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Face to Screen

Malkie Schulman

Telecommuting has expanded into fields that demand face-to-face communication. How do teachers, therapists, and managers create a vibrant connection through a screen?

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

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HOLD THE PHONE Fifty percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telecommuting. And as these professionals show, the number of professions in which one can telecommute is growing

E lizabeth Rosenzweig works out of her home in Toronto. But her clients hail from all over the world — the Caribbean, Italy, England, Spain, Kenya, Zambia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Costa Rica. “I’ve worked with families and professionals in every inhabited continent on Earth,” says Elizabeth, who is a speech language pathologist, a listening and spoken language specialist, and a certified auditory verbal therapist.

She rattles off some statistics: Three in 1,000 babies are born with hearing loss, and 90 percent of parents of children with hearing loss choose for their children to learn to communicate via listening and speaking (versus needing visual cues like lip reading or sign language). The problem is that there aren’t enough certified auditory verbal therapists to meet families’ needs. “Working via teletherapy allows me to provide services to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them,” says Elizabeth, who’s fluent in both English and Spanish.

Elizabeth never planned on being one of the 63 million people projected to telecommute this year alone. “I actually wanted to go into private practice,” she says. “But teletherapy made sense because my husband and I were relocating for his job.”

Dr. Michael Tobin, a clinical psychologist based in Jerusalem, also fell into telecommuting. “About seven years ago, one of my clients was returning to the States, but he still wanted to continue therapy with me. That’s basically how my Skype practice started,” says Dr. Tobin, who has been practicing psychotherapy since 1975. Through referrals, word of mouth, and his website, Dr. Tobin now treats individuals from as far away as Australia and South America.

Zooming into a New Era

Professions like accounting, writing, and graphic design naturally lend themselves to telecommuting — there’s little face time required, so employees can easily work outside of the office. That isn’t the case with jobs like counseling or teaching, where face-to-face communication is critical. How, then, are therapists, counselors and teachers pulling it off?

For many, the answer is by “Zooming” — using Zoom videoconferencing technology. An English professor in Israel’s Open University, Aliza Nohi uses Zoom to teach reading comprehension to her students, who live throughout Israel.

“I present the course material on a screen and then initiate discussion about it through the Zoom microphone,” explains Aliza, who lives in Hod Hasharon. “The students always see and hear me because I have my camera and microphone on. In fact, they often tell me they have a more personal feeling this way, as if they’re having a private lesson.”

There are a few ways to participate in an online class through Zooming, Aliza explains, either via the computer microphone or using the “chat” feature to send in questions or comments, which then appear on everyone’s screen. Although Aliza cannot see her students if they don’t turn on their cameras, the Zoom software does indicate the name (or username) of the person she’s communicating with.

From her home in Israel, Chana Shain also “zooms” with her colleagues in Lakewood, New Jersey. A quality assurance director for Oorah, her job is to make sure that every call made by the sales, operations, and marketing teams for the Kars 4 Kids organization is handled professionally. “Originally, Oorah was planning on flying me in to meet the team and then do follow-up on the phone,” she says. “But once we realized how frequent the meetings needed to be, I started researching other options, and that’s when I discovered Zoom.”

 

Chana monitors every phone conversation and notes what information is missing and where the team member needs to be retrained. Using Zoom’s software-sharing technology, she can jot points down on a screen — “sometimes it’s a reminder of the main objectives so we can check off if they’ve been met in the phone call,” says Chana. “Visually viewing where changes need to be made and all the criteria that need to be covered makes it easier to recall than simply talking about it.”

At group Zoom meetings, Chana will sometimes play games with team members, either in order to review the idea of sales, or simply to get to know each other better. There’s also an option to chat privately with just one person while a Zoom meeting with a few people is going on. “That’s useful for telling someone to fix her camera, for example, without having to disrupt the entire meeting. With Zoom you can also split the screen, or use two screens like our sales team has, and one side will be the meeting and on the other screen might be the sales rep’s computer screen. I can see it while she’s working and show where she needs to make changes.”

Even disputes seem to be better handled via Zoom. As Chana explains, “Having a heated Zoom meeting doesn’t play out too differently than having a heated on-site meeting; everyone still needs to talk one at a time and respect each other. The advantage is that the speakers on the computer are often louder than a human voice so when I say ‘Let’s talk one at a time!’ I can be heard over the din.” Elizabeth’s practice is exclusively via videoconferencing. “I use a videoconference system similar to Skype, but more secure to protect patient privacy and confidentiality,” she says.

Before each session, Elizabeth e-mails parents the treatment plan with goals, activities, and toys or everyday objects to gather from around their home. Then they interact via videoconference as she coaches the parents through the activities, helping them learn new techniques to grow their children’s listening, speech, and language skills in the context of daily routines. After the session, parents are e-mailed goals to work on during the week, as well as a recording of the session if they’d like to watch it, or share it with grandparents or other teachers and therapists.

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