Even under normal circumstances, member engagement can be tricky. Co-ops are always looking for effective ways to get members involved. But what about member engagement while social distancing?

At the moment, though, engaging a co-op’s membership is uniquely challenging. With measures in place to slow the spread of a pandemic, co-ops have to avoid in-person contact with their members – so even typical forms of engagement, like having a chat over a piece of cake at an Annual General Meeting, are out.

Luckily, there are lots of tools and strategies out there for staying in touch while not being physically present. Co-ops can use these solutions to reach their members and make sure they’re still getting what they need from their co-operative.

Here are four tips for engaging members while social distancing.

  1. Take Care of Members

Covid-19 has created economic uncertainty for many people. Unemployment has risen drastically, and it can be hard to make ends meet. Co-ops need to do their part to help protect and support their members.

Housing co-ops across Canada are stepping up. Besides postponing meetings and distributing information, many are also exploring ways to help cash-strapped residents – like deferring or forgiving payments until their income is stable again. Nationally, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada is working with governments to ensure housing co-ops can continue to support their members facing income instability.

Across western Canada, members of the Co-operative Retailing System are making shopping safer. Most stores have placed protective glass at cash registers, put up signs that encourage physical distancing, and have designated shopping hours for seniors. Stores also sanitize shopping cart handles and prohibit reusable bags to keep staff and members safer.

When members feel supported by their co-op, they are more likely to trust and engage in the organization now and in the future. Think about the kind of measures your co-op can take to engage while social distancing.

  1. Offer products and services online

Moving more processes online allows your co-op to better promote member engagement while social distancing.

The Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, for example, developed a virtual market to connect member-producers to their customers. Conexus Credit Union is encouraging members to use their online banking platforms and is using Skype to help facilitate meetings with financial advisors.

Explore your operations for online opportunities. In the short term, this will ensure the co-op helps keep people safe while continuing member service and creating some revenue.

Long term, these online adjustments may include more permanent online solutions and become a part of core operations going forward. So, while it these are terribly challenging times, some co-ops might find this as an opportunity to improve.

  1. Embrace new technology and platforms for engagement

Better engaging your membership may mean using technology not used before. That’s okay! Now is a great time to brush up on social media skills or get the co-op’s website and online services up to date. Take this opportunity to stay connected while keeping your distance.

Staying in touch with members is crucial for engagement – especially now – because you need to know what supports members need. You also need to communicate how they can access their co-op. So, build loyalty while keeping everyone safe. Introduce online platforms now or lean on the ones you have and improve them.

Also, consider hosting a Q&A on Facebook Live, introduce a chat function to your website, or develop an e-newsletter. Keeping people informed and creating opportunities to connect will go a long way in keeping people engaged when things pick up again.

And with AGM season already upon us, consider using Zoom to bring members together virtually. This method of engagement comes with its own challenges, but we’ve got some tips that will help meetings run smoothly.

  1. Ask Them!

This pandemic is affecting everyone differently, and the best way to understand how to support members is to ask them directly.

Platforms like Survey Monkey or Facebook make it easy to poll your membership to get their thoughts and opinions. Use these tools to ask members what they need and how they want to interact with the co-op. Simple outreach like this can provide you the information you need to put effective systems in place to build member engagement.

Staying Successful

The restrictions on social gatherings and limits on non-essential travel will be around for awhile. To be successful, businesses need an engagement strategy that works.

Putting new, more accessible engagement processes in place to support and communicate with members while social distancing will ensure the co-op can carry on business (somewhat as usual), while strengthening relationships and its overall health.

Letting members know how they can help shape their co-op’s response and being open to their suggestions will not only keep people safe – it will help you build stronger connections with your members. These kinds of relationships will continue even once things are back to normal, making your co-op even stronger.