How do PCOR teams select tools for online engagement?​

Best practices for PCOR teams engaging online​

In the era of COVID-19, universal mask wearing, and government stay-at-home orders, PCOR teams need to act quickly to initiate virtual engagement. Because there are numerous platform options, teams need to vet platforms to eliminate the potentially lengthy trial and error phase. While not every platform will appeal to every team member, it is crucial to find platforms that meet the needs of the team to continue authentic engagement in the wake of the current pandemic and beyond. ​

The following content and recommendations are based on our own experiences engaging in PCOR online with the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) community, which operates almost entirely online because people with CF cannot be within 6 feet of others with CF due to cross-infection risk. ​

​This website is meant to provide a thoughtful summary of several types of online platforms and offer a discussion of what to consider when selecting a new platform.​

Click on the the side menu to review and select online platforms based on your team’s needs, and watch your PCOR team be successful!​

Benefits & challenges of specific online platforms

The charts below compare the benefits and challenges of specific online platforms based on our research.​

Download a PDF of all tables here

Instant Messaging and Other Communication Tools

Platform 

Email 

Slack 

WhatsApp 

SMS 

Skype

Cost 

Free 

Free up to 10,000  

messages, then  

messages disappear

Free 

Unless using work  phones, cost may fall  to individual team  members

Cost dependent on  number of users

Integration 

Can integrate with  

calendars, some with  video conferencing  

platforms

Can integrate with  various other  

platforms (e.g.,  

Google Drive)

Can share links,  

documents, photos

Can share links,  

photos, documents

Outlook Email

Searchable Chat  

Record

Yes 

Yes (Can search  

within specific  

channels, from  

specific person)

Yes 

Yes 

If integrated with  Outlook Email

Security 

Depends on the email  platform

Password protected,  can limit access to  specific channels

End-to-end encryption 

Not encrypted 

Encryption

Accommodation/  disability support

Voice message  

available depending on  platform (Outlook – yes,  Gmail – indirectly)

 

Voice message 

Voice message 

Voice message

Other Benefits 

Can be used all times  of the day without  

disturbing people in  different time zones.

Works on computers  and all smart phones  through app

Very similar to texting phone number  

required. Can have  multiple people in a  group all seeing same  message(s)

   

Other Challenges 

Long email chains – 

difficulty in following  conversation

Numerous  

notifications

Multiple person format  means long message  chains

   
Video Conferencing

Attributes 

Zoom 

Bluejeans 

WebEx 

Google Meet 

Facetime 

WhatsApp 

Skype 

Go-to Meeting

Cost to host 

Different  

levels: free  (limited),  

personal,  

institutional 

Free to join  a meeting

Institution  

typically  

pays

Starter,  

Plus,  

Business

Free with Gmail  account (during  pandemic), prior  for enterprise

Free, limited to  people with  

apple devices

Free 

Free (limited),  business (fee  per user)

Different levels:  free trial,  

professional,  

business,  

enterprise

Bandwidth 

Works with  low  

bandwidth

Requires  

stable  

internet

Works with  low  

bandwidth

Requires stable  internet

Works with  

low bandwidth

Works with  

Low-data/ 

bandwidth;  

also works  

over cell  

signal

Requires  

stable  

internet; also  works over  

cell signal

Requires stable  internet

Security 4 

Zoom  

Healthcare 

HIPAA 

Compliant;  others not

HIPAA 

compliant

HIPAA 

compliant

HIPAA 

compliant;  

Google  

Hangouts not  

HIPAA compliant

End-to end  

encryption, but  not HIPAA  

compliant

End-to end  

encryption,  

but not  

HIPAA  

compliant

Free version  not HIPAA  

compliant;  

Business E3  and E5  

packages are 

HIPAA 

compliant

Privacy 

Optional  

meeting  

password; 

Optional  

meeting  

password

 

Only emails  

included in invite  allowed into 

Must have  

number in  

phone 

Requires  

participant  

phone 

   

3 We only included platforms mentioned in our interviews. This is not an exhaustive list. 

4 https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/emergency-preparedness/notificationenforcement-discretion-telehealth/index.html

Document Storage

Platform 

Dropbox 

Google Drive 

Box 

Microsoft One  Drive

Email 

Egnyte

Collaboration Type 

File share 

Collaborative  

editing

File share 

Collaborative  

editing

File share 

File Share

Integration 

Any desktop word  

processor

G-Suite, Slack 

Any desktop  word  

processor,  

G-suite,  

slack

Open API5, can  be added to any  app

Any desktop word  processor

Microsoft word

Editing type 

Asynchronous 

Both  

synchronous and  asynchronous

Both  

synchronou s and  

asynchrono us

Both  

synchronous  

and  

asynchronous

Asynchronous 

Asynchronous 

Cost 

Free up to 2GB data 

Free 

Free and  

Paid options

Free up to 5GB 

No free option;  

Subscription  

based

No free option;  

Subscription based

Other Benefits 

Easily accessible 

anywhere on any  

device; sync feature;  system integration

Easy to edit files;  Easy to locate  documents,

View project  Timelines; 

collaborate  in real time

Collaboration  

via Microsoft  

365; easy to use

Shared mailbox; Great for small  

teams

Share files outside  of organization;  

ease of use and  loading

Other Challenges 

Cannot edit in real  

time; limited search  function

Limited to Gmail;  some document  access requires  permission

Lacks  

integration  

with other  

solutions;  

difficult  

document  

creation

Slow interface;  difficulty syncing  and document  management

Expense of  

licensing;  

following email  

chains 

Syncing  

documents and  

moving documents  difficult; cannot  

share in real time

5 Open API is a “application program interface” made publicly available to web developers. Definition source: https://searchapparchitecture.techtarget.com/definition/open-API-public-API

Scheduling Tools

Platform 

Doodle 

Calendly 

Google Calendar 

When2Meet

Use-case 

List of specific times to  meet

Scheduling a meeting  with a specific person by  looking at their personal  calendar availability 

Individual event  

scheduling or  

scheduling with a single  person’s calendar

Overlapping time blocks  to see all participants’  availability

User-friendliness 

Easy to use for specific  dates and times for poll  creation

Easy to mark time  

availability

Easy to use to schedule  an event and send  

invites

Easy to use for time  

availability; can be  

confusing to set up

Integration 

Google, Office  

365/Outlook.com, Zoom,  Slack

Outlook, Google  

Calendar and Microsoft  Office 365

Use applications or add ons for integration with  other platforms

None

Other Benefits 

Easy to set up and send  either email or link

Offers location and  

personalized invitations;  sends reminder emails

Meeting alerts, syncing  with Gmail

Provides availability  

surveys; 

Other Challenges 

Works best with few  

options of times to meet;  harder to use on mobile  devices; free plan has  limited options

Lacks integration options 

Lacks integration  

options

 

Four tips for online Engagement​

Before engaging online, here are some things each PCOR team should consider:

Instant messaging

Instant messaging apps or platforms allow teams to text or exchange messages in real time​

Main insights about instant messaging apps or platforms​

  • Helps teams communicate back and forth quickly and securely (with certain platforms)​
  • Best used for urgent communication or for issues that require immediate attention​
  • Can reduce reliance on email and phone calls​
  • Creates a shared record of conversations​

Main Challenges with Instant messaging​

  • Can lose some nuances (e.g., tone, inflection) from face-to-face communication, which can lead to miscommunication​
  • Wide variation of app or platform use across team members​
  • Some may find it tedious to have to check another platform​

Potential solutions to these challenges​

  • Create norms about how to use Instant messaging apps or platforms and how frequently to check messaging platforms​
  • Enable email notifications for folks that don’t continuously check or use the platform​
  • Create project specific groups or channels with limited user access (if applicable)​

Voice or video conferencing

Voice or video conferencing apps or platforms allow teams to communicate in groups using voice or video​

Main insights about voice or video conferencing apps or platforms​

  • Team members can meet, see, and chat “in-person” without being physically together​
  • Team can members to see body language and nuances that may otherwise be lost without video​

Main challenges with voice or video conferencing ​

  • Team members may have to download the platform app in order to log-in​
  • When all teams members are not able to share their video, important communication aspects such as body language and facial expressions are lost
  • Chat messages that are long or off topic can detract from team engagement
  • Cost can determine which version a platform teams choose to use, which can be limited by time or how many members can join
  • Crosstalk and background noise, particularly when folks forget to mute when not talking, can be disruptive​
  • Too many people in the meeting can be difficult to navigate​
  • Security can be an issue​

Potential solutions to these challenges​

  • Establish norms about virtual meeting etiquette to minimize crosstalk, chat box distractions, and encourage use of video​
  • Designate a strong facilitator who can mediate the meeting (particularly useful for larger meetings)​

Document sharing

Document sharing or storage apps or platforms allow teams to share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.​

Main insights about document sharing apps or platforms​

  • All team members can access centrally-located materials from a location of their choosing.
  • Improved version control and minimizing emails between team members
  • Team members can work synchronously or asynchronously
  • Team members can share large document or media files instantly with one another

Main challenges with document sharing ​

  • Use is variable across team members​
  • Digital literacy can be a barrier​
  • Finding documents can be a challenge for some when organizational styles differ​
  • Lack of local storage (e.g., Dropbox can take up a lot of space on your hard drive)​
  • Accidental removal of folders​
  • Cost​
  • Folder permissions and access​

Potential solutions to these challenges​

  • Establish a plan or scheme for how to organize documents and avoid clutter​
  • Create norms about editing documents (e.g., editing vs. suggesting mode in Google Drive)​
  • Select a platform that allows all team members to have appropriate access​
  • Ensure all team members can access the necessary folders​

Scheduling tools

Scheduling apps or platforms allow groups to coordinate meeting times.​

Main insights about scheduling apps or platforms​

  • Team members can more easily find the best dates/times that work for everyone to meet, rather than going back and forth via email.
  • Scheduling between team members who work for different organizations or are based in the community is facilitated with these platforms

Main challenges with scheduling ​

  • Some platforms rely on one person to select the time (e.g., Doodle Poll)​
  • Can be tedious to complete, particularly when there are too many options​
  • Difficult to get everyone to respond to the poll​
  • Availability can change quickly, so the poll can become inaccurate​
  • Some potential for time zone confusion​

Potential solutions to these challenges​

  • Narrow down the scheduling options before asking for everyone’s availability​

Project management

Project management apps or platforms allow groups or collaborations to track shared to-do lists, manage tasks and project goals.​

Main insights about project management apps or platforms​

  • Allow PCOR teams to break projects into smaller tasks and create to-do lists with reminders of due dates and deadlines​

Main Challenges with project management ​

  • Can be difficult to use​
  • Can produce many email notifications and reminders​
  • Can be disorganized when you cannot assign tasks to more than one person​

Potential solutions to these challenges​

  • Create norms about how to use and how frequently to check project management platforms​
  • Designate a champion of someone from the team to lead organization and task management/delegation​