Seven things we’ve learned during 10 weeks at home

By Kathleen Williams, May 21, 2020.
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It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two months since much of the country moved to remote work, and we first shared some tips that have helped make our team successful while being spread out across the country. Even for those of us who are experienced telecommuters, so much has changed, and there is almost nothing normal about life during a global pandemic. Our team got together (via Slack and Zoom, of course) to talk about some of the things we’ve learned over the last 10 weeks, and are sharing them in the hopes it provides some sense of community, comfort, or solidarity for our friends and colleagues.

1. There is no “new normal.” The one constant in this situation has been change, and accepting—and even embracing that—has helped us to maintain flexibility. We’ve been taking it one day and one week at a time, and planning our work in shorter spurts–something our Agile tech team was already doing, of course. This has helped keep us all sane and productive while responding to evolving circumstances.

2. Realize you can’t do it all. We’ve found it helpful to stay focused on what is most important right now, and to separate our “must do” list from our “could do” list to help us make sure we’re putting our energy into the projects that will have the most impact. In early April, we formalized this is as a 90-day plan that has helped us make decisions about how and where to devote our time and energy, and we’re working on a similar plan that will take us into the fall. 

3. The work day looks different, and that’s ok. Whether it’s visits from miniature or furry four-legged co-workers, or a full slate of homeschooling to oversee, blocks of uninterrupted time are no longer a thing for many of us. It’s helped some of our team members to start the day with a commitment to knock out a few large tasks, working at them in the time available to us. It also helps to use the “mute notifications” option on Slack and to put off responding to non-urgent email until our essential tasks are complete. We also make a special effort to realize that everyone on our team, as well as our partners and colleagues, have their own workday challenges to overcome, so we do our best to work around the capacities of others.

4. Zoom is great, until it’s not. Zoom’s sudden ubiquity is evidence enough of its usefulness during social distancing. But if you’re like us, you’ve already discovered that you really can have too much of a good thing. Zoom can be exhausting, so we try to limit both the frequency and the length of video calls.  We call it quits after an hour, and find that 45 minutes is often enough time to get things done. We also try to set aside Zoom-free blocks of time during the day. And when an email will do, don’t make it a Zoom! 

5. We all have our limits. Our Community Manager Shaneė Murrain put it best: “Work within your emotional capability each day. This is very important to keep in consideration with ourselves and partners. We are all working at home during a pandemic and our definition of productivity should adjust to accommodate slower response rates, family schedules, and personal health.” To that end, most of us make it a point to set boundaries between work and home life, and take time to step away and eat a healthy lunch and take a quick walk to get some fresh air and clear our heads. 

6. Personal projects. We boost our creative capacities and ability to solve problems effectively when we take a step away from work and let our minds wander while we bake, knit, draw, garden, or do any of the myriad other activities we can still do while social distancing. Our team members have remodeled bathrooms, planted vegetable gardens, built backyard obstacle courses, started running, and taken up a new instrument in the last 10 weeks, and these outlets have been a boon for both team bonding and our ability to think critically about our work. 

7. Keep building bridges. At DPLA, collaboration is at the heart of all we do. At a time when we’re physically distant, we are keenly aware that healthy partnerships are absolutely essential to our progress. We remain humbled and inspired by the work our colleagues in libraries, archives, and museums are doing across the country to maintain and expand access to knowledge despite the difficult circumstances. We are grateful to our community for continuing to devote time to our shared work, and coming together to exchange ideas and find ways to continue to advance our shared mission.