update: how to cope when you don’t have an assigned work space

Welcome to “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer asking how to cope without an assigned work space? Here’s the update.

I wrote to you asking about how to cope with a hoteling office model, and your readers all had great advice! Some of them were outraged at my management on my behalf, which was also very nice. (A lot of them also sussed out that I live in a northerly climate, hence my shoe-related difficulties, and advised me accordingly.)

Here’s what I ended up doing:

1. Caring far less about how I look in the office. They can make me show up, but they cannot make me wear dress pants. I wear jeans now, as do most of my colleagues.

2. I wear a big scarf on the way in (it’s chilly now) and when I’m at my desk it becomes my blanket.

3. Pushed back about the shoes. We now have a shoe tray where we can leave office shoes overnight! I’m still wearing sneakers for now, but boot season’s a-coming.

4. Got a sturdy travel backpack (Monos brand), with lots of lovely compartments. I do wish it had a cup holder, that’s the only downside, but I generally sip my tea (out of my travel mug, another good suggestion!) on the way to the office anyway. Later in the day, that mug becomes my water cup.

5. Got the Libby app! I read books on my phone now, and I get to choose them from the local library! I’ve never read so much since I was in high school, and it saves me valuable backpack real estate. I promise they’re not sponsoring me, I just really love this app! Support your local library!

6. I’m still masking in common areas, but as there’s usually hardly anyone else in the office (collaboration!), I don’t feel the need to mask at my desk. Thus, the dehydration problem is solved for the moment.

I’m still not very happy about having to be in the office, since the only thing it does for my work is slow it down. But I am making the best of it, and the advice from readers helped me tackle the practical aspects of my new life as a pack mule.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. JelloStapler*

    I love Libby!! Game changer.
    Glad it’s getting better but gotta love the request to come in for collaboration yet no one is there to collaborate.

    1. anon for this*

      Same, so much same!

      (They have now implemented a “common in-office day” – probably too many people noted that all of our “collaboration” is still happening over Zoom. Riiight in the middle of cold and flu season. Yay.)

    2. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      The Libby app has enabled me to read more books this year than the previous 3 years combine. It’s the best! Some libraries also have hoopla and you can get movies and music for free.

  2. AndreaKnits*

    I LOVE the Libby App. And unlike Hoopla you can have your library book sent to your Kindle or Kindle App.

  3. Meg*

    Re: the cupholder on your backpack– fjallraven sells these add on cupholders that can slip into a flat side pocket on backpacks. I love mine!

    1. Poly Anna*

      Not the OP but thanks for mentioning this! I’m generally fine through winter but forever struggling with bringing water in summer.

  4. Lady_Lessa*

    While I don’t use Libby, I am an avid user of my local library. I get both tangible and Kindle books. Glad to know another reader, glad to read that things are working better for you.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      how do you get kindle books if not through libby? I thought that was an amazon exclusive thing but I guess not.

      1. Oceaneyes117*

        At least where I am, you can use the Libby app to borrow e books, or use the library’s overdrive page to check out ebooks. My husband uses the app because he likes to borrow kindle books and audio books, which he can listen to from the app. I primarily only borrow kindle books, so I just go to the overdrive page on my phone, log in, and browse and borrow from there. When a book is available, it sends you over to amazon to finish which is what directs the book to your kindle (or kindle app).

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Sounds very similar to my library. The library’s website sends me to where I can make a choice of format. Once I choose Kindle, it sends me to Amazon.

        2. Former Mailroom Clerk*

          Libby and Overdrive are 2 different apps, made by the same company, that do the same basic function.

          1. A Librarian*

            The Overdrive App was discontinued last May. Libby is the app for public library users, and Sora is for school library users.

            1. Rex Libris*

              Just FYI, both Libby and the website are pulling ebooks from the same collection. Libby is just the app interface for your library’s OverDrive website. You can view and use your account through either, and it will sync.

      2. Jayess*

        I’ll just briefly chime in that it matters what country you’re in – in Canada you can’t get public library books on your Kindle. You can on a Kobo, or a device that has Libby, so it matters where you’re writing in from :)

    2. Angstrom*

      The Library Extension browser extension is a huge help: if you look up a book on Amazon, it’ll tell you if your local library has it available.

  5. Dulcinea47*

    Love the comment about feeling like a pack mule. My new job requires me to work in the office most of the time, which I’m okay with b/c the commute is 5 minutes instead of 35 minutes. What I didn’t realize, was that nearly all dining options on campus left during the pandemic. I now feel like I’m prepping to leave civilization every single day, I have to haul so much food and drink to get through nine hours.

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Or the still-open post-COVID options are the more expensive ones that have doubled their prices. Bringing in my breakfast every time and lunch about half the time to defray the cost.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I buy frozen lunches (maybe not the healthiest things) and pack the freezer a week at a time so I don’t have to go find food at lunch. Do you have a kitchen in the office?

      1. Sel*

        I’ve switched to frozen lunches for my work commute too and honestly it’s great. It makes it so easy to pack my lunch and I eat more diverse foods because it makes it accessible to do different things every day. If Trader Joe’s exists where you live, they have great frozen lunch options with a lot of vegetarian and vegan options too if that’s a concern.

    3. OldHat*

      Though those dining options before the pandemic weren’t that great either. At least in the areas moaning that they are not getting the same food traffic. I’m not sad that many have closed as they were staying afloat only because of captive audiences.

  6. AXG*

    The Libby app is the best!! It’s such an easy way to a) support your local library and b) get content on the go. Some of my friends and I share our library cards so we can use each other’s libraries as well. It’s so great for commutes and being in the office!

    (Not sponsored… but should be!)

  7. ArchivesPony*

    Not only are public libraries on Libby so are many universities and colleges! So if you want even more books, check with your local university or college to see if they offer community cards and if they have libby.

  8. Hlao-roo*

    3. Pushed back about the shoes. We now have a shoe tray where we can leave office shoes overnight! I’m still wearing sneakers for now, but boot season’s a-coming.

    This is great! A pretty simple thing that makes life a bit easier for everyone who works in the office–I’m glad management saw reason, even if it’s only about something as small as a shoe rack.

    1. LizB*

      Agreed, and as a fellow northerly-climate dweller, this was absolutely the right item to push back about. There are few things more demoralizing and distracting than having to clomp around my office in boots for the day if I somehow don’t have my office shoes.

    2. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Having previously been in the North, also have to agree! I always had a pair of flats in my bottom drawer during snow season. Can’t imagine not having that option or having to lug them in every day.

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Must be weird, since I am from the upper Midwest, but we don’t have any public-facing roles where I work. So pre-Covid, most people just wore their boots all day. I can see it being an issue if you have some kind of sales or customer service job where you have to interact with the public. But if you are sitting and typing for most of the day, doesn’t seem to matter. Luckily, I WFH now, so can wear my comfy slippers all day and no one cares. :)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I can’t even keep shoes on all day– I hate hot sweaty feet. Slipon shoes of some sort are key for me to stay professional looking — no one minds socks under a desk, but they are a problem walking around.

          Shoe rack or locker is a good solution.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, me too. I can’t even wear sneakers indoors all day, given that I’m from a “shoes off when you enter someone’s home” kind of culture. Oh sure, for formal parties you bring clean-soled nice shoes with you unless it’s in the middle of a very dry summer. And even then you make sure you wipe your feet as you enter.

            Because I can’t stand being in sneakers all day, much less boots, I have a pair of open-toed Birkenstocks at work and I wear them with nice socks.

        2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          I would wear my boots all day in the summer, but in the winter they would be a gross mess of dirty, dripping slush (not to mention a slip hazard for me and other people). So I would change into my office flats and not have to worry about tracking muddy water everywhere for the next 2-3 hours.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            It occurs to me that in the Midwest you probably weren’t hiking through a mile of slushy snowbanks to get to work.

            (Also, if I’m wearing my ACTUAL snowboots, those are less comfortable for all-day wear than my hiking boots, not to mention warmer, which might or might not be a problem.)

            1. Just Thinkin' Here*

              Midwest can get hit hard with snow. Southern Ohio/Kentucky area gets ice storms quite frequently. And Minnesota and Wisconsin are self-explanatory. At my workplaces it was more the issue of tracking snow,water, ice all over the work floor which either creates wet carpets or slippery tile.

  9. A Girl Named Fred*

    That’s it, I’m downloading the Libby app. Which actually means that’s it, I’m finally going to figure out how to get a library card. (I moved just before the pandemic hit, and that plus a few other factors meant I kept putting it off. But I have spent an unreal amount of money on to-be-read books this year, so if I can curb that habit by getting some of them free it’d be a good thing!) Off to Google for me, thanks for the encouragement OP and commentariat!

    1. cleo*

      Both Libby and Hoopla are wonderful apps that let you check out books (plus Hoopla does other media too) through your library. Well worth figuring out how to get a library card. Because then you always have your library on your phone or tablet.

      1. Lily C*

        And Axis360! My library uses all three, so there’s a ton of options across multiple catalogs. Sometimes a book that has a big waitlist on one app is immediately available, or has a shorter list, in another.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          I tried to look this one up and it looks like it’s been rebranded recently as Boundless, for anyone else interested.

    2. Danielle Gensch*

      I first have to say that mymuch beloved girl dog was named Freddie, so I love your name!

      And if you have any trouble tracking down how to get a library card from your local library, you can also try your state library. Almost every state has one, and they can help you find out how to get a library card if your local library does not have the best website. Some larger public libraries also allow you to get a digital-only card if you live in the state, which allows you access to eBooks, eMagazines, eComics, and so much more. You can check if your nearest “big city” has that option.

      I am a library school student, literally in the middle of preparing final projects on similar things (but procrastinating by reading this site), so I thought I’d share in case anyone finds this helpful. After all, I love to connect people to information!!

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      You might be surprised what your local library does offer! Mine has options to check out things, like tool kits or games or crafting gear. They have a 3D printer available for use on premises!

      Check all the available apps – my library supports Libby and Hoopla. Through the latter I can also check out e-comics, audiobooks, and movies, in addition to some books that aren’t available via Libby for whatever reason.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        And I just found out ours also lets you watch films via the Kanopy app – basically 6 per month, and unlimited kid-friendly titles.

  10. Pounce de Lion*

    I love that a comments section that could have been full of grumbling is instead a love fest for the public library

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thank you, I’m getting 3 for family for Christmas :)

        (To readers who don’t know, it’s the slogan from tshirts that raise money for DC’s Mount Pleasant Library.)

  11. Blarg*

    Libby is the best! And check if your local libraries have reciprocity. I live in DC and many of the surrounding area’s libraries give cards to DC residents and vice versa. On Libby, it will search all your libraries, so you have so many more options!

    1. tsumommy*

      Yes!! Here in Colorado, any Colorado resident can get library cards at almost any Colorado public library system. So that means I have 5 library systems from which to choose my eBooks and eAudioBooks!

  12. Lady Kelvin*

    The best thing about the Libby app is that if you have friends/family in other areas with library cards, you can share accounts and have access to books from multiple libraries. Then Libby will tell you which library a book you want is available from and which library has the shortest hold line! Thanks to a combination of me moving alot in my post-college days and generous family members, I have 5 different libraries that I check books out of regularly (in addition to my local library for hard copies).

  13. Alison*

    Libby is a wonderful app that works with a library’s Overdrive ebook collection. Libby itself doesn’t have books – it’s an interface. I have 2 library accounts, I pay out of state fees for one. My local library has ebooks through Cloud Library which doesn’t interact with Libby.

  14. Gigi*

    I love how positive this is! I just had a conversation with someone on my team about acknowledging that the situation is stupid, but we can’t change the stupid so how do we use it to our advantage. You have done that and I’m here for it.

  15. Love to WFH*

    I’m delighted to see that you’ve found good workarounds. Well done!

    If it was me, and my employer wouldn’t give me a locker, I’d file an ADA accommodation request for one. I have issues with my back, and if I had to carry a significant backpack load to and from work, I’d be in pain.

  16. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    Just to add to the Libby bandwagon – also take a look at your library’s services/resources page! It’s amazing what you can get sometimes. I have cards with 2 local library systems and in addition to books, I also get *totally for free*: full subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times, classes on Craftsy, tickets to local museums and parks, state park admission, and even personalized book recommendations – and those are just the ones I’ve personally used, there are a ton more.

  17. Hillsy*

    Just wanted to request that if you love Libby (which we all do) please consider supporting your local library this holiday (tax deductible donation) season if you’re able.

    I work in administration for a library system that offers Libby and it’s a fairly costly service to offer and it’s been difficult to find funding to keep up with the growing demand.

    Gosh, library people are just the best people. It’s been fun to read the library love fest!

    1. Blarg*

      Thank you for this nudge. I spend a somewhat shocking amount of time using Libby, and will make a donation to each of the libraries I have cards through.

  18. JaneDough(not)*

    Please don’t overlook the free Open Library and Project Gutenberg websites. The one drawback with the OL is that most loans are for one hour only and although you can renew as often as you like, you might find that someone else has checked out the book when you want it. (That said, this has happened to me only once, in years of using it.)

    PG contains books for which the copyright has expired; you can download files and keep them.

  19. Mo*

    Since it’s a public library lovefest, a reminder that if you live in Massachusetts, you are can get a library card for any library in the state, not just the one you live in. This generally has to be in person, but Boston has set up an online e-card sign up for access to their digital resources. My local network is great, but BPL has more oddball stuff. It’s Hoopla, not Libby, but that’s fine with me. I like mysteries and have been able to read lots of mid-century suspense novels by women that have been long out of print but smaller presses have been bringing them back. And BPL has them. They also have music, movies, TV shows, and comic books.

    I’m reading so much more since I’ve been going all library instead of buying. It’s good to have a deadline.

    And LW – it stinks to have to come into the office and have to take everything home. I’m guessing you all drive. I take the subway and I can’t even imagine.

    1. Librarianmom*

      In Massachusetts the library consortiums have set up Libby to accept your local library card for their Overdrive collections, so you do not have to apply for cards in each consortium (it’s like electronic inter-library loans!) BPL is special in that their ecard can be use for all of their electronic databases if you are a state resident.
      Please be sure to let your local and state officials know how much library services mean to you and how you want your tax dollars to support them. Every year, librarians have to fight for every dollar, for both materials and staffing.

  20. duckalini*

    For those wanting to stay hydrated while masked – I highly recommend a Sip Valve. You can attach them to basically any mask design and then use a straw through the valve. Works great, and I wear them at all group events. I call it my party mask!

  21. tell*

    “1. Caring far less about how I look in the office. They can make me show up, but they cannot make me wear dress pants.”

    Well, they can. That’s what a dress code is.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      “I wear jeans now, as do most of my colleagues.”

      Sounds like maybe they don’t have one or don’t care.

  22. hmn10134*

    Love Libby too, but mainly here to say Yeah for Monos!! I just bought my second piece (Metro Duffle) and I’m obsessed with them. The CarryOn Pro is amazing. Always excited to see others that have discovered them.

  23. Regular Human Accountant*

    Another Libby fan here; my mom and I share my account as I live in a large city with a fantastic library system and she lives in West Texas. ha. And speaking of libraries, Chrome has a Library Extension that will check your local library for book availability. It definitely works with Amazon, haven’t tried it with any other sellers, but once you have the extension linked to your library card if you click a book on Amazon there will be a little box on the page that tells you if your library has the book AND you can put it on hold, right from that page. Glorious.

  24. Anonymous For Now*

    Thanks for the pack mule reference.

    It was lovely reminder for me of years ago when I used to help my late partner with toting some equipment they needed for their hobby/side job.

    I was dubbed the “pack mule” and would periodically make appropriate braying noises.

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