Participants can join Skype calls without an app (through their web browser) and without a Skype account. However, functionality in both instances will be slightly limited, so it is best for the meeting organiser to have an account and have downloaded the software.
- You cannot dial into a Skype video meeting using just a telephone. All participants will need to have a computer to join.
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