How We Work Virtually: Colleen Hughes
Fractured Atlas tries to be transparent about How We Work. Especially when it comes to the transition we made to becoming a fully distributed team. Over three years, we slowly wound down the number of people coming into our Manhattan office, and in late 2019, we fully flipped the switch. Here’s what it looked like for us to transition to a virtual team.
Even in our own team, we’ve seen that people approach remote working differently. With the freedom to organize our days outside of an office, we’ve each had to find out what kinds of schedules work for us, how to recharge during the day, and how to organize our workspaces. There’s a lot of information out there about how to make working from home work for you, but we know first-hand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
We hope that by sharing tips from individual members of our team, we can encourage you to experiment with different ways to make working from home work for you, and to even find a few tips to try along the way.
Here’s how Program Operations Coordinator Colleen Hughes works from her apartment in Brooklyn.
What do you do at Fractured Atlas?
I'm the Program Operations Coordinator, which mostly means that I support our Program Team by keeping the wheels of our daily workflow moving, as well as providing direct member support when needed, and working on special projects.
How do you organize your day?
I have a running to-do list for each week, and prioritize items by highlighting them in yellow. Separately, I keep my daily tasks on sticky notes so that I can physically remove them from my list as I accomplish them and move them over to the next day. I usually start the day by making coffee and breakfast, signing on around 9, going through all incoming emails from the previous business day, and sorting them by topic for our Program Associates to answer. After this, I generally prioritize the rest of my daily tasks in the first half of the day and project work in the afternoon.
How do you set up boundaries between work and not-work during your day without a commute or an office?
Closing my computer! It can be tough, especially now that we're living so much via screens, to disconnect, but I find the most successful way to take a break or shut off from the day is to simply close my computer and walk away from it.
How do you recharge during the day?
I am a runner, and when I commuted into an office, this generally meant that I was getting up early to run and shower before getting on a train. Now that I no longer commute, I've found that I love going on an afternoon run in the middle of the workday. It's a great break, during which I can get my mind totally off of work, it's an opportunity to move my body, which can be tough when we're spending so much time at home right now, and it means I get a couple more hours of sleep in the mornings!
How did you adjust to working virtually?
To be honest, I really struggled with the transition to fully remote work. I missed the face-to-face interactions with people, the nonwork conversations, and just the opportunity to get out of my home! Obviously some of that has been exacerbated by coronavirus. What I found before the crisis hit was that working at a coffee shop once or twice a week really helped to alleviate some of these struggles as well as making sure I had something social to do on the weekends - even just going to the farmer’s market and chatting with my neighbors!
What surprised you the most about moving from an office to virtual working?
How much I missed the small things – saying hello to people in the morning, running into people in the kitchen, hearing about people's weekends. I didn't realize how much I valued the social-ness of an office environment.
How have you had to change your communication style with colleagues since going virtual?
I think two things have changed the most: not apologizing for interrupting people to ask questions, and being comfortable with waiting for an answer. Obviously in person, you can tell if someone is busy, but virtually it's tough. So if a question pops into my head, I just send people Slack messages immediately, but don't expect an answer quickly. I also try to give myself this leeway too. If I'm in the middle of working on a project, I will finish what I'm working on before responding to Slack messages.
What challenges do you still run into while working virtually?
Thanks to the coronavirus, I'm still missing certain social interactions, but also I still struggle with asking folks to just hop on calls with me. Calls feel invasive to me, unlike a Slack message or scheduled meeting, but they're not! Calls are a part of our virtual tool belt, and I'm working on feeling comfortable just asking to speak face to face.
How has COVID-19 changed how you work?
I used to be totally alone in the apartment during the work day, but now my roommate is also working from home. I actually really appreciate having someone else around during the day, but we have slightly different schedules, so I tend to start my day in my room at my desk and then join her in our living room in the afternoon. However, if I need privacy or quiet, I'm grateful to have my desk to return to and a door to close.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who just started working virtually?
Don't try to replicate an office setting. Working from home is different, it just is! If you try to recreate the feelings and productivity that you got while working in an office, I think you're setting yourself up for failure. Your schedule and your productivity will change and evolve, and that's okay! It's okay to take a short break to do some dishes and then return to a project. Without the natural pauses of an office, it's easy to stare at a screen for 6 hours straight without ever taking a break, and it can be hard to feel comfortable doing "house" or "weekend" things during the day, but just think of watering your plants as if it were taking a walk around the office!
Anything else you'd like to add?
The desk has really been a game changer for me. I used to just pile all my mail on it, and would work on the couch, but once I finally cleaned it off and started regularly working from it, I found that I could focus so much more easily. Especially in small spaces where most space is shared space, like NYC apartments, having one dedicated work area, even if it's just a corner of a room, can be very helpful when creating that delineation between work and home.
Check out how other members of the Fractured Atlas team works in the rest of the How We Work Virtually series!
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.