Keeping communication open – Jeannie Bail, Catharina Isberg

This blog post is part of a series of posts from the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022. 

The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Several Standing Committee Members of Management & Marketing were involved as facilitators or rapporteurs.

Many of the discussions are connected to management and management skills, why we have decided to publish the content also in this blog.

You find all of the content at: https://www.ifla.org/news/2022-ifla-knowledge-cafe-facing-the-future-together-connecting-learning-sharing/

Keeping communication open

Facilitator: Catharina Isberg  Library Director Lund Public Libraries SWEDEN
Rapporteur: Jeannie Bail Liaison Librarian, Faculty of Management and Renaissance College, University of New Brunswick Libraries CANADA

The pandemic and forced isolation came unexpectedly. Library staff had to learn how to work remotely in a very short time, master remote technologies, develop skills in remote communication with users and the creation/management of electronic content. They also had to learn new time management to effectively combine work and family responsibilities. This caused stress for most of them. To this was added a natural fear for the life and health of their loved ones.

Remote work has seen many of the following characteristics:

  • Staff spread out and decentralized
  • Communication affected with new formal and informal channels
  • Some services closed
  • New services and innovations
  • Health concerns due to public health

The group discussed several questions to address these characteristics

Q: How do you and your team keep communication open, despite the challenges brought by the pandemic?

  • Groups were created in Teams to keep connections
  • More frequent meetings to catch up and check in
  • For users, health and safety precautions like quarantine materials were instituted
  • Curb-side pick-up was implemented
  • For some, despite the lockdown, business had to continue as usual such the work in one parliamentary library
  • Virtual meetings have been more convenient for some and will continue to be embraced and utilized in the future
  • In some ways, work was the easy part of dealing with the pandemic. Social contact was more difficult
  • Some challenging situations were described regarding staff’s desire to either work at home or in the library. Some staff were required to report physically which caused some resistance.  And some preferred to go into the library, as they liked the face-to-face contact.
  • Alerts were sent out with critical information. Dialogues were held, as well
  • Prior to the pandemic, in one institution, there was some inequality in terms of where people were located physically. With the pandemic, all employees were on the same platform. The result is that everyone will continue to operate this way going forward.
  • In some cases, transparency and accountability improved and became better within the organization due to protocols developed during the lockdown. Staff found new ways of engaging.
  • The pandemic resulted in some activities that hadn’t been done before which made people think about an academic library differently.  In one library, it created fun distractions and promoted international collaboration. Social media previously had been formal. Now, it was more fun, and metrics showed increased engagement.
  • Regular communication was an important aspect of helping staff stay connected
  • All-staff dialogues were held regularly.
  • It was important to keep the social aspect of work going.  Many had virtual coffee breaks that were not mandatory. In the beginning, participation was high, but then decreased.

Q: What strategies did you use? Which ones were effective? Not effective?

  • Teams calls which eventually tapered off.
  • Created a wellness group: happy hours, topics (travel, pets, tv shows, etc.).
  • Dean’s chats now happen once a month.
  • A newsletter was created. There is a need for more communication. Dean’s chats are more informal now and focused on one topic.
  • Pandemic has changed how people communicate and disseminate information.
  • Email is used less frequently now. Only used now for emergencies.
  • Teams has been embraced. Used to meet daily (both work and social combined). Some employees did not have internet access. Most communication has shifted to Teams. Know where to find information on Teams now.
  • Parliamentary library: sharing of information via WhatsApp. Moved back to near-normal with services.
  • Perfected Zoom.
  • Had to keep contact with sponsors. Had a lot of events to organize virtually for customers. Events held via Zoom. Virtual events increased geographic reach. Events are now hybrid.
  • Less intermediary communication – important info is distributed to everyone. Can be more targeted with dissemination and content.
  • Use Teams for weekly meetings with smaller groups and monthly meetings for bigger ones.
  • Use Mentimeter to check in to gauge emotions of the group. Useful way to take care of each other without being too intrusive. Can also use Menti to post questions anonymously. Can upload questions.

Q: Did communication change?

  • Tech tools made people accessible. People were used to being physically based, but now users had to adopt new tools.
  • Communication changed during the period.  It shifted from posting info on websites to now utilizing social media. This attracted new users.  However, in some cases (such as a parliamentary library) they can’t have a direct library presence on social media and need to go through the main organizational channel.
  • This was an opportunity to build international connections in libraries. One library wanted to connect more with international students. The majority were on WeChat. Unfortunately, the Library was not permitted to open a WeChat account and establish a presence. This is a problem when there is a need to go where the students are, but this is prohibited due to security concerns.
  • Privacy laws affect communication.

Q: How have staff reacted?

  • Staff have been honest, constructive, and respectful. They put forward solutions and suggestions. The pandemic made the team closer, despite being spread throughout the country. It is important to have strong communication channels. The organization was better prepared due to existing decentralization.
  • Staff became better at communication. Channels are mixed: some are for fun and some are for work. Team leaders have meetings 1x week and have regular check-ins with reports. Teams has become the main mode of communication.
  • Made sure that meetings finished 5 minutes early to allow transitions.
  • Virtual walks and talks > carried on through the pandemic.
  • Working team appointed to evaluate and assess Teams usage and weed teams that are no longer relevant.
  • Some staff did not have access to the Internet. No video was necessary at times due to limited bandwidth.
  • A divide developed between those whose presence was required on-site vs. those who were able to work remotely.
  • Hot desks in London> no permanent space. Hard to communicate why people are not back.

Q: What was your main takeaway re: communication during the pandemic?

  • We CAN work from home and it is possible to effectively work remotely. Libraries need to embrace different types of working. Work/home life was blurred for some. Some people work better remotely and some work better in the office. Library workers need flexibility.
  • Remote meetings made it possible to have time to study meeting documentation more closely and make more contributions. There was an opportunity for one to analyze information before meeting and utilize knowledge sharing.
  • People’s tech skills improved.  Workers were forced to use new platforms and develop more comfort and confidence.
  • Tips and guidelines for online meeting protocols were developed.
  • MORE FLEXIBILITY is needed for how and where we work!
  • Staffing decisions were made on the departmental level. Admin worked hybrid (in office/WFH).
  • Security was tight during early days, so access was restricted at first and in-library presence mediated so staff had to work from home.
  • Services were forced to become more digital and flexible. Staff were asked to learn and adapt quickly, which they did!
  • More international collaboration due to everyone now working remotely and on the same (or similar) platforms.

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