While engaged as digital asset managers, some of us have been told that working from home was simply impossible. The given reasons were probably about work culture: it was just something people did not do. That has changed recently. Most, if not all, DAM pros are working from home during the pandemic.
As discussed in a recent panel discussion, there are many reasons why managing digital assets can easily be done from home. I want to elaborate on a few of those reasons as they relate to workplace issues employers and their employees often struggle with.
Ability to focus with fewer interruptions
Today, open office plans are pretty much the norm. They look sunny and bright, make it easier to chat with your neighbor, and allow many of us to move around without the need to move office furniture. Sound good? Well, in reality they can encourage disruption and distraction. For one, they can be too bright. I know that when I dive into some code or hunker down to review metadata, I like it to be somewhat dark. For others, brightness is an impediment to their work. Imagine doing color critical work as an imaging specialist or video editor in an uncontrolled bright environment. Not good. Noise is a problem too. Some of us talk to ourselves, carry on conversations in the open, and hold spontaneous meetings at any which desk (the setup certainly looks great in those happy-face stock photos) but it is just plain distracting.
On the other hand, one’s home can be a quiet, or at least controllable, place to get stuff done. Granted, family members who’d otherwise be at school or at an office may now interrupt what we are doing at home but that will likely change when states gradually ease social distancing measures.
Comfortable working conditions
When’s the last time you felt warm/cool enough at work? I have lost count of the number of times I have heard someone say they were uncomfortable and ask how they could possibly change the temperature setting. I’m here to put this question to rest: there is no way. Not if you work at an office. The reality is that the perfect temperature is relative. I’m pretty sure my perfect temperature will be too cold/hot for you. So, guess where you can set that temperature at will: your home! Seriously, I think the last time I set my thermostat manually was when I programmed it two years ago. Now I get to focus on getting stuff done.
By working from home, other distractions significantly decrease. For one, I don’t have to hear office gossip. Let’s just say, some folks feel like they can say some pretty inappropriate things by calling it office “goss.” Similarly, bullies – those people who steamroll, yell, and insult to get their way – seem to lose their destructive powers, fading into the background of video chats, teleconferences, and zoom meetings (Zoom-bombing is a different scenario. I am talking about other employees, not strangers). Though I won’t guess at why, I hope that working from home will give these folks some space to manage their issue privately.
Speaking of getting one’s way, virtual teams are much harder to micromanage as it forces bosses to trust their employees. In turn those employees feel empowered to step up and get stuff done. To these office problems I turn to Jimmy Fallon and say, “Go on, git!”
Motivated and satisfied with our jobs
Have I convinced you yet? No? Okay (I can go on like this all day!). Have you ever felt unmotivated or unsatisfied with your job? I know that I have. Frankly, this can be a problem both at an office and working from home. The way to counter these prevailing feelings is to have a plan and relentlessly pursue those SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound) you set up with your boss. I schedule my goals quarterly and break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, I list what I plan to do each day and how I will prepare for tomorrow. Think of yourself as a goal accomplishing machine. Also, please remember that if your boss has done a good job goal-setting with you YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO ACCOMPLISH ALL OF YOUR GOALS. So take it easy on yourself. Have a cup of chamomile. Leave some flowers at your neighbor’s door. Open a window and take a deep breath…
And take frequent, active, breaks. It may sound silly but I rely on exercises and stretches to keep me going (though I love my coffee!). It can be tempting to log in to social media and tune in to the news, but I doggedly limit the amount of time I spend on them. Avoiding them helps me to avoid that “end of days” anxiety social outlets seem to be selling. If you get tired, stop and do something different. I tend to jump around a lot: I work on a proposal, do some coding, and then read an article. And don’t forget to schedule your continuing education. Library Juice offers some excellent courses (digital preservation!) and runs several library certificate programs. If you’re more into earning a certificate in digital asset management, then check out San Jose State University and Rutgers School of Communication and Information.
Workplace flexibility and balance
Working at an office can be nice. An office schedule can usually be counted on: you know at what time you’ll be getting home. Hold up. That isn’t always true. Turns out many of us – especially in creative services such as marketing or advertising – are pulled in to deal with urgent situations, often at the end of our “shift”. We obviously need to be flexible for work. So why can’t work be flexible for us? Finding that flexibility is made a whole lot easier when you work from home. Back when she went to a school (as a place – I can’t believe I need to disambiguate the term, but these are the times we live in), I could pick my daughter up from school if she was feeling sick. Water main breaks and your basement is flooding? You’re already at home to deal with it. Conversely, you can log onto servers, the company’s VPN, or the DAM system just as easily from home and whenever it is required. When I was managing an on-prem system from home, upgrades were a lot easier than having to do it from the office on a weekend. There is a lot of waiting time, during which I could clean, make dinner, or hang out with the family.
So this is a tough one because we all feel the need to remain connected to work. That desire or expectation from your co-workers becomes much stronger when you work from home. It can be overwhelming. It’s tough to have a lunch without your smartphone and when it’s with you, not to continually check work messages. We all need time to take a breather. I have a routine, keep regular hours, and take a lunch break. While allowing for exceptions, I avoid making them a habit. During my lunch I ignore my messages and computer. If there’s an emergency, my boss knows to call me.
One poll suggests U.S. companies are collectively losing $1 trillion a year due to employee turnover. Another article suggests more home-based employees would remain at their jobs than office-based employees. That makes sense. We tend to move places for many reasons and not all of them have to do with unhappiness at work. I have held several amazing office-based jobs in the middle of which I needed to change locations. The first would not consider making my position remote and I had to resign (with ample notice). The other allowed me to work from home (and provided me with the support I needed): I stayed another four years at a job I would have left.
Like most things in life there are pros and cons to working from home. We’re likely experiencing those ups and downs. What has been your experience being a remote worker? Is it something you want to continue doing? Whatever your answer, I hope you’ll share why in the comments below.