The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives in some way or another; for many of us, it’s been through the use of technology for work, meetings and school. I’m no different; I’m in my final semester of school before I graduate with my Bachelor’s, and I’m studying exclusively at home. Between the end of last semester being online and this semester so far, I’ve learned a fair bit about what works and doesn’t work with virtual learning, and had a lot of time to think about the good and bad of virtual life. 

We Pollute Less

Turns out, virtual learning can be good for the environment. I’ve noticed the little actions that have shifted in my day-to-day life regarding it, such as using less gas, using less paper, and using less ink. Thankfully, they aren’t for nought

Students who are learning virtually and don’t need to commute do use less gas. In conjunction with gas, their cars didn’t receive as much wear and tear, meaning they last longer. Longer living cars means less production of cars, which could result in less pollution from factories in the long run. 

Remote students also produce up to 90% less carbon emission. On average, a study found that a full time student could emit up to 180 pounds of CO2, while virtual students only emitted up to 4 pounds. And in the classroom? Classrooms create up to 220 pounds of CO2 versus the 10 pounds for a virtual student at home. 

If you’re remote and wish to do even more for the environment, be conscious about your small decisions. Turn the lights off when you leave the room, unplug anything you can, and take a break from screen time. 

We’re Saving on Natural Resources 

If enough people are learning virtually, we can also save natural resources through building reuse, or adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse is when older buildings are renovated to save materials, time, energy, and history of an area. But this can also include new buildings, such as schools. According to Kathryn Merlino, new buildings use 41% of all primary energy use and 48% of emissions; this includes construction and operation. Renovating can decrease these costs and help the environment in the long run. 

Less paper is used, too, which helps the tree population, and uses less ink, which means less plastic ink cartridges in landfills. Working from home also helps decrease plastic waste around food: single-serve options or takeout containers aren’t needed as you have access to a kitchen, and if you want to contribute to a healthier environment, consider using less paper plates or plastic silverware at home. If you’re living with roommates, share meals to help decrease food waste.

Another tip: use a planner! While I’m a huge fan of a paper planner because I bullet journal, there are plenty of apps or websites you can use to keep your schedule in context. And hey, a planner is good for us students, and less paper good for the world around us. 

Feel Less Stress 

There’s also a more positive impact to the people, both students and the workforce. For me, there’s less stress over missing classes; part of that is because they are all recorded, but mostly it’s because I can still go to class while feeling not great. Let’s face it: sometimes you’re just not up to leaving the house. Virtual learning and work allows us to be productive without needing to leave the house. 

Virtual life can also help with stress. Studies have shown that over 30% of people have taken sick days to deal with stress and that 45% of Americans have no paid sick days;that percentage decreases the higher your income. So, those who can’t afford to miss a paycheck are often the ones who have no choice if ill. The normalization of virtual work in the industries possible could help alleviate some of this stress as workers could still earn their paycheck from home, which is good for employees and employers. 

Even though it’s less stressful, it can still be lonely. I’ve found that keeping in touch with friends and family through Zoom and other social media helps. Humans are social creatures by nature, and even the most introverted person needs some social time. It also helps to venture out of the house when and how you feel comfortable. You don’t even have to see people, but going on walks, hiking, or visiting the shops can help stave off the restlessness. 

It can also help to try new things! Not having to commute gives many people more time, and trying new things can make being home more interesting. Try a new recipe, a new art style, a new TV show, a new workout style. I started working out back in March and while I don’t like the action, I do like knowing I’m active. I’ve also found several recipes I love, and I’ve tried out some new planning styles in my bullet journal.

a class of students gathering virtually on zoom

Tips For Virtual Learning 

I started learning virtually in March, when my college moved everyone home for the rest of the semester. Now, in October, I’m still learning virtually, though now it’s a choice to keep my family safe. These things and the tips throughout this article have worked well for me.  

Create a routine for yourself.

Wake up around the same time, set yourself times for work, fun, food, etc. If that seems intimidating, start by setting goals for yourself, such as things you wish to get done throughout the day. It’ll help keep the days in order, as we all know they can get away from us. 

Change out of the clothes you slept in.

You can change into another pair of pajamas if you’d like, but I’ve found it helps separate “sleep time” versus the rest of the day, and gets me motivated to work. 

Don’t study in your bed.

It’s been shown to decrease productivity, limit focus, and hurt your sleep schedule. Hunching over your laptop in bed also can’t be good for your posture. Back pain? No thanks! If you can’t study in a separate room, set a space in your bedroom. 

Be active!

We have to stay moving even when we’re home all the time, to help us stay healthy. Go for walks, try yoga, try working out, anything that gets you moving. 

Practice Self-Care

Most importantly: pay close attention to your physical, mental, and emotional needs. Reach out to friends and family, move around, leave the house, and take breaks as needed. While virtual life can be a good thing, it can also be draining and turn into a bad thing very fast.  It’s all about finding the right balance between work and home for you, even if you’re working from home.