This week has been super crazy.
Many libraries have closed their doors to help quell the spread of COVID-19. Some have chosen to remain open.
I’m not here to judge one way or another. I’m here to help you work efficiently during this crisis, whether you’ve been allowed to work from home or whether you are compelled to report to the office.
Even before the pandemic struck, remote work was growing in popularity in the library world. At the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, administrative staff could work from home up to two days a week.
That’s a trend in workplaces across the nation. The amount of people working from home has tripled in the past 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve.
But if you’ve never worked from home, the transition can be a little tricky. And there are things you can do to set yourself up for success and weather this strange time in library land.
Working from Home
Treat your morning routine the same as you would if you were heading into an office. Have breakfast, shower, and get dressed, even if it’s not in fancy clothing.
Keeping a consistent schedule will help you get in the right head space for work. It will also make the transition back to the office easier (once this is all over).
Make yourself a designated workspace. It is super tempting to set up shop on your couch or bed. Resist the urge. In fact, never do work in your bed. Your sleeping space is sacred. If you are working in your bed, you mind will start to associate that space with work and its stresses. It can mess with your sanity.
Set up at your desk, kitchen table, the kitchen counter, or some other non-sleeping space. Have all the supplies you normally have at hand. Set up your photos, your plants, and your trinkets. Make it feel as much like your normal workspace as possible.
Be careful what you download. Ask your library’s IT team which platform they prefer you use to work remotely. Google, Slack, Facetime, and Teams are the most popular tools. If you do need to download a new tool or app, stick to well-known companies or ones that have been vetted and approved by your library.
Ask your library about a VPN. A virtual private network can give you access to shared drives at your home library and protect your privacy.
Watch out for scammers. Already, there are reports of coronavirus scammers calling employees. They claim they’re with the help desk, They try to get you to download software or go to a certain webpage. Don’t fall for it.
If you get an email or a phone call from someone claiming to be from IT, especially if the email contains links or documents, send a new email to your IT deparmtnet (so you’re not using the address the possible scam came from). Or call your IT department to make sure it’s legitimate.
Scammers also sometimes claim you library has set up special new call centers and the regular corporate IT phone numbers won’t work. Don’t buy it. Hang up and call your IT department.
Leave healthy food within easy reach. It’s hard to avoid the chips when you can just open the cupboard door. To help combat the constant urge to munch on junk food, I usually wash fruit and veggies in the morning and place them in bowls on my kitchen counter. That way they’re within easy reach when I get hungry.
Don’t fall into a Netflix/YouTube/Twitter/whatever hole. It’s hard for some work-at-home employees to avoid distractions. The best way to keep from binge-watching shows when you should be working is not to start.
I try to have the same mindset in my home office that I had at the library: if my boss walked in right now and saw what I was doing, would she approve?
Over-communicate. The distance created by working from home sometimes can hamper communications. Ask co-workers to tell you the best way to reach them… by text, or chat, or email, or video. Then try your best to respect their preferences.
Ask for clarity on projects from your boss. Get instructions and deadlines in writing.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Clarity will help get the work done faster and without mistakes.
Mute yourself if you’re on a conference call. As many of us move to virtual meetings and working from home during this strange time, we need to remember to respect meeting time as we would in the office. That means protecting your fellow workers from the sound of your dishwasher/barking dog/loud neighbor during a conference call.
Create a wrap-up routine for the end of your day. This will signal to your brain that your work has ended.
It sounds silly, but it works. Put away your laptop, pack up your pens, straighten your desk, and maybe talk a walk or lite a scented candle to signal to yourself that it’s time to relax and readjust to non-work life in your home.
If You Must Still Report to the Library
Talk to your boss about what to do if you get sick. Make sure you know who to call if you fall ill and what your rights are in terms of medical leave. Having a plan in place will help ease some of the anxiety of working in a public building.
Clean your workspace before you touch anything. This is particularly true for workers sharing desks. Clean the phone, the desk, the keyboard and the monitor buttons, the copy machine keypad, and any other shared surface with an antibacterial wipe.
Wash your hands or sanitize frequently. No need to be specific here. You’ve seen the recommendations from experts. Sing your 20-second song of choice and do it frequently.
Advice for Everyone
Remember it’s a global crisis. If you feel less productive, it’s natural and you’re not alone.
Managers: please remember that your staff are dealing with issues. They may not be sharing everything with you. Concerns about the health of loved ones, daycare situations, and generalized anxiety may lead to less productivity. Please be patient and generous with your employees.
Our cardholders and community may also be working through anxieties and taking out their stresses on staff. Please support your employees. Make sure they know it’s okay to talk about the additional stresses this situation creates for them.
And if you are feeling anxious, seek professional help. There is no shame in talking with a licensed medical professional about these extraordinary circumstances and the fears they may cause.
Try to get enough sleep. Exercise. Limit your exposure to the news. Talk with friends and family about how you feel. Read a good book.
We will all get through this. Let’s be kind and patient with ourselves and others as we navigate these uncharted waters.
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