Librarian perspectives on working from home, flexible work schedules, and telecommuting

Can you work here?

In addition to being a library manager, I’m a father who has to make (and often coach)  the after-work basketball, soccer, and baseball practices, who has to lead the Cub Scout den meeting, and who has to occasionally stay home with a sick kid.  Like many professional librarians, this means that I often do work outside the “normal” 8-5, Monday thru Friday schedule.  In some cases the work outside the traditional workday is a means to stay ahead, in other cases it’s a way to make up for lost time.

I have a great office environment and I love to go to work each day.  In our office suite — a cubicle environment housing me(in an office, with a door that rarely closes) and ten other staff members –I get great ideas, energy, and motivation from the colleagues around me.  I really enjoy the conversations we have – some work related, some not – and appreciate our camaraderie.  However, there are times when I love to just kick back in my recliner with my laptop, a cup of coffee, and my favorite pair of sweatpants, and really focus on a project (or my inbox).  At other times I have done work in a different environment, sipping a hot beverage while mooching the wifi in one of our many coffee shops about town.

I’m a believer in giving my staff the resources they need to do their best work, and giving them the spaces and time to accomplish their tasks.  In addition to reading some books on the topic of work, I looked around the library web/blogosphere to see what librarians have written on the topic.  Below are some of the best articles and posts covering teleworking, working from home, and flexible work schedules/environments in libraries.

Tell Your Boss: Benefits of Telecommuting

At a time when we’re looking at reduced staffing in libraries, reduced salaries, reduced benefits, and reduced morale, it might be a good time to ask your boss about telecommuting (working from home) opportunities. Maybe your union could concede a 5% pay cut if every staff member gets two telecommuting days per month. Maybe you agree to a transfer or a reduction in health care if you get to work from home a half-day each week. I can tell you from experience that telecommuting is a positive thing: for both the employee and the employer.

Director’s Day in the Life: working from home

It also happens that I hear from a variety of librarians that they work for library administrators who don’t “like” or “approve” or “support” working from locations other than the libraries.

To which I say, “Why not?”

In my experience, offering library staff the freedom to intermittently do their work in the way they see fit isn’t a detriment to productivity, to collegiality, to collaboration, or to accountability. On the flipside, forcing attendance at the library can result in more paid time off being used, in lowered productivity from people who could have been more effective in a different environment, and some serious crushing of morale when the administration is perceived as being inflexible and unsympathetic.

Telework Guidelines — University of Washington Libraries

Telework involves the relocation of an employee’s work site to his/her home or alternative work site on a scheduled basis utilizing telecommunications and computer technology. Telework is intended to enhance employee productivity, creativity, and satisfaction through a mutually agreeable work arrangement between the employee and the University Libraries. Telework involves a formal agreement for a set period of time as approved by the supervisor, division head, and the appropriate Associate Dean or Director.

On occasion, a staff member may, with the approval of the supervisor, work at home but this short-term or ad hoc change of workstation is not covered by these guidelines.

Working From Home — A Day in the Life of  a Librarian post

At the time of writing I am recovering from a recent operation on my foot and am housebound. Because I am no longer a frontline librarian but a manager and thanks to technology, this does not preclude me from most of my duties – the most obvious being that I’m not attending face to face meetings at the moment. Even so, Skype also allows a restricted version of that too. Thus, for most of the working day, I am sitting on the sofa, my right leg extended on a chair, laptop on lap, writing and responding to emails. Even a few years ago I’m not sure this would have been possible.

Working from Afar: A New Trend for Librarianship?

Traditionally, librarians have been tethered to a facility either because their public service role demands face-to-face interaction or because they work with materials housed in the building. As collection formats and service mechanisms change, however, librarians may be poised to take advantage of more flexible scheduling arrangements. In Spring 2007, I embarked on a six-month telecommuting experiment between Washington, D.C. and Logan, Utah that proved to me that most of my daily responsibilities are perfectly compatible with a more flexible work arrangement.

Why librarians are well-suited for location-flexible work

Many library services and jobs are almost completely virtual and some libraries are completely virtual now. I don’t mean to say that I think physical libraries will disappear. I think they will continue to thrive, since they provide so many wonderful services to their communities. Working virtually is just another option that some of us may want to try at different times in our lives.

Librarians considering telecommuting, consider this

Not all employees or positions are right for telecommuting, but for those that are, libraries can gain advantages by opening up a telecommute option. Such flexibility may be key for recruiting and retaining employees whose specialized skills are difficult to replace. Library employees who negotiate a formal telecommute agreement may find more job satisfaction and be less likely to seek out other employment. For both libraries and library employees, then, here are four factors to consider when considering telecommuting.

Telecommuting for librarians

While not everyone has the liberty to do this, some kinds of tasks or positions are more suitable for telecommuting than others—generally tasks/positions that require little or no contact with the public, like cataloging, indexing, working on websites or the library’s intranet, developing user aids, virtual reference, and writing reports. However, even reference librarians might have time scheduled off the desk, which could be used for telecommuting.

What can library managers learn from the WordPress official creed?

wordpress-logoAutomattic, the company that owns WordPress.com, is an interesting study in organizational culture, hierarchy, and work.  The Year Without Pants, a book I’m currently reading and learning a lot from, shows the inner workings of this very different (and very cool)  company. In the book’s pages, I picked up on the WordPress creed, which can also be found on Matt Mullenweg’s blog.  Looking at this from a library manager’s point of view, there’s a lot we can steal from those words.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

I will never stop learning.

  • We should cultivate a culture of continuous learning whereby employees have access to exploration and experimentation, readings, webinars, conferences, professional development, and lively discussion with colleagues.

I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.

  • We should empower employees to work beyond their comfort zone and encourage work with colleagues outside their department.

I know there’s no such thing as a status quo.

  • We need to know that change is always on the horizon, and we should do our best to welcome (and encourage)  change, while also helping employees adapt to change.

I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.

  • Libraries  have to be a customer-focused business in order to remain relevant.  Our strength these days is not necessarily in our resources, but in how we care about our communities.   The people who use our libraries are our biggest advocates, so we must be passionate about listening to our patrons to understand their needs.

I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

  • There actually is an “I” in Library, but still.  Good teams get things done.  Bad ones just get in the way.

I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.

  • Libraries are one of the most powerful ideas of any generation.  What we do is for the common good, to educate, to make the world a better place.  No one gets rich being a librarian,  but they reap their rewards in other ways.

I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.

  • Communication with colleagues, patrons, peers, neighbors, customers, vendors, IT support, library boards, politicians, stakeholders,  etc.  is an essential function of our profession.  We need to make sure our staff are good at talking and writing.

I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.

  • It’s not a sprint, but that doesn’t mean you should dawdle either.  Our profession continues to change rapidly, and if you aren’t at least moving, you’ll be left behind.

Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

  • In libraries, no problems are insurmountable given enough time, staff, or money. Unfortunately, we don’t often have enough of either, so we have to get good at improvising and solving problems with creative solutions.