It feels like social distancing has been part of our lives forever, yet we still have a way to go to South Africa’s Level one. So, being home-bound is the new normal, and a reality that we will have to get used to.

But never fear, technology is making virtual socialising and remote working much easier for many South Africans. Whether it’s watching a movie, doing a quiz or working long hours, technology has apps to assist you along the way. 

Here are a few virtual mingling and working apps to consider. 

It feels like social distancing has been part of our lives forever, yet we still have a way to go to South Africa’s Level one. So, being home-bound is the new normal, and a reality that we will have to get used to.

WhatsApp is by far the most popular digital application in the country, used by almost everyone with a mobile device. The Department of Health was quick in creating a WhatsApp helpline which served over 15 million messages, available in five languages, to 1.5 million citizens within just one week. You can use the WhatsApp features, like groups, voice, and video calls to stay connected and provide support to loved ones even though you might not be able to be in the same place. If you’re new to WhatsApp or just need a refresher, here is a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

The most popular app in the world that offers the simplest path to videoconferencing in this pandemic era is Zoom. Until recently, Zoom Meeting was mostly for business use but has seen a rise in downloads for social calls. Its huge 100-person limit is probably the drawcard for most big families. However, its free tier has one immediate drawback – only the first 40 minutes of chit-chat are free with calls of three or more people, but you can always create a new meeting once the time is up. There is an unlimited timeframe for calls with just two participants. It also has cool features like recording, virtual backgrounds and appearance touch-ups. Connect anywhere, with any device and in any location to speak to those, anywhere!

Skype for Business has been the go-to app for business since October 2007. This is a proper business productivity tool to make collaboration smooth, efficient and quick. It can conduct meetings on-the-go, and its features make it suitable for businesses of all sizes. It is mac and android operated and can accommodate a meeting for up to 250 people. Let the mergers and business ideas commence.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Microsoft Teams has surged worldwide with an average of 32 million daily active users to 44 million users daily. Microsoft Teams is a business communication and collaboration platform that helps businesses to stay connected to their teams virtually. It is a business functionality system with voice to video calls, chat messaging between groups of people and custom backgrounds. Guest access lets you add individual users from outside your organisation to your teams and channels in Microsoft Teams.

You are most likely familiar with Google products. The tech giant’s search engine handles over 5 billion users a day. Products include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Hangout. Just like Zoom, Google Hangout is an instant-messaging and video-call system, used for connecting businesses and individuals. It is very well optimised for use in a Google ecosystem. Cross-platform collaboration is great using Google products and it has a very stable video and voice feed. So, collaborate with this management software or enjoy the interaction with family afar. 

Not everyone feels comfortable using messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, especially if you already have a lot of groups calling for your attention. Slack not only allows you to communicate with multiple people but organise your conversations by topics and/or projects. You can also integrate the tools and services you already use (including Google Drive, Salesforce, Dropbox, Asana, Twitter, Zendesk) into your workflow. Slack is where the work happens.

House Party is such a fun (and free) app. Previously popular mainly with teens, the app has built new features meant to encourage interaction from a wider community. It has seen its average weekly downloads soar to more than two million. It allows up to eight users to video chat “in the house” and you can “lock the house down” if you don’t want any gate-crashers or unwelcomed visitors while your party is in session. It is recommended to tweak your privacy settings to avoid any random unknown guests making an appearance. The app also allows you to sneak in at any time, wave to or even ghost your friends (but especially in today’s reality that seems like a feature that should not be on the app at all). You can also send private messages to friends individually – called ‘passing a note’ – but if you want to have a side conversation, you obviously have a million other ways to do that. The app also offers games like charades, heads up, trivia, quick draw guessing games and quizzes. The games are nicely integrated with the video chatting, meaning you’re still on camera with all your friends in the background while you’re playing. So, make a date and enjoy a no-mess house party!   

Another way for friends and family to share in the newfound luxury of connection is the brief escapism that Netflix Party offers. This app allows users to link up from home for movie nights and binge-series parties. This is assuming you have Netflix and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? It is a simple-to-use extension, not affiliated with Netflix, that lets you watch TV and movies from Netflix with your friends, at the same time. You can also catch up on what’s happening in your lives in the handy chatroom that is an added sidebar, or critique the movie together or request a pause for a comfort break (like you normally would). It’s free and works as a Google Chrome extension on laptops and desktops. The person controlling the party is streaming their Netflix account to the others in the group, so there is a tiny bit of a delay, but that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things since it's a chatroom and you are spending the time together.