Remote co-ops limit communication, job experience for students

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Annie Malone

Annie Malone’s work-at-home desk setup.

Alexis Santoro, news correspondent

With most co-ops being completely remote in the midst of COVID-19, students are having to find new ways to get the most out of their job, without having the opportunity to physically be there. 

“I work in a psychology research laboratory on campus, which is of course very affected by being remote,” said Lauren Murphy, a third-year behavioral neuroscience major on co-op as a research assistant. “We typically have people come into the lab to participate in our studies, which we of course can’t do now.”

Other students on co-op are also feeling the effects of the online work environment. This new format not only means students have to rely to be productive at home, but they also have to navigate through their job experience with more limited communication with co-workers. 

“It’s harder for me to be productive at home than it would be in the office,” said Annie Malone, a fourth-year mathematics major. 

Malone is currently doing her third co-op at ClearEdge Partners, a company she also did a co-op  for during her second year. Though she already knows some of the staff, Malone recognizes that workplace communication is very different this semester than it has been in the past. 

“I can’t just go to the person at the desk over and ask a question,” Malone said. “I have had to change my approach to my communication style.” 

Having already worked at her current co-op, Malone has noticed major changes in the company work environment and the relationship between employees. Rather than being able to go to the breakroom during lunch to interact with coworkers, she has to set up a zoom meeting. 

“It’s definitely different,” Malone said. “We used to have more of a crazy fun work culture, and it’s still there but it has definitely diminished a little.” She said that they even used to play cornhole outside during their lunch break.

Students on co-op are quickly adjusting to the remote environments and online communication platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. 

“I feel like at this point, I have been on Zoom so much that I am not really phased by it anymore,” Murphy said. 

Both Malone and Murphy offered some advice to their fellow peers on co-op or those who will be on co-op next semester in a similar remote environment. 

“Reach out to people to collaborate with,” Malone said. “Try to ask as much as you can to set up coffee chats.”

After her second co-op at Wayfair last spring, Malone regrets not maintaining professional relationships after the co-op moved to remote halfway through the semester. 

Murphy also said not to be discouraged by these remote opportunities.

“For those going on co-op next semester: don’t be limited by the location of the co-ops you’re applying to,” she said. “Take advantage of the remote setting, and apply for anything you want to do.”