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Hacking Multiple Campus Offices

office with lots of computersI have the dubious honor of having two offices. Yes, dubious. As of the beginning of this year, I’ve got an office at MATRIX: The Center for the Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences (where I serve as as Associate Director) and an office in the Consortium for Archaeological Research (where the archaeology faculty in the Department of Anthropology live). While this setup is absolutely necessary, it can be challenging at times. Don’t get me wrong, having two offices can also be rewarding. I’m very fortunate in that both office locations are filled with great colleagues who I like being around. I also recognize that I’m probably in the minority in this whole multi-office setup thing. Most scholars only have a single office. It’s also a rather sad fact that many scholars (especially at the lower end of the academic food chain) don’t even have an office of their own. This having been said, I think it’s worthwhile to share some of the specific challenges that I’ve encountered, and the strategies I’ve come up with to cope with these challenges. To be fair, many of these challenges and strategies could apply to a campus office/home office setup as well.

Schedule

Splitting my time between two offices makes my schedule (and the art of scheduling) a smidge more complicated. One of the most basic (and analog) things I do to address the scheduling issue is that I post the days/times I’m in a particular office on that particular office’s door. That way, if someone pops by and I’m in my other office, at least they’ll know where I am (and when I’ll be around next). An extension of this strategy is to make sure my office schedule is posted on all my course websites so that my students know where I’ll be if they need need to find me ASAP (I’ve got a fairly open door policy when it comes to students dropping by). Another thing I make sure is that when I’m scheduling a meeting with someone, I always make sure I explicitly tell them which of my two offices we’ll be meeting in (and make sure that I note the location in my personal calendar if the meeting somehow breaks my “where I’ll be on which day” schedule).

The other thing that I’ve found absolutely vital is a central calendar. I have absolutely no clue how I would cope if I had a separate instance of my calendar on every one of my machines (and mobile devices). I’ve done this by using Google Calendar as my central calendar. This works out perfectly for me as I’m able to push my schedule information to iCal on my mac machines (using this method), my iPad (using this method), and my Droid (Android just does this natively). It’s important to note that these syncing methods are two way. That way, I can also create new schedule events regardless of what machine I’m sitting at (opposed to just being able to view the calendar, and not edit it).

Files

I have four computers spread out across my two offices (and this isn’t counting my mobile devices). The result is that, despite my best efforts, I’ve got files (of all types) spread out hither and yon. It would be very easy for me to sit down to work at one machine, only to find that the files I need are clear across campus on one of my other machines. My solution to this is pretty straightforward. I’ve set up one of those machines (an older model Mac Pro) as my own personal central file server. It has a large enough hard drive that I can pretty much dump anything I want on to it. I’ve gotten to the point where I (mostly) don’t have local copies of stuff I’m working on. Instead, I grab the most recent copy of the file off the server, do what I need to do, and the re-upload the updated file (the idea being that the server will always have the most recent copy of a file). Usually the only time I keep a local copy of something is when I’m at home or on the road (the idea being that I might not be able to access the server in my office for one reason or another). I’ve actually flirted around with the idea of setting up a version control system on the server, but I haven’t gone there quite yet. For those who don’t want to go to the length of setting up their own file server, the cloud is a marvelous substitute. Here at ProfHacker, we’re no stranger to using the cloud to store or sync files (for more on this, check out Ryan’s Back Up Your Essential Files Using Dropbox, Heather’s Syncplicity: Syncing More than a Folder, Julie’s Prof. Hacker Reviews: CloudBerry Online Backup, or Natalie’s How to Back Up Your Cloud just to name a few). Recently, I’ve also taken to dumping files into Google Docs, as a “just in case” measure.

Its also worth mentioning that my office file server isn’t just a repository for “work” files. I also use it as a streaming music host. This way, I’m never without my iTunes library, no matter what machine I’m on.

Books

There have been several isntances where I’ve been in one office, and realized that a book that I needed was in my other office (just the other day, I desperately needed my copy of Squier & Davis’ Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, which was conveniently in my other office). In some cases, I’ve trudged over to the other office, grabbed the book, and come back to the currently occupied office (grumbling all the way). In other cases, I’ve cursed loudly and figured out a way to work around not having the book in immediate reach (or simply left the work until later, when I had the book). I’ve got to be completely honest, this is a problems that doesn’t have a particularily clear and easy solution. The best strategy is simply to plan ahead. Know what you’re doing on a given day (in a given office) and make sure you’ve got the books there for your needs. Recently, I’ve been actively choosing digital books over physical books in effort to partially mitigate this problem. I’ve gotten to the point where if a publisher has a digital copy available, I’ll buy that first. Also, if I’m reviewing a text for adoption (something I don’t do all that often), I always ask the publisher if they’ve got a digital copy instead of sending me a physical one. The point is that with a digital copy, I can fall back on my “dump everyhitng I’ll ever need on the file server in my office” strategy discussed above. Granted, this approach is not necesaarily for everybody (we do like our physical books), and it hardly works with my existing books (especially the ones that will never be “reprinted” digitally). However, if this strategy saves me one unnecessary trip to “the other office” in order to retrieve a book, I’ll be a happy camper.

Ok, now it’s time for you to share. Do you have more than one office? If so, what challenges do you have to deal with – and how do you cope?

[Image by Flickr user Dmitry bigbold / Creative Commons licensed]

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