A couple of weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, I received a group email from a doctoral classmate of mine. She wrote that it had been great for us to get together in January at Penn for our reunion, and since all of us had a few weeks of Zoom meeting experiences, she suggested a social hour Zoom call for the next Thursday evening at 8:30ET.
The first weekly call was March 26. I don’t remember how many attended that call, but on the calls that I have attended, I think the number of participants has ranged from 4-14 out of a cohort of 20. On December 17, we held our 39th consecutive weekly call. Given that Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Thursday this year, we decided to cancel those two meetings. Our classmate and organizer quickly amended and resent the meeting invitation to restart in January.
Before the Zoom calls, I think I might have heard from any one of my Penn classmates every other month. All of us are good friends, but we scattered across the country after graduation. Penn holds an alumni conference each January at which our cohort attendance was generally good, but none of that indicated to me that we could hold a weekly ad hoc call for 39 consecutive weeks.
During these past weeks, we’ve toasted to members celebrating birthdays, promotions, and new jobs. We’ve grieved with members losing spouses, parents, and loved ones, and we’ve sent out our get well wishes to others.
When we started the program at Penn, all of us worked in higher education, and that’s mostly still the case. We continue to share experiences and discuss broader matters like the COVID impact on colleges and universities. The conversations are collegial, range from light-hearted to serious, and usually bounce back and forth with whatever topic someone wants to introduce for the week’s call, unrehearsed and unscripted.
A recent non-serious discussion involved our preferences for organizing our personal collections of books (a number of people had bookshelves in the background on that call). I know now that some non-librarians organize their books by Library of Congress number, some alphabetically by author by topic, some just alphabetically, some by book height, and one by color of the book spine (it appears to be one of the latest trends). I guess there’s room for people who don’t have an organization scheme, but no one spoke to that point-of-view on the call.
While the Penn call is my primary example of a group of people using Zoom for connecting socially in addition to work, it’s not my only example. Over the summer, a Duke fraternity brother organized a Zoom call with members of our fraternity for which he had email addresses. Since the first call, we’ve had two additional calls and have picked up a few added participants as the word spreads about the opportunity to reconnect with college friends.
I also participated in a Friday afternoon Happy Hour Zoom call with the marketing group at APUS to celebrate my retirement in August. It was my understanding that they get together every other week or so. My Executive Assistant at APUS told me about a similar Zoom call Happy Hour with her peer EA’s just to keep up with each other while the office has been closed and work from home policies have been in place. It’s great to hear about experiences like this that transcend the work-only utilization of the teleconference tool.
When I decided to write this piece, I thought I would add a quote or two from a notable authority on the benefit of using Zoom for social gatherings. For my Google search, I used the phrase “using Zoom for social gatherings” and received 14,900,000 results. The five most popular (based on the order of their listing) appear to involve tips for hosting a Zoom party. Number six is a post from March 16 on Zoom’s blog titled, “Ideas for Creating a Sense of Culture, Community Amid Social Distancing and Work-From-Home Mandates.” Mostly good ideas, and I guess I had my nose to the grindstone too much to not read this article until now.
I’m optimistic about the vaccines being able to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States and across the globe. I’m guessing that we won’t see a noticeable, risk-free approach to social distancing until the Fall of 2021 at the earliest.
So, until then, if you haven’t taken advantage of a social gathering via Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Adobe Connect, try it. I think you’ll find it to be a pleasant diversion from the tedium of working from home in quarters that were likely never designed to work as well as your professional offices. Cheers!