Workplaces Revealed: Colleen Brennan-Barry, Monroe Community College

image of home office with comfy chair and bookcaseAfter eight years working in higher ed Web communications, I’ve come to realize that this work isn’t exactly limited to the standard Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 week. I’m not just talking about workload necessitating “outside” hours — though there’s certainly is that. Instead, I’ve come to understand that the Web and its amazing possibilities for connection are my passion. This stuff engages my brain at all times, in all spaces. I might be making dinner and come up with a whole new commencement communication strategy, or be gardening and figure out how to make the newest page design more user-friendly.

So when the opportunity came up to share my work space with you, I didn’t really think of my on-campus “business” office as all that interesting. It’s pretty standard: your basic desk, faux-greenery, framed diplomas, marked-up whiteboard, chairs and table for meetings, etc. On reflection, I realized that yes, I do a lot of work at the business office but as they say, “Home is where the heart is.”

So, HighEdWeb LINK readers, welcome to my home … office.

stones on shelf

Stones and plants help bring nature into a technological place.

cats in office

It’s a collaborative space, really: my feline overlords oversee things from their matching pillows.

pinboard covered in art

My skeletal friend Artie oversees the pinboard containing inspiring art, important notes and – hey! Is that an #heweb10 namebadge I see there?!

The Essentials

  • Personal and professional: Wall art mixes with workflow charts; content strategy texts partner with books on postmodern horror film; travel postcards mix with sitemaps; and everywhere there’s color, color, color.
  • The world of wireless: I have an iPad, a netbook and PC & Mac laptops that are my primary tools in this space. This gives me the freedom to move around, as well as to stash the hardware when I need a (heresy!) break from technology.
  • Creature comforts: I might be working, but in this space I can be more comfortable and less formal. I actually had this extra-large “chair-and-a-half” made so that I could lounge easily, as well as share the space with books, computers, papers, folders, and anything else I might need. There are also a number of tables, just right for me to organize myself as I work.
  • Light up my life: After 50 hours a week of fluorescents, I want soft, calming lighting that still aids my tired eyes. In daytime the big bay window gives a ton of natural light; in the evening, a series of well-placed desk lamps and white string lights give a soft-but-ample glow to the room.
  • Multiple modalities: I have a small whiteboard on one wall for more visual thinking, pinboards to post up artifcats and inspirational images, paper notebooks and texts, and other tools that, in addition to my various computers, allow me to work on several levels.

Color and art make me happy, & when I’m happy I do good work. Of special note: the first-edition Firefly comic in the left corner, as autographed by Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk and yes, even Nathan Fillion. <swoon>


My charmingly analog (and tchotchke-filled) bookcases

desk covered in toys

Art, toys, and lights top my seldom-used desk -- my work-at-home areas don’t require a desktop.

Helpful Hints for Making Yourself a Home (Office)

  • Surround yourself with things that give you joy. As with many Web pros’ offices, there are a lot of purely fun items in my space. My particular flavor tends to be Halloween-related toys, but there are also prints of famous artwork, paintings, family pictures, rocks collected from sea-side vacations, and more. Ideally your space should be one where, when you look up, you instantly see something that makes you smile and inspires you in some way — make it uniquely you.
  • Remember, be practical as well as inspired. This is still a workspace, and I use a number of organizational methods to keep it in line. The cabinets under the bookshelves, for example, hold shelves that swing out and contain file boxes of the paperwork I need. The desk holds all of my correspondence and office supplies. A central server has backups of all of my digital assets. It’s nice to be creative; even better to be creative AND able to find needed resources at a moment’s notice!
  • Know your own working habits, and design accordingly. I know that I work best in a more colorful, comfy, chaotic space; it gets me moving and fires my imaginiation. However, that’s certainly not true for everyone. For example, maybe white walls and minimalism would best help your mind quiet so you can think those genius thoughts. Go with whatever your own style is, and don’t be afraid to go big: paint the walls, install a small fountain, decorate the ceiling. Do what works best for you.
  • Set boundaries. This is both for you and for your cohabitants. Dedicate this space to certain pursuits and use it accordingly; it helps set up good habits so when you’re spending time in your workspace, you are indeed working. Your space may be playful, but the great ideas and work you’re producing are no game (unless of course you’re designing a game … but that’s another article). Let others know, too, that this is your space and agree upon boundaries: determine how much or how little you’re comfortable with them hanging in this area. Remember, it’s totally OK to say “Keep Out.” Of course, I tried this with my cats and it ended with them both having their toys and lounging pillows installed in the room … but at least I tried.

The Rest

Of course, there are things you DON’T see here. I do have a desktop PC in another room but it’s configured primarily as a gaming machine. Hey, it’s hard to frag someone on an iPad! And a girl’s got to live a little, you know?! My printer/copier/fax is there, too, as is a central house server and the like. But this office is my primary home. It’s relaxed, it’s comfortable, it’s fun, and it inspires me. And I think that’s the most any of us can ask for a space where we help craft the future of the Web.