Editor's note: if you're curious about what it's like to work at Collegewise, make sure to read our previous blog posts about the Collegewise Culture.
When my kids were still in diapers, I remember asking my supervisor if I could meet my college student advisees via Skype because I needed to be home with a sick baby. I got hit with a resounding no. It just didn’t seem like the best way to foster relationships with students, and we couldn’t quite depend on the technology. Fast forward a good 10+ years and it’s now almost the norm to meet via Zoom. Is it the best way to form and develop relationships with students and co-workers? My answer is mixed.
What are the challenges?
On the one hand, I miss lots of details that I might see in some body language. Are they tense, tired, or distracted? What’s the vibe in the room? As someone who feels emotion, I don’t always know how to read the energy or feel the same kind of connection when we are online. I also don’t know if the person on the other side is always paying attention to me or watching something else on their screen. Is there anyone else in the room stealthily listening? (it happens more often than we probably know!) Also, how tall is that person on the other side? Maybe it matters and maybe it doesn’t. It’s just something I always knew before when we met in person. More than anything else, I miss the casual random conversations that happen in person. Zoom always feels more controlled and deliberate than spontaneous. We have to set a time to chat, and there’s always an agenda. There’s less chit chat sometimes. And there’s a definite end time rather than a long conversation that might lead us both to grab a coffee or meet again in the restroom down the hall.
What are the benefits?
The flip side is that I love that no one is rushing from the last thing they were at with a sweaty face, hangry look, or an excuse. Most people seem fairly relaxed in their own space, unless their dog is barking or the cat is walking across the screen. In all honesty though, I LOVE meeting their pets, babies, housemates, and family members. The curious part of me is also thrilled to see the other person’s room, even if they have just cleared off a small section behind them for the screen view. It’s fun to see posters on the wall, the books on the shelves, or even their newest Zoom background. There are some funny random moments too, like when you notice the other person is wearing pajama bottoms or their family member yells their nickname oh-so-loudly! (I guess this is why we all mute ourselves and say for the umpteenth time, “Oops, I’m on mute!”)
How do we connect in this new online world?
At Collegewise, I work online with all my students who are all over the US. I also rarely meet my colleagues in person. It takes a bit more work to make friends at work sometimes or to have those more casual conversations. Our community is good about setting up weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and fortnightly meetings. A few of the main ways we connect online are:
- Monthly townhalls have the best chats where we laugh about the gifs onscreen in front of us while clapping when our coworkers get their props.
- There’s a great online group of counselors who talk about best office set-ups and gadgets, in between mentions of strategies for trying student group meetings or dealing with the student who clearly needs to be on Zoom with us while they do their work.
- We have the monthly Gut Check, which is my favorite way to talk about the big philosophical issues of counseling while learning about all the different staff personalities, nuances of our work, and ways of doing things. The energy of that space is so inclusive, thoughtful, and understanding.
- We also have these counseling pods where we have small group intentional professional development to help us grow and learn from each other.
- Newer counselors participate in Freshmen Forum to ask the seemingly silly questions and collectively sigh in the overwhelm of being new.
- Finally, our managers are good about finding ways to connect with us with a monthly poll, regular one-on-ones, and various check-in points.
Overall, it takes a little more work to be engaged as an online counselor, in my opinion. We have to be more intentional about finding ways to connect, but luckily there are many opportunities and times set aside for us at Collegewise. There’s also this crazy world of Slack at Collegewise where there are more channels for the company than there are people at CW. It’s a way to share information, a few laughs, and some stories. If nothing else, I know I can always call a Wiser who might be busy but will always make time to help a coworker. While the younger me would never have envisioned this online world, I’m glad for some of the possibilities it brings.
With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, lead to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.