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Advising Students in the “New Normal” World of Working Remotely: Guest Blog from Ayo Agunbiade

Today’s guest blog is from one of our Academic Advisors, Ayo Agunbiade, a Senior Academic Advisor in the Poole College of Management Undergraduate Programs advising office.  After reading one of my recent blogs on social distancing and working from home, he offered to provide a point of view on the subject.  Ayo has been working closely with our undergraduate students, providing an invaluable service by counseling them on coursework, careers, and just about every other dimension of student life along the way!  During the COVID-19 shutdown, Ayo (along with our other academic advisors) has done an incredible job in keeping touch with the student community despite social distancing measures.  He and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to ensure that students are ready and prepared to start the semester with the right attitude and the right mindset for a new, emerging academic experience this fall.  In this guest blog, Ayo shares some his insights in how the advising role has changed the past few months, in a world where advising students in a Zoom conference call has become the norm…

For many of us in the academic advising community, meeting with students one-on-one is our favorite part of the job. This is when we really get to know our students, build relationships with them, provide resources, and help them navigate their educational journey. Most importantly, this is our best opportunity to address students’ concerns and make sure they feel supported. 

When we were all asked to work remotely at the beginning of the pandemic, a few key concerns arose: 

  1. How can we continue to effectively advise and support our students? After all, the best moments in advising happen when you are sitting across from a student in your office.  
  2. Without our regularly scheduled office meetings (unit, department, college), how would faculty, staff, and our college leadership maintain a high level of communication?
  3. Finally, from a personal standpoint, I was concerned about my ability to remain productive. I had some experience working remotely in the past, but never in a full-time capacity. 

To be honest, I miss my in-person meetings with students. Nonetheless, in addition to keeping everyone safe, there have been many benefits to conducting advising appointments via Zoom. First, screen sharing has been a bit of a game changer. One of the things we spend a considerable amount of time doing, especially with first-year students, is teaching them how to understand their degree audit. Screen sharing has made it easier for students to see what we see; thus, allowing us to guide them more effectively. No more having to awkwardly turn the computer monitor, leaning over, and asking students to pull up their chair. 

Another benefit of virtual advising is that our students are able to meet with us from all over the globe. Students have appreciated the convenience of being able to meet with us from wherever they are. No more having to come to Nelson. No more checking in at the front desk and waiting in the lobby. Greater appointment time flexibility. More opportunities to practice Zoom etiquette in an informal setting. There have been many benefits that our students are now taking advantage of. As time has passed, we can see that students are becoming more comfortable in this environment. 

What about office communication? 

Believe it or not, in some ways, working remotely has enhanced our communication. One example is our weekly college meetings hosted by Dean Buckless. These weekly meetings have helped us stay up-to-date with regard to the handling of COVID-19. These meetings have helped us feel more connected and in the loop. 

Within our advising team, we have replaced random office visits with chat groups and periodic video calls. In our larger unit with other Poole programs, we have stayed connected via chat groups, regular meetings, and breakout discussions. Throughout our college, faculty and staff have worked together virtually to provide technical support, professional development, and additional training to help us best support our students during the pandemic. 

How about productivity?

I think it’s only natural that we all have doubts and concerns about productivity with remote working arrangements. Can employees stay productive if they aren’t being watched? Surprisingly, I’ve come across many studies that suggest increases in productivity with remote work arrangements. Now that I’ve lived it for a few months, I believe it. Personally, I’ve been averaging many more hours per week than normal. While the increase in workload can be attributed to the current environment, I’ve gained a couple of important insights that I don’t believe the remote work naysayers account for. 

First, I don’t think they take into consideration that some jobs are designed in a way that if you slack off, you end up creating more work for yourself. Thus, many of us are motivated to keep our inboxes and to-do lists as light as possible. And the only way to do that is to stay on top of your work. Secondly, is intrinsic motivation. Many of us, including myself, are naturally motivated to do quality work. We are passionate about this field. It’s not just a job. Since we no longer leave our workplaces physically, the greatest challenge has been mentally logging off. My daily end-of-the-day walks have helped a bit.

What’s the verdict? 

As much as I look forward to discovering our new normal, I’ve been comforted in knowing that we were able to provide a comparable level of support to our students this summer while keeping everyone safe. This has been a challenging few months for so many reasons. During times like these, it’s nice to see us all coming together with the common mission of student success and maintaining our sense of community.