Opening the Door to Elusive Work/Life Balance

Dr. Ellen Best

Dr. Ellen Best, assistant professor in Accounting in the Mike Cottrell College of Business, put a lot of thought into how she could best assist the students in her two spring semester classes make the transition to online instruction.

“One of the first things I did was to create a video message that basically introduced how we were going to deal with all of this together,” she said.
Best’s approach centered on the concept of “extreme flexibility.” She also told students that for the rest of the semester it would be a team effort – that they all needed to help one another.

Best wanted to understand more about the personal challenges her students were facing with the change to online classes. She sent out a survey in which students could share personal issues that might impact their success with remote instruction. Many issues surfaced, including access to the internet.

Some students were at home with younger siblings who also were doing online classes so they found themselves sharing laptops and bandwidth. Other students were working in jobs considered essential, from grocery stores to healthcare, and their work was impacting their studies. In every case, however, Best said students never thought these challenges were something they couldn’t overcome. She said she has been amazed at the resilience shown by UNG’s students in the face of difficult circumstances.

Another change with remote instruction is the level of communication between Best and her students. “If we can talk, we can resolve things,” she told them. During on-campus classes in the early part of the semester, Best noted that students didn’t often come to her with personal challenges. But once they went online and started having regular communication with Best through emails, they really started opening up.

As a faculty member, one of the biggest personal challenges for Best has been the deviation from her normal schedule, especially with her small children at home. Initially, she got upset with herself if she couldn’t respond immediately to an email or other work task. “I had to let my perfectionist tendencies go,” she said. “Some things just have to wait now.”

She found she did better working in two-hour chunks with breaks in between. “There is NO line between home and work right now – and I need a line,” Best said.

While Best has the advantage of having a dedicated home office space, it’s open to the rest of her house. She now realizes how much she needs that space to be closed off. In fact, she has already ordered the office doors to build in some privacy. Best looks forward to occasionally working from home in the post-pandemic future. For now, she thinks a private home office space will be the key to drawing that line she desires to better define the borders of work/life balance.