Kendal is a community that thrives on interaction. The central facilities—our mail boxes, dining room and café, lounge, library, gym, our numerous committee meetings, and so on—all work to bring us into contact with one another frequently. In normal times, we see each other constantly.
But now all those facilities are closed and we are confined to our cottages most of the time. How do we maintain our connections? The answer is turning out to be Zoom.
Zoom is a software package that allows anyone with a laptop or a smartphone to participate in a virtual video meeting. (And people with any kind of phone can participate on a voice-only basis.) I am not aware of any use of Zoom among Kendal residents prior to March 23 (although it turns out that quite a few of us had used Zoom with our families, with outside organizations, or in previous jobs). A limited version of Zoom allowing the initiation of 40-minute meetings is available for free, and participation in any Zoom meeting is always free.
Settling on Zoom. The Website Group, which runs the Kendal resident website, was probably the first committee to start meeting “virtually”. They started out using Google Hangouts, on March 12, at a time when in-person meetings were starting to be restricted. After two weeks using Hangout, they decided to switch to Zoom, which seemed to have fewer problems.
Meanwhile, discussions about the possibility of using software for meetings more broadly were taking place. It’s one thing for a web team to use video-conferencing software, but would the tools work for a larger, less sophisticated user base? By around March 20 it was clear that Zoom would be at least one of the options to try. (GoToMeeting was also under consideration for larger, more structured meetings.)
Zoom takes off. The first committee to actually meet using Zoom, to my knowledge, was the Sound and Light Committee, which handles audio/visual matters in our auditorium. They met on Zoom on March 23. On March 26, at least four committees met on Zoom: the Energy Committee (working on reducing Kendal’s carbon footprint), the Way Forward Committee (championing various progressive causes), the Neighborhood Organizers (working on ways to keep Kendal residents in touch with their neighbors during the lockdown), and the Web Group (their first meeting using Zoom). Since then, various other groups have met on Zoom, including the Kendal Friends Meeting (21 Quakers gathered for worship on Zoom, on Sunday March 29).
By now, probably close to 100 of our 400 residents have participated in a Zoom meeting, and that number may grow quickly as our Neighborhood Organizers go into action.
Growing the Kendal user base. As you can probably imagine, the limiting factor in the growth of Zoom at Kendal has been the ability to train those who have never used it before. A lot of us have spent a lot of time on the phone, helping people get started. (Since we are in lockdown, it has to be done on the phone. It would be a lot easier if we could do it in person.)
Equipment is also a factor. The best platform for Zoom is a laptop with a camera. Smartphones also work well, but are a bit more complicated to work with. Any telephone can be used to participate by voice (like a conference call).
I am sure we will start running into cases where would-be Zoom users either lack the necessary equipment or the necessary computer skills. The latter are pretty basic, but you do have to be comfortable with a mouse and the Windows or Macintosh interface, and be able to follow installation instructions. So far, we have been able to accommodate everyone.
I should emphasize that all of this has been done by residents. Although we hear that the Kendal administration is planning to start using Zoom internally, there are no training or technical resources available to residents. (We understand that residents in the assisted-living and skilled nursing sections of the Center may get some help from the staff there.) But Zoom usage is growing in the same way that many other aspects of Kendal have developed: residents take matters into their own hands, they do what they can on their own, and then they show others what they have learned. That’s the normal Kendal way.