Editorial: Are we missing out on water-cooler culture?


If you receive an email from your professor saying your class will be held via Zoom, chances are, you’ll read it as good news. It will allow you to wake up five minutes before class begins, open your computer and passively listen to the lecture. 

At Lehigh, online undergraduate courses are offered for the winter and summer semesters but not during the spring and fall semesters. Although online classes may seem more convenient, we believe they make students feel disconnected, distracted and unmotivated.

When COVID forced us to transition to online learning, it was easier to lose focus in class, especially when a teacher or professor didn’t require us to be on camera. 

Online classes are helpful for things like inclement weather, but we believe students should continue to primarily experience in-person learning. It takes an immense amount of discipline to treat a virtual classroom the same as a physical classroom. Professors should not rely on this method of teaching if they don’t have to. 

Adults who were not in school during the pandemic have only dealt with in-person education throughout their lives, so many of them favor a hybrid or an online work schedule.

According to Forbes, in 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees in America worked from home and 28.2% of employees worked using a hybrid model. They also predict that by 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remotely.

There is a convenience factor for working on a hybrid schedule, especially if the person has a good living situation. Parents who work for a company that offers hybrid work can be home with their young children instead of paying for child care or relying on family members to babysit.

If your job already requires you to be at a computer all day, there is no work-related reason to go into the office, besides communicating with co-workers and bosses, which could also be done online.

We are concerned that virtual learning or working has the potential to disrupt the natural work day, blurring the lines of when the work day begins and ends. Still, by setting realistic boundaries, employers and universities can address this concern.

As college students, there is no clear indication when students should stop doing work. There are no restrictions that prevent students from staying up late to finish assignments, which can create burnout. 

Employees, however, typically have a set schedule of when they are supposed to be working. Workers have contracts that manage their time for them.

Australia recently passed “The Right to Disconnect Act,” which allows employees to “refuse to monitor, read or respond to contact from their employer or a third party outside of their working hours, unless the refusal is unreasonable.” 

If the United States were to adopt a similar law, it could help address our concerns about working outside of designated hours for those employees who do not have set boundaries. 

For Gen Z, having the option of an online or hybrid work schedule may ease anxieties about their transition into the workforce, as younger generations understand and appreciate the use of technology. Working from home  also provides more time for working and less time commuting, making some people more productive when they work from home.

Employees do not necessarily care to have co-worker relationships anymore, especially if they will not be seeing their peers often, if at all. Whether that is a good or bad thing is subjective, since spending less time with co-workers could mean spending more time with family or friends.

There is also a privilege in being able to work from home. Many jobs require physical labor, and therefore in-person activity.

If someone has a job that involves a computer, most likely they have economic mobility and should be grateful for it. 

Even though the younger generation may want to enter the workforce virtually, if there is opportunity to, we suggest spending your early years working in person, forming connections and networking.

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