Working Alone, Together
Posted on April 14, 2020
Our library staff members are chronicling their experiences living through a pandemic. If you keep a daily journal of your experience, consider donating it to Swem’s Special Collections when the crisis has passed.
I didn’t know for sure that my last day in the library would be my last. Even so, at the end of the day I bid a somber farewell to a couple of coworkers because we all had a feeling that it would be the last time we’d all be in the same place for a very long time. It was hard to say goodbye, because in the short amount of time I’ve worked at W&M Libraries, I’ve become strongly connected to my workplace and the friendly faces I’d grown accustomed to seeing every workday. We’ve become a tight-knit team that often starts the day with an impromptu group conversation, and we have “team time” for half an hour on Friday mornings where we take a walk together, go bird watching, or play a quick game. Even beyond my department, I’ve loved getting to know others in the library through committee work or sitting next to someone new at a staff meeting.
It’s the people that make working at W&M Libraries special – and I don’t know if it’s the social isolation talking or what, but I’ve struggled to carry on without my colleagues just down the hall or a flight of stairs away. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately miss working with students and faculty in person, too. But I especially miss the comfort and familiarity of the folks I see on a regular basis.
Fortunately for me, there are ways that my colleagues and I regularly connect with each other, providing this introvert with some surprisingly needed people time.
The first week of working from home was a huge adjustment, not just in working out logistics of our jobs but figuring out how to function in this new, much quieter environment (at least, quieter for those of us without toddlers around). My supervisor Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Research Services, has experience with holding a team together in the midst of an abrupt teleworking environment, and she made the excellent decision to hold daily afternoon check-ins via Zoom. This was a lifesaver, especially in the first week when we were all craving something a little bit normal. Just seeing each other’s faces and saying hi was helpful to ground us and affirm that though we’re apart, we’re not in this work alone.
The daily check-ins continue, even into week four. Sometimes they last 15 minutes, while other times we have a tricky problem that we need a full hour to untangle. Whatever the case, meeting regularly has been immensely helpful to give me something normal and stable to look forward to.
Our team uses Slack to communicate for most matters now, and fortunately we had been regular users for a while before the pandemic. Among other functions, the Slack group helps us talk about matters that need to be addressed quickly, get advice, and brainstorm ideas to gather in one place. Socially, it’s been a place where we can communicate via gifs, pass information about good (or horrible) webinars we’ve attended, and share memes and images reflecting how we’re faring in these bizarre times. My supervisor has also seemed to make it a habit of posting articles in one of our channels that address issues like grief, anxiety, and loss of productivity. To me, this has helped develop an environment where a number of us, myself included, have started being perhaps a bit more open about the states of our emotional and mental health than we would have been in person, pre-global health emergency.
Breaking Down Silos
Beyond the Research department, my colleagues in the library at large are doing some great work to keep us connected. We have a library-wide Teams channel where we keep each other in the loop about what the different areas of the library are doing while also sharing more lighthearted “Water Cooler” moments. My colleague Ash Gonzales, Makerspace Coordinator, started a weekly Friday afternoon happy hour over Zoom so we can check in, share how our weeks went, and talk about our plans to pass the time over the weekend. My favorite silo-breaking initiative of all, though, is the twice-weekly Zoom yoga class taught by Georgie Donovan, Associate Dean of Collections and Content Services. Nothing serves as a better reminder that your colleagues are human after all than seeing each other attempt Downward Dog on our respective office/living room/garage floors.
President Rowe said something in a recent Community Conversation that really struck me – that “part of what it is to be successful” in this difficult time “is to lean into our community and help support each other in our vulnerabilities.” I feel so appreciative of the community of colleagues I’ve found here and how folks have strived to stay present for each other amidst this pandemic, even and especially when we’re feeling anxious or stretched thin. It’s not easy to live and work through a global emergency, but figuring out ways to maintain that human connection is how we will make it through to the other end of this tunnel.