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A Librarian Can…Integrate Work and Life

Editor’s Note: Republished with permission from Martha E. Meacham’s blog A Librarian Can…, March 20, 2020, post.

These are strange times. My entire staff and I are working from home as our University is shut down while dealing with COVID-19. I never thought I would miss being constantly interrupted, but there is a definite feeling of disconnection and loneliness when you don’t see the same people in person every day. Technology is wonderful, and it is amazing how much can get done outside of the office. But it is not the same.

Another, more immediate, challenge I face is that I am working from home while both of my kids are home with me. Their school is shut down for three weeks. Dad is still able to go into work. This means I am home all day with a 5 year old and a toddler, while also trying to work.

Logistically, I am finding ways to manage. My computer is set up in a central space. I take breaks when needed. I work at different hours, outside the 9 to 5. My house is trashed, and I am ok with that.

But on a more existential level, one of the things I am realizing is that I should not, and realistically cannot, separate work from home. I just can’t. I am literally surrounded by home and kids and all the chaos that entails. My kids have attended almost all of my virtual staff meetings. I turn on the camera, and everyone gets to see their faces (it helps that they are adorable). I have been interrupted during meetings. For example, when I had to tell someone to wait and would be right back because the toddler was smearing yogurt all over the floor. Or when the song “Baby Shark” was playing the background during a meeting.

I have always believed in bringing your whole self to work. We all have things in our personal lives that affect our work. When in a physical office, it is a little easier to compartmentalize. There is a physical separation. While I have always supported my staff in doing whatever they need to do to balance home and work, now it is no longer about balance or compartmentalizing but about integration. The two are inseparably linked and combined forever. Work and home are one. There will be challenges and opportunities, but they can never truly be separated again.

One of the silver linings I think will come from this whole thing is that we will recognize and accommodate more of the work/life integration. We will no longer have to just compartmentalize or balance. Instead, this crisis, and the necessity to work from home with kids (or any other life circumstance), will prove that the integration of work and life is possible. It will show that people are much more capable of doing a good job, while dealing with and bringing their home life into work. This whole thing will humanize us. It will make us better able to accept and work with all the situations that impact both work and life. For those that have struggled with balance, there will be more understanding and compassion. There will be a greater recognition and acceptance of people as their whole, true selves. Not just co-workers, but co-humans. Like I said, these are strange times, but they can also be times of positive growth and change. It will bring out the best in us. I truly believe we will all be a little more compassionate, a little more accommodating, and a little more accepting of those we spend so much time with at work. It is no longer work or life, but work and life. They are inextricable intertwined now. And I believe we will all be better for it.

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