April 8, 2020
Salisbury University (MD)
Our team at Salisbury University, much like those at other institutions and businesses throughout the US, has had to shift and pivot more in the past 10 days than our entire field has done in the past 20 years. We’ve spent countless hours on webinars and Zoom calls absorbing and sharing as much information with colleagues as we can so we can set ourselves up for success in these unprecedented times. The week of March 23 was our first week “back” from spring break – with our students scrambling to make sense of their new normal. Our office wanted to be able to help them adjust as effortlessly as possible.
Throughout our conversations; scans of Facebook pages, specifically
The Virtual Event Ideas Community and
Higher Ed and the Coronavirus; and informal brainstorms, we decided to embark on a Virtual Office for our students. This was an idea we borrowed from the stellar
Student Involvement team at DePaul University (IL).
To create our Virtual Office, we:
Created an open Zoom Room using an account that is not linked to our personal accounts.
- It was necessary for us to create a specific email account that was not being used by anyone in our office because Zoom users cannot host two Zoom Rooms simultaneous. In our first trial, I had created the Zoom Room using my licensed account and, even though I was not in the Virtual Office, I still was unable to schedule other calls with my account because the Virtual Office was in progress
- It is also important that Salisbury University has a licensed account so we can keep our room open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. without any restrictions.
Created a schedule for our graduate assistants to be in the Zoom Room and available throughout the day. This was especially helpful because it gave our graduate students an immediate purpose as we all tried to figure out what our remote work was going to be like during the next few months.
- Our graduate assistants keep the Zoom Room open with their camera and microphone muted until someone joins the room. In the meantime, they work on their other projects.
- It’s also been convenient for professional staff to visit the Virtual Office when we just need a break or have a quick question for the graduate assistant on duty. This is no different from our actual office practice.
Sent out an email to students detailing what kinds of things our graduate assistants would be prepared to help them with in the Virtual Office:
- Answering questions regarding event planning,
- Helping student organizations work on transition plans,
- Helping student organizations plan for the fall,
- Answering questions about event planning/event cancellations/event reschedules,
- Discussing remote offerings we can offer students during this “new normal,”
- Helping student organizations with their elections processes,
- Offering assistance with Involved@SU, and
- Talking with students who are seeking ways to get involved on campus once we return.
Added our Zoom Room login information to our website, as well as an alert to our Involved@SU (Campus Labs Engage).
- After we sent the email to students about our Virtual Office, many of them clicked the link to check it out. This alerted us to the fact that the email address linked to our Zoom account for our Virtual Office would get an email whenever someone entered the room saying, “Your attendees are waiting for you.” You may want to turn that feature off in your Zoom settings.
Created an internal tracking spreadsheet so our graduate assistants can follow who enters the Virtual Office and document the kinds of support offered.
- We created this so we would have access to data should we be asked for it, and also to get a good understanding of the kinds of resources our students need. If many students are logging in with questions about how to conduct elections, we know we need to create additional virtual elections resources for our student organizations.
Each morning, our team conducts a morning check-in and we discuss any issues that came up in the Virtual Office during the previous day. To date, we have not had large numbers of students utilizing the service, but we don’t believe they’ve adjusted to remote work yet. Once they do, we expect our traffic to increase.
To connect with all our student organization presidents, we will also conduct individual check-ins with each of them in the coming weeks, with one discussion topic being how the Virtual Office can assist them as they navigate student organization transitions, elections and fall event planning. We believe that the more touch points we can offer students, the more connected they will feel. We want to do our best to keep things as “normal” as possible.
Our team is working diligently to support students in any way we can in these difficult times. We expect this will continue until the end of the semester, during which time we hope to be able to continue engaging with students.
Stay safe and healthy!
Joe Benyish is coordinator of Student Life at Salisbury University and serves as NACA's National Block Booking Coordinator.
Related Professional Competencies: Technology, Cultivating a Sense of Belonging