With the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to adapt has been valuable. The world has adjusted to ensure safety, as the pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of life, one such aspect being how and where people work. 

Many employers have shifted to virtual workspaces and so have many schools. Bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, even outdoor spaces have become work environments. 

For some Ohio University students and faculty, adjusting has been a struggle. 

“Some students may have access to comfortable working spaces and may be used to primarily doing their classwork and other tasks from their living space,” Lindsay Dhanani, a psychology professor, said in a message. “For others, virtually all aspects of their working environment may have been disrupted. Students may have moved back home to live with their families and may be sharing their physical space as well as vital resources such as computers, devices, internet, and so on.”

Dhanani says the work environment plays a big part in productivity. Environment can influence a person’s physical health, from the aches and pains that accompany sitting in the wrong positions or eye strain from staring at a computer.

“Beyond that, working in environments that are cluttered, noisy, or open to disruptions can increase our mental stress which can also tax our performance and ability to focus on work,” Dhanani said in a message.

For Hannah Culver, a freshman studying mathematics, her work environment was constantly changing. She would move her place throughout the day, hoping to improve focus but mainly looked for a quiet spot. 

“I felt most productive in my office area, and it did help me focus a bit better when I would force myself to sit down at my desk and take the time to simply work and get the job done,” Culver said in a message. “Unfortunately, my room doesn’t really feel like a room anymore.”

Ryan Johnson, a psychology professor, said he was lucky to have his own office at the start of the pandemic for privacy and focus. He did have to make some changes, though.

“I paid more attention to what my workspace looked like to others who I interact with virtually,” Johnson said in a message. “So, I put a bit more effort into keeping the room tidy and professional. I also paid more attention to lighting and installed new window coverings and light fixtures to optimize my outgoing video feed and reduce glare within my office.”

Some of Johnson’s changes also came with a price tag. He had to increase his internet plan’s bandwidth to accommodate large Zoom meetings with his students. Also, to reduce disruptions, he enrolled his dog in an intensive training program.

Dhanani said for instructors, there are several approaches that could improve virtual work environments. 

“Most importantly, I would advocate for flexibility,” Dhanani said in a message. “As I’ve mentioned, students have been differentially affected by COVID-19 and some may have barriers that others don’t. Additionally, if students have to share important resources with siblings, parents, and other family members, they may not always be available at specific times.”

She also advocates for social opportunities in virtual work environments since most are isolating. 

“I think we all need to be empathetic to the challenges people are experiencing and how that might affect mental health,” Dhanani said in a message. “Faculty and staff are struggling too as we have also had to relearn how to successfully do our jobs and are also working under very different and likely more strained conditions. I think it helps to remember that students are facing those same issues and to remember that students fulfill many roles outside of just being a student in our course.”

As a bit of advice to both faculty and students, Dhanani recommends focusing on reducing stressors and making work environments a healthy one. This means taking breaks away from screens and decorating work spaces with things that are happy and relaxing.

“Check in with yourself and take steps to reduce stress when you feel overwhelmed,” Dhanani said in a message. “There are a lot of techniques that work such as progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness exercises. Find what works for you.”