By Kandra Bolden
Our last full day in the office was Monday, March 16 and like many of my colleagues, I was not expecting to be out for any extended period of time. We all arrived the next morning to news that the PMA would be closing their offices and that we would not be permitted back into the building. Still not fully comprehending the severity of the situation, my colleagues and I packed up some of our personal items and lugged them home expecting we’d be back to “normal” by the end of the month. In the following days, our department director and program managers, under the direction of HR and the Executive Offices, met to go over who would be deemed as essential staff and confirm which employees would need computers to access email from home. It was decided that for the time being, only personnel such as Development Director, Director of Development Operations, and Gift Processing Specialist would be required to come to the museum once a week to perform those essential duties on behalf of our department.
For my team, specifically, the transition to working from home was quite difficult. I work on a team that is responsible for donor engagement, communication, and stewardship so our focus within those first few weeks involved rapidly pushing out cancellation emails and following-up with donors not accessible via email. Between the months of April and June we had about 10-15 events scheduled including a large-scale exhibition opening and a very exclusive dinner celebrating our most generous annual donors. Creating and delivering clear lines of communication between our department and donors was our top priority. Another priority and concern for our department was access; without access to our files and donor database, there was a lack of functionality for many of our teams which only brought on more stress for my colleagues and I. Tensions also grew considerably within these first few weeks as news of furloughs and staff reductions traveled from our colleagues at neighboring museums. With the status of our employment coming into question, it quickly became even more difficult to manage this expedited workload and overall uncertainty. To counteract staff confusion, my team met via video call daily as both a personal and work-related check-in.
Fast forward to present times, we were one of few organizations to maintain all staff with tiered pay reductions. Working from home is still an adjustment for me but has become a bit easier as the days go on. I’ve also recently been one of the few in my department granted VPN remote access to our PMA network, which has made a significant difference in how I can contribute to the department. Our main focus has now shifted to finding innovative ways to engage with our donors and ensuring that they continue to feel connected to the museum. In order to maintain a level of trust and transparency, the communications our team has been responsible for has needed to contain accurate information and be as consistent as possible with all other COVID-19 related language coming from the museum. One lesson I believe all of the PMA has learned (largely over the last few months, but specifically during this time of quarantine) is that communication and transparency is key. Externally, open communication with members, donors, and the general public has become quite crucial as the PMA fulfills its role as the cultural heart of the city. Internally, lines and boundaries between various positions has been blurred and its become crucial for all front-facing departments across the institution to be on one accord at all times. Over the past month, I’ve really had to learn to adjust for the good of the team and become more comfortable taking on duties and projects I’d never handled before. We still have our issues and kinks, but we’re slowly getting acclimated to this new system and learning to be more patient with each other in these uncertain times.