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A Proposal: Zoom-Free Fridays

May 5, 2020

Dear colleagues:

We are so proud of you! We recognize that the days since March 10, when Duke’s COVID-19 response policies were announced, have not been easy ones for you or your loved ones.

And, we know that working remotely has created additional stressors, including caring for children while trying to work, feelings of isolation and running out of things to watch on Netflix. There have been a lot of new things to adjust to.

But long before March 10, it was important for us to take care of each other and for each of us to take good care of ourselves. That commitment to well-being continues. And now, it’s more important than ever.

Pratt’s senior leadership can’t remove all the new stresses, but together we can innovate ways to address and hopefully reduce them.

In this email, we’ll propose an idea that we’d like everyone to try, starting this week. And, at the end of this message, we provide more ideas and resources that we encourage you to consider.

A new stress: high-intensity virtual connecting

A new stress in these times is called “high-intensity virtual connecting.” This 21st-century type of social exhaustion comes from using online video meeting systems such as Zoom and WebEx frequently while isolated at home.

Last month Susanne Degas-White, PhD, wrote that using Zoom a lot while quarantined at home can “zap our energy and our brains and beat down our bodies.” We recognize that working from home these days can be more complicated than working from the office, classroom or lab.

To help reduce this stress, we are encouraging a new approach—Zoom-Free Fridays.

As a first step, the Dean’s Office team is committing to not scheduling or asking for participation in school-based Zoom meetings on Fridays.

Friday, then, can be a day for us all to catch up on our work. Zoom-Free Friday isn’t time off, but a way to protect our valuable time and reduce the stress that can be caused by high-intensity virtual connecting. 

This is not mandatory. We recognize there will be times when virtual meetings on Fridays for your team are unavoidable. But we encourage you to see if this idea could work for you and your team.

As your colleagues, we recognize this new work environment includes new stressors. We hope Zoom-Free Fridays can help. Let us know how it goes.

More ideas to de-stress zoom

  • Call into some virtual meetings or turn off your video. It can be less stressful to “show up” in voice-only. As a team, decide that it’s OK if colleagues want occasionally not to be on video. Your strained eyes and the muscles you use for that “attentive participant face” may likely thank you.
  • Try not to schedule meetings back-to-back. Give your brain a chance to switch gears and rest from intensive virtual connecting.
  • Take short breaks from the screen. Some fresh air, drinking a glass of water, jumping jacks or a brisk 10-minute walk may help to reduce stress.
  • Avoid ‘Double Screen Duty.’ Focus on listening. Instead of giving some of your attention to a second screen, take notes with paper and pen. In a 2016 Princeton-UCLA study, students who took notes by hand had better retention than those who typed notes.
  • Make your home office feel different from your living area. It can be done, even if it’s all the same space. If you can’t close the door behind you when you go “off the clock,” how about changing the lighting and the playlist? These cues may help create a supportive “boundary” between work and home life.

Additional well-being resources to check out

In sum, we want you to know that Pratt cares about you and your loved ones. We are a team.

Thank you and Go Duke Engineering!


Susan L. Bonifield
Senior Associate Dean, Finance & Administration