Monthly Archives: December 2013

My dining room table is not ergonomic

“Tumble outta bed | And stumble to the kitchen | Pour myself a cup of ambition”, Dolly Parton, 9-5

Well, here we are at the end of my working from home odyssey. I fully expected to title this post “In praise of going to the office”, but I surprised myself and managed some substantial productivity. Something tells me that my promise to document was definitely at play in keeping me honest, but my to-do list really did scare the shit out of me, so a good combo, indeed.

Day one

This was my least productive day. Anyone who follows me on Twitter can vouch for that (sorry, guys!). Mainly the result of dealing with buggy software, receiving a summons for jury duty during Superconference and not being the most organized in my approach to instruction design lead to a lot of false starts and scratching the surface of a bunch of different things. But, I can say in all honesty that I worked a solid 7.5 hours with only a brief lunch/laundry break and I welcomed the promise of some fresh air to shovel the driveway and get my blood pumping at the end of it.

Day two

Shit got real on Thursday. I was screen-casting. I was talking learning outcomes. I was navigating the murky waters of citing online sources in APA (will this source change or not? is it easily located?, etc. etc.) and trying to distill it for 1st years using online tools only. Oy. I felt I had it mostly done in time to turn my attention to my ER&L conference proposal. I scrambled to switch gears and meet up virtually with my co-presenters. Then there was time to review a few reports that I should be paying close attention to, and the ever present email monster. I snuck in about 20 min. of yoga before my boys arrived home, and it was quitting time. I was spent. Easily clocked 8.5 hrs with no break.

Day 3

After reviewing the Blackboard module with my patient husband, I realized that I had major revisions to do. I was at the computer by 7:10am to get at ‘er, only to have that plan slightly derailed by the release of the revised LAC Code of Conduct. A check-in at the office and plans made for acquistion-y stuff, cleaning up email loose ends and more screen-casting and the continuation of my Blackboard odyssey. The next thing I knew, it was 2pm and I am spent. Dashing off this blog post is the last thing I’m doing before punching the proverbial clock.

Conclusions

At the end of day one, reflecting on my plans to apply for a one year sabbatical in the near-ish future, I recalled how I felt after being at home for the first couple days of mat leave, “how the hell will I manage this FOR A YEAR?” My back hurt and I missed my office set up. I hadn’t made it to the gym, and the weather precluded me going for a run at home (daily movement is crucial for my wellbeing). It really hit home that I need to be around people (hence my social media presence). But after Thursday, I realized that when I have a really meaty problem to tackle, I need time and quiet in order to sort through it. In my office environment, that’s a rarity. Between meetings, random chatting and then the stuff that just comes up, my days are often over even before I feel they’ve started. There are days in which I struggle to quantify exactly what I did, but know that I was busy the entire time. However, it’s that “stuff that just comes up” that builds a strong team/organization, and if you aren’t there to be part of it, you don’t have the opportunity to develop and nurture relationships. This, I truly believe.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ll probably continue to use professional development days for future project based work from home days. What happens when I run out of them and I absolutely feel I need to work from home? What about those who don’t have the luxury of PD time to request? Well, there’s the rub. What management struggles with is the fact that there will be abuse of working from home if it is granted as an option on an organizational level. There’s a fear that the floodgates will open and it will be too hard to close them. That is why I think all requests need to be judged on their own merit, and on a case-by-case basis. I also think it’s important to have specific tasks to accomplish. Aimless hours spent in front of my laptop without a deliverable to motivate me would be disastrous. But employers should be willing to give their employees the benefit of the doubt that they will rise to the challenge; if trust is offered, I’m wiling to bet that most won’t blow it. A couple loads of laundry here and there notwithstanding.

Happy holidays everyone! I’ve had a helluva year. It’s motha-effin’ Miller time. Cheers!

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In praise of working from home

I will give you anything, if you don’t demand it.” – Skydiggers, I Will Give You Everything*

I’m home on professional development time for the rest of the week, so I thought that now would be a good time to share some thoughts I’ve been thinking about the ever-controversial issue of working from home. This is part one, and likely the first of a series of “in praise of” posts (I’m an incorrigible positive thinker); if you check back at the end of the week, we can take stock of what I’ve actually accomplished, and where I’ll share honest observations on my productivity levels and how they would compare to what I would produce if in office.

There are very obvious benefits to working from home for the worker. Instead of reading the news and drinking my coffee on a cold and crowded subway (where yesterday I publicly wept at a story out of Syria – good morning, Scarborough!), I was able to hunker down under my duvet with my heating pad to listen to CBC Metro Morning and ponder the world in peace. Right around the time that I would be arriving downtown, I rose to make the coffee and get at ‘er. As one does when working from home, I immediately sent email to my team as if to demonstrate that indeed, I am awake and working. In my robe, but nevertheless, at my computer as I would be in the office.

Now, here comes the tricky bit. I’ve got a voluminous to-do list. Over the course of the next few days I intend to:

  • Develop to completion a Blackboard learning module for MKT100 to help the students do their research for a situational analysis assignment on a particular company.
  • Analyze the data that I have on ebook usage and develop my thoughts for a presentation recently accepted for ER&L in March.
  • Begin a literature search on weeding in academic libraries in preparation for another conference presentation recently accepted for CLA in May.
  • Keep on top of the daily email and happenings on the ground at the office. I expect this part to be quieter than usual given the time of year.

So, with nothing but my cat’s company and an internet connection, what’s stopping me from absolutely KILLING that list? I’ve got some deadlines here, and indeed, I should be working at peak. I’ll get distracted by snacks and a load of laundry here and there; I suppose that’s what gives employers pause when pondering the work from home issue. I don’t consider this my right as an employee. I am using three of my ten PD days here, and wouldn’t feel right doing so otherwise. There is no prescribed work week in our collective agreement and therefore, nothing official compelling me to go in five days a week. Conversely, there’s also nothing in the CA indicating that I am entitled to work remotely. Nor would I want to see that changed. There are many reasons to go to the office, but that’s for the end-of-the week post where I’ll share what I did get done, and what I didn’t. Full disclosure promised.

Right now, I’ve got to get tinkering in Blackboard, and respond to a couple emails … and my son wet through his diaper last night (TMI MAMA!) so I’ll be throwing a load of laundry in the washer too.

*inspired by above mentioned listen of Metro Morning

Short term contracts suck

“Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.” – Pulp, Common People

In what only can be described as a spectacular poorly researched move, a temp agency recently tried to recruit the man behind the blog that needs no introduction – Bibliocracy. His response was a wise one, and one that I’m sure was empowering, if it wasn’t so depressing. That, along with this tweet:

… got me thinking about poverty and employment over the weekend. To what limit can one stretch their commitment to ethical professional values when you just need a damn job because rent is due? I’m pretty sure the answer is … not far.

The move toward temporary labour is only increasing – at a breakneck speed in terms of the federal government – how can anyone feel prepared enough to “get started” in life if they have no benefits, and no guarantee of a paycheque in three months time? But in the short term, some money/experience is better than none, and I’ve got a feeling that a lot of pride is being swallowed with the hopes that brighter days are ahead. And after all, a three month contract in your field has got to be better than waiting tables, yeah? (NB: there is NO shame in waiting tables – a hard day’s work is a hard day’s work, full stop).

I’ve heard tales of people accepting short term contracts that are nowhere near to their home and sacrificing a great deal in order to say yes to the job. I’ve known people to not speak of the job they are begrudgingly going to because it was a cold, corporate position that held little more esteem (in their eyes) than a paycheque at the end of the week. Working several contracts at once is the closest that some can get to a decent living. This, if I may be blunt, is a shitty, shitty reality for too many. And, as Myron pointed out, should be the shame of one of the world’s most prosperous countries.

I suppose I am just adding my voice to the chorus that demands more permanence in the job market. In short order, I feel that employers need to commit to doing better at:

  • Replacing retirees. It doesn’t have to be the exact same position. On the contrary, quite often a retirement is a fabulous opportunity to re-imagine a position that is already in your budget and can be re-drafted to reflect skills that may not have existed in the previous job description. The entry level salary will be lower than the outgoing top end, so it is still a net savings for budget reduction scenarios, and the organization is the beneficiary of new ideas and energy. This is win-win.
  • Speaking for the academic sector, we must open our minds when evaluating the work history of job applicants. Rather than stubbornly insisting on sector-specific experience, allow yourself to focus more on transferable and soft skills. A new grad who has demonstrated a strong track record in learning quickly on the job is a good bet. I’ve been on selection committees where we have kept an open mind when hiring for a position that we knew would have a shallow pool of experienced candidates, and we’ve never been disappointed with our choices.
  • Be a mentor to someone who is in the job market. Even if you know that there are no opportunities on the horizon, a friendly face and offer of a chat over coffee can go a long way to boost someone’s confidence, which we all know is of paramount importance when you are in the hunt.

And, finally, in reference to that above tweet, talk about money freely. There’s got to be a lot of folks out there with a significant amount of student debt and little hope of paying it off anytime soon. When I first started at Ryerson, I noticed almost immediately that NO ONE talked about money. Which is something that mainly those who have little of it tend to notice.

dollasloth

When you are struggling with your finances, it can be all consuming. When you realize that no one talks about it, it becomes something to feel ashamed about. There’s no logic at play – it is not the fault of the individual that the current economy demands that you live hand to mouth, but nevertheless, we can de-stigmatize poverty by acknowledging it. If even one person admitted to me that they also had a hard time with a once-per-month paycheque, I would have felt less inadequate (seriously – once a month?! That’s hard!!). 

The platform statement

Say the right things | When electioneering | I trust I can rely on your vote
-Radiohead, Electioneering

I’ve waited to actually publicize my blog until I had more than one “about me” type post. You know, actual content. They say you should blog about things that you know; I know associations. In particular, library associations. Through a series of unfortunately timed situations, I’ve found myself an elected official on CLA executive council, an ex-officio on OCULA executive council, and an active member of the refreshingly executive-free PLG-GTA all at the same time. Consequently, I’ll probably have lots more to say about these experiences over time, but today, I’m inspired to write about crafting a platform statement when running for the executive council of the association that’s near and dear to you.

Without picking on anyone in particular, (because for real, this is a problem that is perennial and is not unique to any one association) I’ve noticed that far too many candidate platforms spend most of their (limited characters) talking about themselves and what a great experience it will be for them to “give back” to the association. Except, they’re not saying anything about what they hope to accomplish or how they’ll go about it. This is off-putting and leaves me scratching my head about who to choose, especially in absence of any option to destroy your ballot. Ahem.

Platform statements that are too inwardly focussed on the candidate only serve to perpetuate the cult of personality/popularity contest that these elections are so commonly derided as. Furthermore, it serves to further reiterate the commonly held view that associations are really nothing more than exclusive clubs for those “in the know”.

A substantive platform statement should include the following:

  • A very brief introduction to you. Your job title, where you work and area of focus/research is usually enough for me to know about your work history. If you must, post a link to an online CV.
  • A statement about your previous experience with the association and why you feel this particular position is right for you and your skill set. This will include evidence of understanding what the role you are running for entails.
  • Something about your unique perspective and what that will bring to the table that is perhaps missing, or hasn’t been sufficiently represented in the recent association activity.
  • There should be evidence of understanding the goals and purpose of the association, examples of activities or initiatives you are passionate about, would like to pursue further, or new initiatives you hope to lead.
  • If there’s something broken about the association that you would like to help fix, talk about it. Acknowledge it. Inspire folks to vote for you because they think you’ll do a good job.
  • Keep it brief. Time and again, I’ve seen ridiculously long statements that I actually don’t even know how they made the cut. There’s normally a character limit for a good reason – stick to it. And, a note to associations, don’t let people submit platforms over the limit either, it’s not fair to those who tried to be succinct and honestly, they are a drag to read.

Associations really are what we make them. A strong and motivated executive council makes a world of difference to the quality of an associations activity and output. Alternatively, an exec can toe the line, not rock the boat, and look really impressive on someone’s annual report as evidence of “service to the profession”. I posit that unless you are rocking the boat, you are not serving your profession OR your association.