As those working in academic libraries and higher education institutions consider how to reopen their campuses later this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what work will look like post-COVID-19. We don’t know when that “after” will begin. Once we’re back on campus? After a potential resurgence of the virus? Or once there’s a vaccine? These unknowns make it difficult to lead and facilitate planning. Regardless of when the “after” begins, our expectations as employees and humans certainly seems to have shifted. As a leader, it behooves me to consider how those shifts will impact my faculty/staff, our patrons, and myself. This is the first post in a two-part series.
Below are some of my initial thoughts about how leadership must evolve to meet the changing expectations of our employees and of ourselves in a post-pandemic world.
- Trust employees to do their work, unless they prove otherwise: We’ve been working remotely since March, and people have been productive and responsive. There’s no reason to think that once we’re back onsite that behavior should change, or that our level of trust would change.
- Reimagining the workday: When working onsite, I often feel like I’m in a fish bowl because my office has a large window as one of its walls. I recognize that as a leader people will be curious about me and how I spend my time. However, it has been somewhat liberating to not keep to strict 8-5pm schedule, if my work is done for the day, or if I decide to take a walk and pick up with my work later in the afternoon.
- Being able to include life at work: I’ve enjoyed being able to run an errand during the day, or call a doctor’s office without feeling as though these life activities are encroaching on my work time.
- Respecting other people’s time: I protect my time pretty carefully when working to be sure that I’m being my most effective and efficient. I’ve found that people are more hesitant to just plop a meeting on the calendar when a quick video call might suffice, scheduled using chat. This hesitancy may be due in part to the knowledge we all have that many people are juggling family needs as well as their work lives while being remote. I’d like to see that kind of mindfulness continue once we’re back onsite.
- Continuing to bring your whole self to work, and encouraging others to do the same: I wrote about this in “First Lessons Learned: Leading in the Time of COVID“, and have found that I’m more open to sharing parts of my life with my coworkers now than I have been in the past. I also start and end each meeting by asking people “How are you doing?” And I listen to their responses, which I find easier to focus on while at home than it sometimes is in the office- given the faster pace of work when onsite.
- Supporting deep work: I’ve noticed that for a number of my faculty/staff working remotely has afforded them the opportunity to dig into projects and interests that they often push aside when we’re onsite in favor of focusing on the fire of the moment. I’ve also noticed the deep sense of satisfaction these faculty/staff feel as they explore topics and tasks that enable them to explore a new curiosity or develop a new skill set. Figuring out how to help faculty/staff set time aside to preserve their ability to devote time to deep work is something I’m keen to figure out. Working on passion projects keeps our staff engaged and enables them to grow and develop in their roles.
- Providing scheduling flexibility for deep work: Related to supporting deep work, is the idea of providing scheduling flexibility to enable our staff to work part of their week from home- if that’s where they’re best able to concentrate- or some other arrangement that recognizes we may not all do our best deep work when in the office.
- Decreasing distractions: I asked my faculty and staff to respond to a brief set of questions once we had been working remotely for 1 month to begin to understand the impact of this change on their work and ability to concentrate on complex tasks. Meetings, email, student employees, patrons, colleagues in the library, each other were all distractions they took note of. Each distraction they identified is a key component of our work, either who we work with, who we serve, or how we work. However, recognizing these distractions may help us to suss out how to mitigate their impact on us and help us to feel less scattered.
How do you anticipate that your approach to work will change?
The second post in this two-part series, will focus on how the nature of work in libraries and how we serve our patrons is likely to change post-COVID-19.