As a local government employee, Carrie Kruse, CPA, CGMA, had almost no work-from-home experience before a few weeks ago. But Kruse, an economic development coordinator with the city of Des Moines, Iowa, has adapted well to the sudden change brought about by coronavirus concerns. She shares insights on staying efficient, knowing when to unplug, and why she won’t wear sweatpants while working at the dining-room table.
What you’ll learn from this episode:
- The circumstances that led to Kruse having to work from home when she wasn’t expecting to.
- Why she has been taking daily notes about her work-from-home routine.
- The rules she set for herself regarding work-from-home attire.
- Advice for staying connected to co-workers she suddenly doesn’t see regularly.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page.
To comment on this podcast or to suggest an idea for another podcast, contact Neil Amato, a JofA senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: Joined on the podcast by Carrie Kruse.
Carrie Kruse: Good morning.
Amato: Thank you for being here. What is your role with the city of Des Moines? For those who don’t know, Des Moines is Iowa’s capital city.
Kruse: I work in the city’s office of economic development as an economic development coordinator.
Amato: Set the stage. We’re talking today about working from home when maybe you weren’t always ready or prepared to work from home. You go on vacation when?
Kruse: I left for vacation the week of March 8, that weekend on Sunday. By Wednesday of that week, I was sent a text from my boss. The COVID-19 situation, more information had come forward and suggestions on what employers should be doing. I was asked to ensure that I self-quarantine from the office for 14 days upon my return.
Amato: That’s not the kind of email you like to get on vacation.
Kruse: No. It wasn’t totally unexpected with some of the things we were seeing on the national news. It certainly wasn’t something I was expecting when I was packing my bags and heading off on vacation. Luckily, I did have my laptop computer here at home and the technology I needed to be able to work remotely, but it is not something I had ever done in the past.
Amato: Some people who may be listening to this I think are in that same situation where they weren’t at an organization where work from home was even a rarity, if at all. You’re telling me that in your job, you previously didn’t really work at home at all.
Kruse: Correct. In the city government world, so many of our jobs aren’t ones that can really easily be done from home. We have our police, fire, public works functions. Those just aren’t jobs that can be done from home. Our human resources department juggles a number of different unions that are all based on contracts. It’s kind of difficult to negotiate between all those different variables and who can work from home and who can’t. Up to this point, it had just been a policy that there was no working from home, with the exception of a few extraordinary circumstances.
Amato: In North Carolina, if there’s like half an inch of snow, everything closes and there’s a lot of work from home, but I imagine you can navigate around a few inches of snow.
Kruse: Yeah. We’ve got the snow thing down here. Lots of equipment, lots of salt. They’ll get us to work.
Amato: What are some of the things — you had your laptop. What else maybe did you have with you that has come in handy, and what are some things maybe that you’re missing at your office?
Kruse: I had my laptop. I did not have access to the instructions on how to remote into my voicemail away from the office. That’s something our IT hooked us up with once they realized we were closing down and most of us would be working from home that could. I’ve got that fixed now, but just the basics of how people typically contact me is by calling my office line. I’ve updated my voicemail to provide my cellphone number and my email and to let people know I’m working from home for an undetermined amount of time.
I also, although I would say not as much as many of my colleagues, I do have a few paper files that I was working from that I don’t have access to, so I’ve had to reach out and ask people to send me copies of things so that I could continue to work on projects that I had worked on where I had only received actual paper documents. That’s been interesting.
Amato: The part about not knowing how to remote in to your voicemail, I think that’s a regular thing. I had it. I found it in an email from way, way back just to know. That was nice to have because I, too, am on work from home out of necessity. Actually, I’m going to say, this taping is Thursday, March 26. Your office, I think you said is closed until April 6, though obviously that could change. Is that accurate?
Kruse: That is accurate. It could change any minute.
Amato: As a fairly new work-from-home person, what are some of your observations about it that maybe you hadn’t thought about before you had to do it?
Kruse: I think the first thing that I really noticed from our organization’s perspective, working in local government — I’ve worked in local government for about 10 years. One of the first things you learn very quickly is there’s a lot of competition for resources. It’s very difficult sometimes to keep up with the pace of technology, so a lot of times we’re kind of behind on stuff.
This situation really forced our organization to be very innovative in a very short amount of time, which to me was incredibly refreshing. I just feel like I’m kind of thriving in this environment trying to come up with new ways to continue to serve the public and continue to be accessible to the public.
One of the first things I noticed, our city council for the first time ever had to conduct a council workshop remotely. They used the Zoom tool that I think most people are familiar with, but a tool that we previously hadn’t committed the funds to have for ourselves. This was very new for us. The level of public engagement was really interesting. We had more people tuning in to the discussions that council were having than I had ever seen in the past.
In the past, we had broadcast on YouTube and a public cable station, so there were ways to dial in other than showing up in person. Being able to do so, so easily from your own computer or your phone, it was really interesting to see the level of public engagement really increase. I think this moment of kind of forced innovation is going to result in some long-term impacts where we can continue to serve the public even better, hopefully when we get back to life as it was before.
Amato: Now that you’ve done this, I guess — what has it been, a week, week and a half that you’ve worked from home — do you consider yourself a pro?
Kruse: It’s been a week and a half. I’m not a pro. I think I’m learning new things every single day as I go along. I’ve actually been taking notes as I go just to remind myself daily things that are working, things that aren’t working. It’s a learning process. I think we’ll continue to improve every single day. Definitely not a pro, though.
Amato: Tell me about the setup actually, if you could, at your house. I guess you’re not the only one working from home right now.
Kruse: Correct. My husband is also working from home. His company had a similar request for a 14-day quarantine and then his offices have since closed until — I think his are anticipated to be closed about a week longer than what the city hall is currently planning to be closed for. We’re both working from home. We don’t really have a formal office space set up in our house, so we’ve been kind of moving around into different rooms in our house.
Right now, I’m working from our dining room and he’s actually on a Zoom call right now upstairs in a spare room that we have up there, and he’s kind of set up a makeshift office up there to handle that. When we’re not on calls, both of us are typically in the dining room or in the kitchen just trying to make it work.
Amato: It’s the same as it is at my house. I’m upstairs recording this podcast. My wife is downstairs at our dining room table on her own Zoom call for her work, so yeah. Do you think that this actually could turn into something that you do, not regularly, but does it seem like, “Gosh, this makes sense” once a week or twice a month or something like that?
Kruse: Yeah. I think it definitely has its benefits. I personally wouldn’t want to work from home all the time. I think my husband would be perfectly content with that. He is thriving in this environment and loves it. I do miss the face-to-face interaction and the banter around the office. My team is really close, and we have a lot of fun. It’s just not the same, so I don’t know. I could see it being a part-time-at-home thing. That would be nice.
I think it would have environmental benefits. It could have cost benefits to the organization to allow that. Our future spatial needs for the office could be reevaluated if this is something that we find works for our organization. Even right now, we’re in the process of budgeting millions of dollars to build additional facilities in the city over the next five years, one of those being an annex office building because we’ve outgrown our city hall space.
Those are things maybe we can look at reevaluating and seeing after we come out of this, can we change the way we do business? Do we need the same amount of space that we’re currently occupying? It will be really interesting.
Amato: Are there some things in your daily job duties that you just absolutely can’t do right now because you’re not in the office?
Kruse: I haven’t found any up to this point. In economic development, we do a lot of negotiations with developers on real estate deals. Ideally, you want to be face-to-face in those meetings, but so far, we’ve been doing them over video chat and it’s working at this point. We have really good relationships with our external stakeholders, so that’s been helpful. If we have an out-of-town developer that’s new, you kind of want that personal touch. Anytime you’re trying to establish any kind of new relationships for your organization, I think the more you can do in person, it’s going to build a strong relationship. We’re navigating those waters just fine right now. Up to this point, it hasn’t been an issue, but like you said, it’s only been a week and a half.
Amato: As a finance professional, a management accountant, do you feel like there are things maybe in your training, your skill set, that have helped you adapt well to this new scenario?
Kruse: I think so. I think especially with the accounting background, our world changes every single month, day, year. We constantly are learning new regulations, new codes. We learn, we adapt. I think having that background and training has been extremely helpful in this situation. I welcome change. I enjoy change. I just like the opportunity to learn new things. This has certainly opened up the door for a lot of that.
Amato: You’re such a newcomer to the work from home. This might seem like a silly question to ask, but I’m going to ask: For others who suddenly find themselves displaced from their office, is there any advice that you could give as someone who is learning on the job, so to speak?
Kruse: Sure. A couple of things that have worked well for me: I’ve been tracking what I’ve been working on and how long I’ve been working on it. My organization, I don’t charge my hours or anything like that. I needed to find a way to see the productivity that I’m having because it just feels so different being so disconnected. I’ve done a better job of just physically tracking all the projects that I’m working on and what’s getting accomplished. That’s helped me have kind of a sense of accomplishment here at home.
Then physically putting my computer away at the end of the day. My first two days at home as I was logging my stuff, I realized I was putting in 12-, 13-hour days, which you can do for a while, but it probably isn’t sustainable over the long haul. I needed to find a better way to just disconnect at the end of the day and give my brain a rest and enjoy the rest of my life and have that balance.
I just found that physically shutting down my computer and putting it away at the end of the day was helpful because I was just leaving it out on the table. An email would come in and I’d be like, “Oh, I can just respond to that real fast.” I could tell I was heading down a path where I was going to have a hard time disconnecting. That has been helpful. I’ve had my own kind of policy of dressing for the day, kind of the dress-for-success model. Just get up, keep my normal routine, put on my nice office clothes, don’t lounge around in my sweatpants all day. That’s just helped me stay productive and feeling sharp and just ready to go.
Lastly, I would say definitely finding time just to get outside when I can and get fresh air whether it’s going for a walk or going for a run or just working out in the yard now that it’s not so cold here anymore. Just needing to get out of the house and into fresh air, fresh space has been really good, too.
Amato: Those are really good lessons and it reminds me I’m really glad that this podcast is not on video because I am not adhering to the get up, get dressed, act like you’re going to work in my T-shirt and four-day stubble. But I do hear you on the importance of getting outside. I have been able to do that. The putting away your computer, that really is a big deal because while it is good to be available and reachable, it’s funny to me how the work from home actually makes you work more sometimes.
Kruse: Yeah. I really noticed that the first few days. If I hadn’t really been paying close attention, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed and would have just kept going on and just not disconnected. Very important, when your personal kind of space becomes your workspace, you need a way to disconnect and balance your life out.
Amato: I actually found that if I set a calendar invite that just said, “Take a walk” at noon or at 5 p.m. or something like that, one, it made me unplug and go do it and get outside. And two, if you knew that was coming, it kept you efficient because you’re like, “I have this walk coming up so let me get this done,” as opposed to not having a walk and just maybe taking a little longer on something and then just sitting there on the computer and going to the next thing. Suddenly, it’s like 6:30 at night and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve worked too long today.”
Kruse: Yes, absolutely. I will implement that idea. I love that. Some other fun things that my colleagues and I have been doing: Just right before this call, actually, there’s a girl who works for a separate department than I work in and oftentimes our work just doesn’t overlap. We don’t really work on a lot of the same things. We worked in close proximity at our building and now we never see each other, which is kind of weird. We had a 15-minute just kind of virtual coffee catch-up, see how each other is doing, try to be encouraging of each other, and try to make this interesting situation feel a little bit more normal. That was a really refreshing part of my morning was just an opportunity to check in and see how she’s doing and be encouraging to others that work in the same organization that I work in.
Amato: Carrie, that is a great point. Thank you so much. Anything to add in closing?
Kruse: It’s a great time to catch up on CPE if you do find that you have a spare hour here and there between meetings.
Amato: Well said. Carrie Kruse, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Kruse: Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.