One Year Later – NARIC Staff Reflect on COVID and Telework

It’s been a solid year since NARIC staff met to discuss the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and determine how best to meet our patrons’ needs while staying safe and healthy. Together with our management team, we decided to move to telework for all staff. It took us a little while to settle into a rhythm, which included weekly virtual staff meetings, receiving and returning calls to patrons, and creating healthy telework spaces. Now here we are, one year later, and we asked the team to reflect on the challenges and successes and look forward to a post-COVID workplace.

I miss the people, I don’t miss the commute

When necessary, one of us will venture into the office to pick up mail, check supplies, and fill document requests. Otherwise, our average commute is now the short distance from the breakfast table to the desk (sometimes they’re the same piece of furniture). We’ve found that we’re more productive generally, starting a little earlier or ending a little later in the day. No one misses the time on the road or the wear-and-tear on their cars. We do miss some things though, like seeing and talking with colleagues we’ve known for years and having a clear “end of the day” when we’ve signed off and headed home, leaving work at the office. It can also be a challenge to remember to get up and move around during the workday.

You need a good chair

We’ve learned the importance of setting up a real office space, even a modular one that can be put away at the end of the day. “I have a fully dedicated office and it helps tremendously to keep my head in the game,” commented director Mark Odum. Media Specialist Catherine Graves uses a desk-on-wheels in her living room but found sitting on the couch was not helpful: “I also got a real desk chair instead of sitting on the couch, which was not sustainable for my health.”

A little more time for me

The time we’ve saved on commuting has helped us manage our health. That extra time has meant more self-care like preparing a healthy lunch or a quick workout or stretching session, or even just brushing your teeth after lunch. Catherine and Abstractor Sheila Turner, who both manage conditions with chronic pain, found it easier to manage their symptoms, which improved their productivity. Sheila said, “I can manage my pain more effectively by being in an environment where I can control the room temperature, change the positioning of my body as needed without special furniture or assistive technology, and adjust my hours to work when I’m feeling most alert and productive.” Catherine agreed: “I have missed less time from work due to my chronic pain and fatigue. I noticed that my knees hurt less than before. I have control over my environment and can regulate my temperature and exposure to strong scents, and I have access to a huge garden style window for natural light.” For Mark, it’s meant time to focus on getting better: “As an aging quadriplegic with recent health challenges, finding the time to exercise and take better care of myself has become paramount. On those afternoons where I feel my energy level beginning to wane, it is now convenient for me to utilize some of my home gym equipment to run through a few stretches and cardio exercises to pick up the energy level and finish out the day with a little more oomph. All things considered the pandemic has helped me get physically healthier.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s safe

As we begin a second year of remote work due to COVID, we have learned there are plusses and minuses to full-time telework. We are communicating more as a team thanks to the weekly meetings where we share progress on our individual tasks, but we miss seeing people in person, three dimensional instead of a two-inch box on a screen. We’re able to work without some of the distractions of office life, allowing us to concentrate and manage our time and energy better. However, we’re challenged to clearly separate our spaces and our hours into work and non-work, which can take away some of that good energy we gained. Technology has given us the opportunity to attend and exhibit at virtual conferences and meetings which would have required expensive and time-consuming travel. Then again, we’re reliant on our home Internet with its crowded WiFi to connect to equally crowded virtual private networks. All of these challenges aside, we are able to work safely and without interruption to our patrons.

We know it’s likely that full-time and part-time telework are here to stay, which means more opportunity for people who couldn’t access traditional, on-site office work due to disability, access to transportation, or caring for a child or parent. Everything we as a community have learned in this COVID year will inform public and corporate policy, making it possible for more people to be fully and competitively employed. For now: Work from home, wear a mask when you’re out, and take care of yourself and each other.

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