Today is my first day as a telecommuter. I am an extrovert and have habitually chosen jobs that require me to interact not only with coworkers, but also the public, on a consistent basis. I say require, but these interactions are often my favorite part of my job. I’m the worker whose feedback usually consists of rebukes to be “less social” with my coworkers, the kid in class that you couldn’t sit next to anyone because I would talk to whomever was sat next to me. Oh, what’s that? You’re moving my best friend across the room in favor of the shyest, quietest kid? Ha, jokes on you teach, I just made a new best friend. I love people, I love being around them and I love talking to them. So, the coming weeks will be especially challenging to me, and I’m sure many others. Tackling this new role of telecommuter successfully has required me to consider two separate prongs and devise strategies for each: developing meaningful work product and maintaining good mental health.
For many librarians, our positions are predicated on interactions with our patrons. Reference and instruction account for a large part of my duties in the library. We can continue to provide vital services to our patrons, even remotely. For example, my university has moved to online instruction. This is a brave new world for many faculty, who sometimes struggle with technologies that we as librarians have already mastered. They’ve been given a very short period of time to develop a skill set with which some have no experience. Although IT at many institutions will lead the charge in training, we can continue to be the “in between” neutral place in the law school community where people can turn to when they have questions that they are too embarrassed to ask anyone else. Only now these questions will be coming through virtually rather than face to face.
Speaking of face to face, we’ve moved all our reference hours to IM/chat. This change will necessitate new ways to perform reference interviews and recommend strategies to best meet patron needs. I expect an increase in pro se patrons with questions regarding court closures and video court calls. COVID-19 is beginning to affect our court systems and we can expect it to continue to in the coming months. Librarians will be needed to distill and dispense basic information regarding resources and adjustments to access to justice. As someone new to the state in which I am employed, this is an excellent opportunity for me to better familiarize myself better with this state’s system, resources, and history of handling similar disruptions.
However, what is there to do in the in between, when questions aren’t pouring in? Now is a great time to catch up on documentation, procedure manuals, and other back burner projects. Professional development is another important area to be explored. I’ve been trying to learn to code for years, but more pressing tasks have pushed that desire to the side. Now, I will have the time to develop this skill that will make me more valuable to my library. What about that tall to be read pile of industry journals and books? Now may also be a good time for strategic planning. I have several large-scale projects I’ve wanted to tackle but I lacked the time to sit down and plan. Now may be the perfect time to seriously consider pie in the sky projects.
However, finding the motivation to actually complete work at home can be daunting to many, like myself, that struggle with maintaining good mental health. This is true whether you are a longtime distance worker or a newbie like me. I found several lists of tips for telecommuting success by performing a simple Google search. There were many reoccurring themes, so I’ve chosen to focus on the three that helped me cope when I was housebound following the birth of my children.
- Get ready for work every day
- Divide up your day
- Get up and move
Try to recreate the experience of going to work as much as possible. Get up, get dressed. The restorative effects of a daily shower cannot be oversold. Have a routine, otherwise your days descend into endless hours of unstructured time. When in the office, I devote two hours of my mornings to reference and then two hours to the repository. I plan to do the same while at home.
Don’t forget to get up and move. Experts encourage us to get up from our desks and move around throughout the day, we can do the same thing at home. Take a little walk around the house, do some stretches, or tell a funny story around the water cooler to your new coworkers, you wouldn’t believe how interesting my four year old found my explanation of metadata standards over her frosted flakes this morning (not really of course, but it’s hard to find a good metadata audience anywhere if I’m honest).
Librarians are resourceful. We’ll get through this together. And if you need someone to talk to, move your virtual chair next to mine.