Welcome to My 6 Desks! Roving Home Offices and Returning to Work in COVID-19
In the second installment of our “Welcome to My Desk” posts (major thanks to Deborah Ginsburg for diving in with the first!) I wanted to share the variety of spaces I’ve worked from home in, as well as the space I’m gradually returning to a few days a week in the library. Like Deborah, my last full day in the office before COVID-19 closure was March 13th. Since March 16th when I first set up my initial “home office” space, it has perpetually included a kid, several cats, a mac book pro laptop, and a Yeti USB microphone. I’m sensing a theme here…
But unlike Deborah, I couldn’t stay set up in a single area of my house (not even for 1 of my 148 day teleworking spree). With a 5 year old who won’t stay put, a husband who likes to listen to music on the home stereo, and a horrible internet connection, I’ve had to be flexible and literally roam my home for privacy and a cellular signal during certain hours of the work-from-home-day. Starting last week, August 10th to be precise, many of us returned to work at the University of Georgia. With a teleworking agreement in place I am still moving between the two worlds. I need to keep my home office tech either at home or bring small parts of it to and from home and the actual office every other day. This has proven to require another level of flexibility!
Here’s a tour of the spectrum of “desks” I’ve had for the past 5 months and counting, essential tech I need for each spot, and the pros or cons of each set-up:
1. The Bedroom – 11 AM to 6PM *strongest internet connection & lowest lighting*
This is my actual home office space. Pre-pandemic I had purchased an L-shaped corner desk for my bedroom. I primarily used it as a small art and music desk. The first things I brought home, not knowing how long this would last, were my Yeti mic, my favorite desk ornament “Mr. Cat”, a laptop stand, steno pads, pens and pencils, and my thesaurus. Several weeks later I ended up retrieving an extra monitor (formerly my second monitor from work), mouse, mouse pad, keyboard, and my external hard drive. My desk already had a couple power strips below and two nearby wall outlets, as well as a ring lamp that had USB ports for charging other devices (like my phone). Now I’ve accumulated more books, binders, and other items I’ve brought home from the library. I’ve been slowly returning these each time I’ve been back in the library over the last two weeks. I have also accumulated a surprising amount of new custom desk ornaments made from legos!
I live WAY out in the country, and internet access is not so great. We had recently ditched satellite internet that cost more per month than it worked for us and expanded our dataplan with Verizon to hot spot internet from out phones (yes, this is unfortunately the best quality internet available in my area). With this in mind, the bedroom desk turned out to be the most solid internet connection throughout my home. It also has the lowest lighting since most of the afternoon I can stay in the space with the curtains closed and the lights dim. Sometimes I get 3 bars LTE in this spot!! The downsides of this spot are that it is still the bedroom, connected to our main bathroom and of course our bed. If I am working quietly with no meetings, I can sometimes pull off working in this area in the morning – but who doesn’t have zoom meetings before 11 AM? So this location is best between the hours of 11 AM and 6 PM, with random ranges of unavailability in between.
From left to right: laptop, computer stand, thesaurus, external hard drive, desk light with USB charger, external monitor, external keyboard, a cat, small books from the office (like Bluebook), Yeti USB microphone, computer mouse and mouse pad, cat koozie for can/cat coffee mug, pencils/pens holder, librarian action figure, steno pads, notebooks from the office.
2. The Studio – 7 AM to 10 AM *kid & cat free zone*
There have been times early in the morning where I have had zoom meetings or had to give a live presentation virtually before my husband and son are awake. Not wanting to be responsible in any way for waking my son up earlier than anyone is ready for, I head out to our separate studio space. This is actually a garage that was completely re-finished. My husband and I keep much of our media collection out in the studio, along with our largest musical instruments, as well as art materials (dark room enlarger, photographic chemicals, canvases, etc.). This is the only completely kid-free and cat-free zone in our home, and is really well insulated sound-wise since it used to be a garage. The door that closes this room off is a thick exterior door.
The downsides of the studio are the internet connection and power outlets. I only have 1 bar out there which makes for lagging video and audio, and frequent dropped zoom calls. There are also very few wall outlets, and most of them are already spoken for with large gear plugged in that would be a hassle to move. However, in a pinch, this space offers privacy early morning if I have a meeting that would otherwise wake my family up. For this space, I only take my laptop, phone, and ear-buds – the bare minimum.
3. The Living Room Couch – 9 AM to 4 PM *2nd best internet connection & a window*
The couch in our living room is right beside a window with a rose bush, looking out into our back yard. This spot has the 2nd best internet. With the window open and my phone positioned just right on the windowsill it has a solid 2 bars. This spot is super great in the morning before others are awake, assuming I do not have a zoom meeting. The windowsill doubles as a great place for writing utensils and my coffee cup. The coffee table is great for spreading out notes from meetings and looking over anything printed and visual that I need to for organizing the items themselves and my thoughts. It isn’t always a clean table space though – this is also the main location my son builds things (legos, tinker toys, mangatiles, play doh – you name it, it is on the table and sometimes in mass). At this “desk” I’ve quickly learned that looks can be deceiving with comfortable sitting areas.
At first I loved the couch, but I wasn’t used to sitting on it with a laptop for hours at a time. It is slouch-city! And ultimately too much time in this location is a literal pain in the neck. Up side? It is also cat-city. We have four cats, and if a cat in your lap or on top of your head is needed for stress relief, this is the place to be. Another down side though, as the most open area of our home it is the most likely place to be interrupted. I tend to only bring the laptop, my phone, and a notebook or two most of the time. If I’m on kid-duty and working, I’ll bring out my better headphones so I can focus more on what I need to do than whatever my son is watching on the TV. This area is harder to use the later it gets in the day, as my son gets increasingly restless and my husband starts dinner.
4. The Dining Room Table – 11 AM to 1 PM *best zoom background*
How many meetings happen during the lunch hour (and are purposely scheduled that way!)? The answer is far too many… I am bad enough about eating late lunches anyway, but sometimes there is no better option than eating during faculty meetings between 12 and 1. I don’t use this location much, but at least once a week since March I’ve had to use this “desk”. The dining room connects to the bedroom so this spot doesn’t work well before 11 AM when others may be sleeping or still getting ready.
The internet connection is terrible here, but the table is large so there is plenty of space free from toy-creations and dried play-doh to spread out papers for taking notes and still eat at a reasonable time of day. The best part about this room is that we also have our book shelves lining the walls. This makes it my favorite spot for having a nice non-virtual background. For this desk I take my laptop with stand (to put notebooks or a plate of food underneath), phone, Yeti microphone, and headphones.
5. The Kitchen Counter – Anytime *best for multi-tasking*
By multi-tasking I mean working, being in a meeting (preferably one I am primarily listening to and not leading or speaking often), and being a mom. This is the space with a decent enough internet connection – mostly 2 bars. I can start work tasks (like uploading items to our repository or uploading a video tutorial), listen to or take part in a meeting, prepare food for my son, watch him in the living room, or even wash dishes. I don’t end up working in this area for very long, and like the dining room, it happens only a couple times a week. But when I do, I need my laptop, phone, and earbuds. In a pinch I can manage with just earbuds and my phone. I’ve got zoom, skype, and go to meeting apps all installed on my phone at this point so whatever the virtual platform I can quickly connect. If I really need to be more hands-on with my son or something around the house like in the kitchen, I just triple check that I’m muted and my camera is off since this usually means my phone is in my back pocket.
6. The Actual Office – *best for live streamed video presentations & working with the ILS*
For the majority of my teleworking experience this past spring and summer, I went into the office as briefly as possible one morning a week (usually Fridays). This was only for the most essential things I couldn’t do from home, like change our library catalog’s physical backup tape, and to download, edit, and upload batches of records for the catalog. We use iii’s Sierra and I’ve found that even tasks that look like they are available in Sierra Web do not always work the same way, or the option is greyed out. It also requires VPN which my bad internet loves to kick me off of, making it too time-consuming or frustrating from home to be efficient. As the summer progressed, I started doing more presentations for virtual conferences. I quickly found that going into the office to present was well worth it to ensure I wouldn’t completely glitch out or drop the video conference entirely while I was mid-sentence as a speaker or panelist. I did this when presenting for CALICon and AALL for example – more on that below.
Now that the semester has begun for fall, I’m on a three days a week in the office schedule, and two days at home. The things I came across immediately that I would need in the office and at home were a web cam/microphone, and headphones. There have already been days that I ended up forgetting headphones to take into the office. And let’s not forget things to write with (because I did!) – in March I took home almost all my pens and pencils. Returning to work regularly I realized there was nothing to write with! I still need my external monitor at home, and most of my work is on my laptop. So for now my actual office desk in the library is minus my normally 2nd monitor, but I’ve been taking my laptop with me each time. This keeps me from using too many USB drives (and forgetting or losing those) or having to email or Slack myself any items I might need two or more days in a row when I’m alternating between work and home. The single thing I’ve missed the most was probably my barcode scanner. I know it isn’t necessary, but it is one of the things I really missed having at my desk. I’ve also missed having a land-line telephone. I didn’t think I would ever say that! Though working from home using my phone as a hotspot for internet has prevented me from making regular telephone calls AND working on a computer. For my cell phone, it is one or the other. Calling into a meeting or just making a regular phone call with a coworker saves data, but I cannot do anything else while I am on the phone. Just yesterday our systems team did some improvised old school conference calls from our respective offices. I LOVED this! Bonus that there was no delay in hearing my colleagues muffled voice through the walls like I’ve experience on zoom meetings when we are in our offices.
The entire spring and summer I made it until July before using a virtual background. This was actually out of necessity – I just couldn’t get it to work with my ancient Mac Book. It is a 2011 running Yosemite. For presenting live at virtual AALL I was able to get from our Law School IT department a super sweet USB webcam. It is widescreen and has a nice auto-focus feature. I now use this with my PC for zooming when I am in the real office building. Because my PC is newer, I can use virtual backgrounds with no issue in the office with this set-up! Even without a green screen behind me, it worked perfectly. I discovered though that my best headphones (which rise up above my head) are NOT virtual background friendly, and instead use earbuds for calls I need virtual backgrounds for.