Online Classes and Working From Home

Today we got the email that the University of Virginia would be transferring all classes online for the “foreseeable future.” This change comes after many other universities in the area and across the country extended spring break and encouraged students to stay home and attend classes remotely in an effort to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19. As a grad student, the impact is pretty minimal. I’m only taking 2 classes and my lab is still open so my day to day will change very little, but our lab has also expressed that we can work from home as much as we would like.

There are many factors that affect how students feel about this such as home life, the cost of moving off campus, etc. Many professors are receiving instruction on how to teach effectively online and universities are trying to figure out how to handle classes that include labs and so on.

For students, undergrads and grad students alike, one of the biggest challenges will be working and taking classes from home. I’ve always liked the idea of working from home but in reality find it very difficult. I start late, let my work time bleed over into my “off” time and end up feeling guilty that I should have worked more or less depending on the day.

So, let’s talk about strategies to stay productive for online classes and working from home!

Online classes

  1. Go to your class! Call in, ask questions, make your online presence known.
  2. Actively listen and take notes. Don’t have your lecture open in another tab or listen passively while doing other things. Sit down somewhere you will focus and pay attention!
  3. Figure out your office hours. If your professor doesn’t give you direction on how to get help outside of the lecture time, reach out and ask for it! If “available over email” isn’t going to cut it, ask to do a zoom or skype call. It is going to be super important to ask for the extra support you need.
  4. Treat school like your job, set working hours and don’t negotiate with yourself about your schedule and commitment to school.

If you are involved in undergrad research or other projects, express that you want to continue the project, even if it is remotely. Make it clear that you still want to gain experience and then ask for what you can do specifically to get there. These projects may be high priority for you but low priority for the professors at this stage. Don’t use this as an excuse to miss out on your education.

Other work from home strategies have been a common topic of discussion over the last few years. Things like clearing your space, planning your day and eliminating distractions are widely discussed online so I want to focus on the adjustments we need to make as engineers.

Working from home

  1. Increase communication. Come to an agreement with your team about how you will communicate and how often you will communicate while you work from home. 
  2. Don’t let this communication get in the way of your quiet focused work time. 
  3. Clarify your communication. Update project documents, goals, schedule changes, and requirements as often as possible. Use visuals where you can to make it easier to explain the things you can’t discuss in person. 
  4. Keep a daily or weekly log of what you are doing to stay focused and track your schedule and your progress.
  5. If things aren’t clear ask for clarification and keep asking until you have your answer.
  6. Choose your top 3 priorities. This may not cover everything you need to do, but as you adjust to working from home, focusing on getting just those 3 things done will help you structure your time.
  7. Don’t over plan or attempt to do more than you normally would. Not having interruptions like meetings or class can put you into “do it all” mode but make sure you stop at a reasonable hour and still take time to take care of yourself, cook, workout or whatever you would normally do when you get home from work.

Working from home can be great but it can also slow productivity, especially in a field that relies so heavily on collaboration. With classes in other areas, you may be able to self teach or rely on notes alone but the nature of engineering and the amount of material covered means you need to not just know the topic, but know what your professor is focused on. Make sure you are asking for what you need as you transition to online courses or working from home!

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