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Working Together Apart: Inside the Twilight Zone

The following is a guest blog post by Tracey Dodson, an administrative officer for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). It is the third in a series from VHP staff. Go here and here to read the first two articles.

In my imagination, I can hear a deep-voiced narrator saying, “Tracey Dodson—a woman with 37 years’ experience in the federal government, and a fascination with watching old sci-fi shows. On March 16, 2020, her fascination became her reality, when she entered the Twilight Zone.” Cue the eerie theme music.

That’s the best way I can describe what life for me has felt like for these past three months. It’s been surreal, but I have made the most of it. I made the proverbial lemonade.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shook up the world, I would start my workday with a dreaded commute on the Metro’s crowded Red Line. (If you’ve ever spent the morning rush hour on public transportation or in your car in the Washington, DC area, then I am certain you can sympathize; it is almost always awful.) Once I made it through the Library’s airport-like security screening process, and navigated the long hallways and tunnels full of people to reach my workstation, I would start with reading and responding to emails—no less than a dozen each morning. All of this would take place before I could grab a cup of coffee. Before mid-March, a cup of Joe was one of my best friends.

My days were always pretty busy. There was never a dull moment. I am responsible for coordinating and overseeing administrative functions for VHP, as well as ensuring that the office operates efficiently and smoothly. I manage office supplies, budgets, acquisitions, personnel, staff travel, space projects and much more.

Tracey Dodson seated at her home workstation, reading laptop screen.

Tracey Dodson teleworking from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020.

Once the pandemic hit, and the Library of Congress temporarily closed to protect the health and safety of staff and visitors, I had no problem at all preparing for or settling into long-term telework. These days, my “commute” only takes a couple of seconds. I do not miss the lines, crowds, noise and bustle that is inherent with public transportation. I usually work from my kitchen table or sofa with a hot cup of tea. My daughter, also teleworking for a federal agency, gets a big kick out of my portable workstation. As long as I am comfortable, I am fine.

Tracey Dodson seated next to her daughter.

Tracey Dodson (left) and her daughter, both teleworking during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020.

My biggest challenges have been related to technology. I had to adjust to not being able to print documents, and having to use the laptop’s small keyboard and screen. The good thing is that I have an all-in-one personal IT department, Microsoft help desk and live Webster’s dictionary sitting just a few feet away—my frustrated daughter!

Brown dog laying in front of a patio door, gazing outside.

Tracey Dodson’s grand-dog, Ginger, sunbathing near the patio, June 2020.

Another adjustment was having to share my workspace with Ginger, my grand-dog. Yes, you read that right, my grand-DOG! I am not sure what we are going to do when I have to go back to the office, but for now she is loving every day I am home with her. Ginger, a Jack Russell mixed, is great with keeping herself busy while I work, except when our menacing neighborhood squirrel decides to taunt her at the patio window. Ginger instantly goes into a frenzy, and it always seems to happen when I am on a conference call or participating in a webinar. I’ve learned to keep my trigger finger on the mute button just in case.

I have discovered so many benefits to teleworking. For example, I have definitely saved money on transportation, food and daily cups of coffee. Also, I am much more productive—able to accomplish tasks faster and more accurately because I have fewer interruptions during the day. I have been successfully performing a variety of routine assignments the same way I would have done in the office. My accomplishments are “behind-the-scenes” supporting VHP’s Director, staff, outreach activities and many duties related to VHP receiving, processing and making collections available to the public and researchers. Last fall, I was able to manage administrative duties for several events VHP hosted to kick off its 20th anniversary; the Art Showcase featuring Operation Song and fiddler Jamie Fox was one of them. I even played a critical role in assisting VHP’s smooth transition to immediate telework with no interruptions to staff performing critical duties. In other words, I am proud to be the main artery to VHP’s success. Thankfully, telework has not changed that.

I truly love what I do for the Veterans History Project, and, in turn, the Library of Congress and the American people. I’m sure I can speak for all my colleagues when I say that regardless of what our individual duties and responsibilities are, the staff of VHP takes great pride in helping you to honor the veteran(s) in your life. Twilight Zone or not, that is the bottom line.

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