Working remotely during COVID-19 has introduced us to many communication challenges. When it comes to work productivity, having our offices be inside our homes adds a new level of stress, whether presenting ourselves professionally or staying focused amid distractions. How can we get used to this new normal?
A recent survey of college students found that nearly 80 percent of students feel that face-to-face interaction with their class instructors is fundamental to their learning while about 70 percent disagree that virtual learning is more motivating than conventional, in-person learning (Adnan & Anwar, 2020). If this tells us anything, it’s that students – at least at the collegiate level – very much prefer real classrooms to Zoom meeting rooms. Knowing that many are now working remotely, we can assume that these feelings are shared across the board.
Given the circumstances, though, our options are very limited. While virtual instruction was once viewed as a flexible option, it has recently become a staple of our academic and professional lives. While everyone is trying their best, the caliber of our communication and retention of information drastically decreases with this lack of in-person interaction, leaving many people feeling unmotivated and disconnected (Dhawan, 2020).
It is widely recommended that we actively try to replicate our professional workspaces when engaging in virtual work/school activities (Wiederhold, 2020). For many, this means:
When communicating with our peers via Zoom, it’s easy to fall into a routine of treating each other like we’re nothing more than icons on the computer screen. If we tune ourselves into each other’s facial expressions, though, we can avoid the erasure of that human connection. Next time you have a Zoom meeting, try enlarging the face of whoever’s talking. This way, you can focus all of your attention on one person – idiosyncrasies and all – instead of distracting yourself with the minutiae of the meeting.
On Zoom, it often makes more sense to look at the face of the person you’re addressing instead of staring at the camera. However, making use of the camera is the best possible way to mimic eye contact. If you want your colleague to know that you’re interested in what they have to say, look at the camera when you’re talking to them. This works to eliminate another barrier provided by Zoom that we don’t experience in face-to-face interactions.
Now that every person in the meeting can be seen on the same screen, your colleagues can always see your face. Make sure that you’re aware of how you come across to them. If you’re constantly looking away from your computer to glance at your phone or gaze out the window, what does this say about your level of engagement? Remind yourself that you should be acting as if you were in the workplace. If everyone is actively involved, the meeting will go much smoother.
One of the perks of working from home is staying in your pajamas all day without anyone really noticing. But, if you want to be as productive online as you are in the office, it’s important to dress the part. Not only will your peers take notice of your dedication to the job, but you’ll also actively remind yourself of what it feels like to be a student on campus or a professional in the workplace.
It is also important to create boundaries for yourself. For many people, the best part about coming home at the end of the day is leaving work/school. When you’re working remotely, it is important to treat the virtual workspace as its own (Bothra, 2020). This way, being home isn’t entirely associated with the stress of work.
If you’re going to be on Zoom, know where to go in your home. If you carry your computer around with you throughout the day, there are no longer areas in your house that are dedicated solely to relaxation. If you don’t have a home office, design a makeshift space for yourself that serves as your office and your office only. Zoom does not leave this room.
Treat your Zoom meetings as true, in-person work meetings. When you’re at work, you try your best to be fully engaged in the presence of your colleagues. In the classroom, there’s no camera to turn off that prevents your instructor from seeing you tune out and go on your smartphone. Treat Zoom the same way as you do these in-person settings. When you know you’re going to be doing work-related tasks, ask yourself whether your boss or professor would be comfortable with your surroundings.
Perhaps reconsider reaching for your phone to decompress after a long work day or an especially tiring Zoom meeting. Balance your virtual exhaustion with some in-person stimulation. Take your dog for a walk, ask your partner about their day, or read a few chapters of a book. If you’re spending your entire day online, even when you’re not on the clock, it will be hard to separate your work life from your personal life. Allow yourself a little reprieve from technology for a few hours before scrolling through Twitter or streaming a movie. Especially when you no longer commute, don't just sit inside all day: still go get that vitamin D. Studies show that this is a great perk of remote work: so use remote work toward your mental wellness!
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Adnan, M. & Anwar, K. (2020). Online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Students’
perspectives. Journal of Pedagogical Sociology and Psychology, 2(1), 45-51. http://www.doi.org/10.33902/JPSP. 2020261309
Dhawan, S. (2020). Online learning: A panacea in the time of COVID-19 crisis. Journal of
Educational Technology, 49(1), 5-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047239520934018
Wiederhold, B. K. (2020). Connecting through technology during the Coronavirus Disease 19
pandemic: Avoiding “Zoom fatigue.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(7), 437-438. 10.1089/cyber.2020.29188.bkw
Bothra, S. (2020). How to avoid zoom fatigue while working from home. Retrieved December
11, 2020, from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-to-avoid-zoom-fatigue-while-working-from-home/?utm_source=Newsletter_General&utm_medium=Thrive