Staff Trivia, or How I Got Through the Semester

Some people will groan at the mention of “staff trivia” and that is totally OK. However, it helped get me through the semester–and was a nice little weekly 5-minute distraction from all things pandemic.

Here’s How It Came About
I returned to work at the beginning of September after taking parental leave for a new baby. In the midst of the pandemic, my first duty was to check in with co-workers to see how they were doing. Staff rotate for in-person duty when not working remotely. All meetings moved to virtual-only. Comments from co-workers indicated they missed social interactions, lunch talk, and general chit-chat that was suspended due to social distancing.

How It Operates
At our weekly virtual all-staff meeting (8 daytime staff members), I reserve the last five minutes for a “staff trivia” question to end on a fun note. I generally just ask whatever pops into my head–being careful not to embarrass anyone or pick something that’s too private. I also try to avoid library-related “stuff” (e.g., how many books were checked out this week?) since that’s our job…staff trivia is meant to add some levity.

Hint: Avoid asking questions that other staff members might know (e.g., a lot of them knew my favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Instead, re-phrase the question to: Name a (e.g., any) favorite movie of yours.

  1. I send out the staff trivia question in advance.
  2. Everyone emails me back with their answer.
  3. Then I send a staff email with everyone’s responses (minus names).
  4. People email me back with their guesses on “who said what.”
  5. I tally up the points each week.
  6. At the staff meeting, I share a Powerpoint/Google Slide with everyone’s responses.

The last few minutes of the staff meeting, we share our responses. We’ve all learned new things about each other—even those of us who have been here awhile. At the end of the semester, the person with the most points gets a food delivery gift card (which seems appropriate in these socially distanced times). It is a low-cost, low-stakes activity to keep interaction going. It helped keep us “glued” together in a challenging semester. Below are the questions that I asked. If you have any good trivia questions, let me know!

Staff Trivia Questions

  1. Name a favorite movie of yours.
  2. Name something that you wish your house/apartment had. This could be practical or “big dream.”
  3. Name a place in the United States that you’ve been to that you think…wow, once this pandemic is over, I’d really like to go back!
  4. If you could be any TV character (scripted, animated, etc), who would you pick? Tell me the character and TV show.
  5. Name a TV show that everyone seems to love/loved (can be current or old) that you just never had any desire to watch.
  6. If you could only pick one food item (like a dish, recipe, entrée) to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?
  7. What’s the weirdest or strangest thing you have in your work office or desk drawer?
  8. If you could jet off to a country (once the pandemic is over!) that you have never been to before, what country would you pick?
  9. In an alternate reality or 2nd chance, what career would you choose if there were no limitations?
  10. If you could invite three living “famous” people (however you define it) to dinner, who would you pick?
  11. What is your least favorite “earworm” song? – one that gets stuck in your head and you hate it!
  12. By the time Christmas rolls around, what Christmas song do you NOT WANT TO HEAR for a great while?

PS–If you want to know my answers…
1) My Cousin Vinny 2) Professional landscaping 3) Cannon Beach, Oregon 4) Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm 5) Game of Thrones 6) Fish tacos 7) Orange safety/traffic vest 8) New Zealand 9) national parks photographer 10) Dolly Parton, Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Sedaris 11) “Mambo No. 5” – Lou Bega 12) “Santa Baby” – Madonna version.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon – taken by me!

Lessons on Working from Home

I used to think I was the textbook example of a classic introvert–that is until I started working from home.

Now I realize how much I crave those social interactions. My family is at home with me, so it’s not like I’m “alone alone” but it’s just different not seeing co-workers and patrons/students every day. The now ubiquitous Zoom and Microsoft Teams video meetings get the work done, but are not a replacement for our in-person interactions.

As Covid-19 was ratcheting up nationwide, it was just starting to gain attention in my corner of Wisconsin. The week of March 9 we were on Spring Break (read: super quiet in the library). Then the university extended Spring Break by an additional week as it assessed the situation. I migrated the library to skeletal staffing (2 people rotating per day with the remainder working remotely). Then the situation became worse as the number of cases in our county started to rise. On March 20, we closed up the library building and have remained closed. The university moved the rest of Spring classes all online. Since then, we have all been working from home.

I’m grateful for this privilege–for all of our staff to have this privilege–recognizing that some in the library profession have not been afforded this opportunity. They should have.

It’s also given me time to think about working from home. Something I always wished I could do. I guess be careful what you wish for! Now that I’ve been doing it for the past two months, I’ve learned some things about myself and some about being a manager. Here are a few things that come to mind.

Don’t Say “When We Get Back to Work”
Nothing raises my hackles more than someone saying “when we get back to work.” Just don’t. What you are trying to say is: When we get back to the building. We HAVE been working: answering chat questions from students/faculty, holding Microsoft Teams meetings with student groups doing research, loading e-books into our catalog, processing interlibrary loan requests for e-content, and figuring out how to transition services/resources to online only. We’ve been doing this from home and actually it’s been A LOT of work.

Forget Productivity
So when a lot of Americans began telecommuting during Covid-19, people started tweeting how productive Isaac Newton was during the bubonic plague (read this rebuttal)–like he should be our role model. This is the time to write that novel, discover a new breakthrough, or learn to speak another language. OK, more power to you, but how about just trying to get through the day? I consider that productive. As a manager, yes you should check in with your employees and work toward goals. But productivity is a myth. I know some managers require remote workers to log their activities. Please STOP. I don’t have time to read that! Let. People. Breathe. (just not on each other)

Try New Things
Productivity aside, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to try new things. In the library setting, this whole online-only world is new for most of us. We’ve done great work in turning our libraries into community hubs. But what do you do when everything is now virtual? At our academic library, we experimented with offering online professional development for faculty/staff. Our Library@Home series, conducted via Microsoft Teams, was well received. Sessions focused on: genealogy research, citation management, Wikipedia, and journal publishing. We’ve had requests to offer more sessions. So it has been a good time to do some beta testing.

Kid and Pets: All in a Day’s Work
Participating in a lot of Zoom meetings or Microsoft Teams calls? The occasional appearance of kids, babies, and fur babies is OK. This is not a sterile office environment. You’re working from home; there are no boundaries. You’re managing to be a parent or pet parent AND working from home AND social distancing? This likely isn’t the work life (or home life!) you signed up for. We even did a Twitter post of library employee’s pets just to show a different side to us. On Fridays we do a “virtual happy hour” where those kids and pets are even invited to make an appearance. It helps keep us as a cohesive team while we are all distancing. Managers, cut your employees some slack. It’s not unprofessional; it’s called life.

Ready for Your Close Up?
All of these video calls can be draining. Don’t force people to use a webcam. Yes, I like to see faces (and the fun backgrounds!). However, it’s more important to respect people’s privacy. You can make do with audio. It’s not the end of the world. Same goes for wearing “professional” clothing. There’s a lot of classism tied to that. I’m not getting “dressed up” to work from home. Also if my webcam is off, it might be because I’m in my pajamas. OK, that last line is a joke…or is it?

Encourage Self-Care
If I hear “we’re all in this together” again I think I will scream. But that’s my cue to take a walk. That’s what relaxes me. As a manager, support self-care for your employees. In a remote work environment, that might mean taking lunches at weird times (as in, OMG it’s 10:08am and the sun is shining…I need to go outside!). In general, remind people to TAKE YOUR LUNCH. Going for a walk, taking the dog out, supporting a local business, etc. are all good things.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term
One of the hardest transitions has been navigating short-term vs. long-term projects. Working from home I’ve encountered a lot of starts and stops. When I’m at the library, I typically do some short-term stuff at the beginning of my day. At home, keeping a running list of short and long-term projects has been helpful. Some library staff have also had to switch their routine around. A few staff who had more physical tasks in the library had to switch their work-from-home routines to focus on long-term projects that we typically did in the summer. That’s OK. It’s not “back burner” work. It’s stuff that needs doing anyway. We’re just doing it now.

Everyone Needs an Office
Even though we are working from home, it’s made me think about how when we are back at the library everyone needs an office. Will Covid-19 officially kill the open office plan? I hope so. Having worked in a cube farm before, I didn’t like it. Everyone needs privacy and the ability to concentrate. Now they need a space that also protects them from viruses.

Managers Need to Lead
If you’re the library director working from home while the rest of the staff has to come in, you’re doing your job wrong. If you’re the library director who is having staff out doing curbside pick up and you’re not participating, you’re doing your job wrong. I get that sometimes things are above your control (the library is part of a municipality/county or the library is part of a school/university). In those cases, you need to be the advocate. You may not win, but you at least need to make your case.

Protect Staff
It’s a weird time to be a librarian. Budgets are precarious. We’re not sure what will happen on the horizon. Above all else, protect staff–from a financial standpoint and public health standpoint. Again, you’re probably not going to win every battle, but you owe it to them to try. They are at the core of the library. Not the building, not the books.

lone tree

lone tree