Balancing Field and Office Time

I receive many unsolicited phone calls and e-mail messages each year from clients that sing the praises of their local Extension agents and/or office.  These calls are a joy to receive.  I also receive calls from Extension clients that are upset.  When this happens I do my best to listen and help facilitate a solution where warranted.  Paradoxically, within the past year a client called to complain that an agent was never in the office, and I also received a call from a client expressing concern that an agent was always in the office (i.e., did not spend enough time in the field).  This dichotomy begs the question, is there an appropriate balance of field and office time?  I have my thoughts on this subject, which I will share after I hear yours!

Dan Goerlich

Are Concerns About Civil Rights For Extension Still Valid Today?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted 50 years ago this summer. Since that time discrimination in the U.S. has been drastically reduced, but not snuffed out. Systemic biases against minorities still exist. Look at these charts if you’re not convinced.

Thus, as an institution with the mission to serve the people in our communities, we must continue to be diligent in our efforts to identify and reach out to people who can benefit from our programs, yet are underserved.

Often, audiences who are underserved, become that way due to barriers that restrict or handicap their full participation in Extension’s educational program offerings. Historically, the most common barrier has been one’s race or ethnicity. But being of a racial minority is just one of many potential challenges impacting underserved audiences. Other common potential obstacles include one’s gender, age, language, education level, income, physical or mental disability, the geographic location of one’s residence, access to transportation and to technology, one’s sexual orientation, religion, or cultural values.

Barriers may also be in place within ourselves. Due to fears of the unknown, or preconceptions, stereotypes, or personal biases, we may be reluctant to reach out to minorities. Or we may not be aware of the existence of underserved audiences, or we may lack the skills and knowledge to work with people different from ourselves.

It is because of these barriers that we continue to follow the steps necessary to be compliant to our civil rights expectations. That’s why we do civil rights reviews and document our all reasonable efforts. As our communities become more diverse in many ways, and issues become more complicated, it is just as important today as it was 50 years ago to insure that we are serving and enabling all people equitably.

Joe Hunnings

Work-Life Balance

The district directors have been challenged by Mike Lambur to blog about work-life balance, pretty ironic as I sit in my office at 6:15 am catching up once again. I put in a lot of hours and I make that choice for several reasons – mainly, I don’t want to disappoint you, the folks that I serve, and I sincerely want to enable you to do your jobs well – to the extent this is mine to assist, 2) I don’t want to fall behind and I want to be a “good” employee and be valued as such by my supervisor, and 3) I think it is simply part of who I am to put in extra hours. My parents taught me to arrive at work at least 10 minutes early and actually be working when my shift began. My mom always said, “Once a task is begun, never stop until it’s done, be it great or be it small, do it well or not at all!” So with this work ethic ingrained in me, I confess to always having put in a lot of time on jobs and I can also say that mostly I have loved it.

The “rub” came in my work/life balance when my child was borne. Twelve hour days were not practical or doable any more. I can remember sitting in bed with my son and reading stories to lull him to sleep, but it was always mom that feel asleep and the little guy saying, “read more, read more.” Life had to change. Being married to an equally “hard worker” who put in many hours each week between his professional job and farming, it was a struggle and required constant communication to juggle the tasks of parenting. As I cut back the hours that I was actually at the work place to 40, I began to receive negative feedback – “What’s happened to Cyndi? Why isn’t she around anymore? She doesn’t work like she used to.” This was a very difficult pill to swallow because I was still giving my job a strong 40 hours weekly.

However, my priorities had changed and I had to do some things differently to accommodate my home life and my work. One of the most difficult challenges for me was to give over work to someone else. Although I had competent and capable volunteers, they did not quite do it the way I wanted the task done – and I struggled with that. I had to prioritize and take an unbiased look at what tasks needed to be done – which ones had to stay with me and what could I give up or turn over to a volunteer. I also had to pare down the “stuff” around me and purge to a manageable level.

Over time, I was able to find a groove that I called balance. Probably always over 40 hours a week, but I lost the guilt of not managing every detail and found a voice to say “no” to requests that did not strongly align with my professional or personal goals. My son is 19 now and there have been some things that I have missed because of work, but most of the time I was there. I think the most difficult priority has been to find time for myself between home and work. My advice to you would be to intentionally schedule time to care for yourself, as I believe this benefits both your home and work life – that was the one thing that I never did.

As you grow in your work and as you go through the changes of life, you will continually evaluate work load and personal commitments. I have been a state employee for most of my working career – 32 years now and I still feel a strong commitment to serve the taxpayers and give them the best I have to give for the dollars I receive from them in salary and benefits. With that in mind, you can never get back the missed ball games, awards programs, or family dinners, so I encourage you to continually evaluate where you need to be. Make your calendar your friend; sit down and plan time off – we are blessed with a generous leave system, so make sure you are using it. Schedule time for personal things on your work/life calendar to ensure that the important items don’t get forgotten or swept away by the load of daily chores.

Please share any advice you have on how you have achieved work/life balance, and/or challenges you face in making this balance work…

Cyndi Marston

Using social media to reach more people

As an Extension Agent, you may already have an excellent network of people in your community. But how do you reach others who may not know you’re available as a resource?

You can try adding social media as another point of contact! You don’t have to invest very much time to put yourself and your expertise out there for the public.

How do you get started, you may ask? I highly recommend testing the social media waters by setting up a Twitter account.

Screen-Shot-2014-06-19-at-10.05.10-AMYou can start by going to twitter.com and signing up for an account. You’ll be walked through steps to set things up, and you’ll be given suggestions to find people and organizations to follow. Be sure to follow @VCE_news, @VAExtensionPubs, and @VTAgLifeSci!

Once you’re set up, spend some time browsing through others’ tweets to see what people are posting and who their followers are. You can start building your networking by following other people and groups and sharing their posts. Many users use the practice of following their followers, which in turn increases your visibility online.

After you’re comfortable with how Twitter works, you can start promoting your account! The best way to gain followers is to tell people how to find you — word of mouth, business cards, website links, etc.

The Office of Communications and Marketing is here to help promote your social media account, too! We have more than 2,000 followers on both Twitter and Facebook, and we have a growing number of followers on Pinterest. We’d be happy to share your information with the masses to get the word out.

Once you start gaining followers, be sure to keep dialogue open. More social media accounts fail because there’s no two-way communication. If someone sends you a note, respond! Even if you don’t know the answer, a prompt response increases your reputation in customer service. One thing we do with the Extension accounts is direct people to contact their local Unit Offices if they have a specific question, and we provide the URL link to the offices’ website.

With your helpfulness, you’ll be seen as someone who has the answers or knows where to get them. You’ll see your online followers grow without much effort, and people will know to look to you as the expert!

If you have specific questions about how to get started, please contact Brandi Evans (bmdilday@vt.edu) in the Office of Communications and Marketing.

More Tips:

Susan Gill

The life of Extension materials

One of the core values of Extension is providing relevant, research-based information.  Whether that is in the form of educational presentations, phone conversations, web or social media materials, or written publications.  Recently, the Extension Project Leaders started a process to develop a sunset date for all of their Extension fact sheets, newsletters, and publications that are posted on the VCE web site.  The VCE website contains over 3,000 separately posted items and over 1,200 have not been reviewed since the last web site update (2009).  After reviewing and soliciting other state policies, most are using a 5-year time frame.  VCE has adopted this time frame as well.

The revision process can take place at any time and if the information has changed, new information/research is available, or new recommendations are warrantied, the materials should be updated.  This has always been the author’s responsibility.  The sunset date provides an effective way to keep authors accountable so that periodic review and reassignment of authors (if retirement or movement of an author) occurs.  This will assure that VCE publications are timely and the information has a specialist/contact who can provide follow-up if additional information or clarification is needed.

While we desire the most relevant information, some publications will be pulled from the VCE website and we have been diligent to archive these publications with the Library of Virginia – http://www.lva.virginia.gov/agencies/StateDocs/

Please let us know your thoughts on the life of Extension materials.

Bobby Grisso

 

Why do we do reports?

I remember a story about a faculty member who commented that every minute that they were working on program evaluation, was a minute they were “not doing their job.”  Of course what that faculty member failed to realize is that program evaluation is part of their job. It is just as critical a part of their job as program development and delivery.

I think the same can be said about the reporting component of our work.  We report contacts, write situation analysis reports, complete an annual Faculty report, report impacts, and we maintain and report when required, various civil rights-related information.  Does anyone use these reports?  Yes, many people do.  Your District Director, the Associate Director’s for Programs, communications and marketing staff, myself, and others.  But the biggest user of these reports should be you.  For example contacts reporting is not just so we can compile statewide participation numbers.  No, the most important use of contacts reporting data is to assess how effective your outreach efforts are in reaching underserved audiences in your assigned area.  The same idea can be said for all of the data you collect and report.  Don’t just collect the information because someone says you have to.  Reflect on and use the reports that are generated.  If you take the approach that your reporting function informs your work and should improve it, then I think the burden of reporting lessens.

With that said, let me hear your thoughts or questions on reporting responsibilities that you have.  Maybe there are ways we can make this part of your work more beneficial.

Joe Hunnings

Welcome!

Greetings all and welcome to the Conversations: Enhancing 2-Way Communications blog!  The idea for this blog came from work of the Central District Program Leadership Team.  In identifying program training needs in their district, they discovered some issues that, well, didn’t really relate directly to subject matter programming but nonetheless are important and need to be addressed (for example, work/life balance and office/field time balance.).  So we (State Staff) developed this blog to promote two-way communications to talk about these issues.

We will be posting periodically and encourage you to comment (just click on Leave a reply) at the bottom of the post.  You may comment anonymously, but we would encourage you to tell us who you are.  You can also suggest additional topics either in comments or by emailing Mike Lambur (lamburmt@vt.edu).

For more information on the blog, see About.

Generational Diversity in VCE

You’ve all heard the terms: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y/millennials.  These represent the four generations that exist in our VCE workforce today.

So what does this really mean?  Well, the importance is that individuals from each generation bring different values to the workplace that influence how they work and how they interact with others.  A generation is based on the range of an individual’s birth date and the traits they develop in their formative years, which is influenced by economic, political, and social events happening at that time.  For a more information on this, see Understanding Generations by the West Virginia University Extension Service.  Also see The Value of a Multigenerational Workplace for a very enlightening business perspective.

From my perspective, I believe that generational diversity exists in VCE and can be challenging and also opportunistic to deal with in our professional relationships and work.  What do you think?  Here are two questions to start the discussion:

1. What have been your experiences in generational diversity in your VCE work?

2. How can we leverage generational diversity to benefit our VCE work?

Mike Lambur