When the novel coronavirus prompted universities to switch from in-person to online classes last spring, both students and professors had to adopt a new workspace: the home. Tina Antill Keener—a researcher with the WVU School of Nursing—explored how that switch affected nursing students and faculty. She found that having a dedicated workspace in the home was tied to better quality of life and more resilience. (WVU Photo)

Dedicated workspaces improve quality of life during COVID-19 pandemic

There’s no place like home, but because of COVID-19, many people are learning there’s no place like the classroom or the office, either.

New research led by Tina Antill Keener, an assistant professor in the West Virginia University School of Nursing, suggests that having a dedicated workspace in the home may ease the transition from in-person to remote work and education.

The research team also included Katherine Hall, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Adult Health; Kesheng Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Family/Community Health; Ubolrat Piamjariyakul, the School of Nursing’s associate dean for research; and Tara Hulsey, the dean of the School of Nursing.

Last spring, WVU was one of many universities that switched to distance learning in an effort to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Antill Keener, who teaches in the Department of Family/Community Health, wanted to understand how that switch affected nursing faculty and students.

She found that having a dedicated workspace in the home correlated with a higher quality of life and greater resilience in both nursing faculty and students.

“Working and learning from home is not a smooth transition for everyone,” she said. “Although our study included only nursing faculty and students, it is reasonable to conclude that having a dedicated workspace is essential to faculty and students in other schools. Regular assessment of the comfort and needs of all faculty and students working and learning online is important as we move into a ‘new normal.’”

In April—after WVU had moved its classes online—Antill Keener surveyed 52 faculty members and 152 students in the School of Nursing to determine their quality of life in four domains that the World Health Organization recognizes: physical, psychological, social and environmental.

She used the Connor Davidson Resilience Scale 10 to measure their resilience. The scale measures how well someone bounces back from a stressful event. It takes several aspects of resilience into account, such as adapting to change, coping with stress and tolerating unpleasant emotions, like anger and sadness.

Finally, Antill Keener invited participants to remark on their experiences with distance learning.

“Workspace was definitely one of the biggest factors for faculty,” she said. “Dedicated workspace strongly correlated with resilience, and resilience was the strongest variable predicting all four domains of quality of life.”

In addition, almost half the students who participated in the study reported not having a designated workspace.

“Students commented on having to compete for workspace with other family members and deal with interruptions from multiple residents in the home and work with limited internet availability and stability,” Antill Keener said. “Having a dedicated workspace was one of the predicting variables for the psychological quality-of-life domain. The psychological quality-of-life domain was lowest among nursing students, underscoring the importance of readily available mental health services for students.”

But devoting a single space in the home to work or school may not be feasible for everyone. That’s the case whether someone is a student, a professor, a web designer or an insurance claims adjuster.

For those individuals, Antill Keener suggests “identifying a few quiet spaces in their environment, organizing a mobile workspace to include office and school essentials and maintaining open communication with other household members.”

“Many believe resiliency is an overall arching trait,” she said. “However, one’s resilience can vary depending on the situation. Some have higher resiliency in the workplace, others in their personal life. COVID-19 obliterated all boundaries and required people to blend personal and professional lives.”

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