Fortnight-notes — back to work is it?

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9th — 11th and 16th — 18th of August 2021

Last week, after over a year off, I returned on part-time hours and to a slightly different focus. I’m now working Monday — Wednesday.

I can’t really say how that new set-up feels yet because it was the first two weeks of doing it and first weeks are always a bit new and different.

I’m still ‘Delivery Director’ and — as we have new colleagues — last week I needed to answer what that is and what it is I did at Delib before I went off on leave. And that’s been a bit tricky? I’ve never really been able to do a handy synopsis of my job, and without being able to summarise my role it’s easy to start believing I probably didn’t do anything useful. After a year off I have returned with some insecurities, quietly hoping to still be relevant and worthwhile, so this inability played right into the heart of those.
(I don’t want to call what I need an elevator pitch because GOD I hate the looming-over-you-in-a-lift image and the unnecessary power play of elevator pitches generally, but a decent sentence or two would be great).

I remember at the front end of this process that it was hard defining my role to hand over. I wrote a maternity handover piece which attempted to tackle some of the more cultural ‘how I work’ stuff; I shared my job description; we had multiple handover catch ups and meetings; we broke my role into categories and tried to list all the activities that I do daily/weekly/monthly/ad hoc in each one. This is all fine for handing over the main practical bits of the job, but none of this is deliverable in a sentence or two. If you ask what someone does and they need to send you a folder of documents, well…

The best I managed was I think something along the lines of “I broadly am here to make sure we deliver for customers, for ourselves as a team, and that we deliver on our goal to improve democracy”. Well that’s great and corporate and all — But how? What does that even mean?

Part of doing any work is discovering what is needed to deliver the things and then getting it done, so this is a very long-winded way of saying I should probably write these notes again so I can keep reminding myself what I am doing and why. And maybe then I can turn it into a punchy paragraph to put on LinkedIn and really impress the fellas.

The fortnight then:

First weeks back, so mostly:

  • Getting set back up on systems
  • Getting caught up on what’s been happening
  • Video calls with new and old Delib team members
  • Attempts to be useful

I’m starting a few new habits, and one of those is attending different stand-ups each day so I can see everyone’s faces and get an idea of what people are working on and where they’re blocked. I went to Studio Services, Engineering, and Account Management ones and waved enthusiastically at everyone like they do at the start of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

I started this before I went away, but my calendar has now been added to all the boards in Toggl[1] and I have been putting everything I’m working on, not just meetings, as individual events, so that it’s really clear what I’m up to. I don’t want anything hidden.

How my Toggle calendar looks for this fortnight: It’s a series of blocks representing each thing I was/am doing and ticked green if ‘Done’ or block-coloured if not yet done. The colours represent the type of thing it is, so in this example for today’s column there’s a red block for a Delib meeting and a forest green one for report writing

Current focus

My focus right now is broadly on Fulfilment: Researching and implementing better ways of working, saving time, saving waste, using tools wisely, automating where we can, updating processes, sloughing off unnecessary bits. If we end up with a set of tasks which can’t be automated/optimised away then could there even be a full support role we can hire for if we packaged them up and made it do-able? Nothing is off the table at this point and that’s quite an exciting prospect (for me).

After learning what Figma is and that we now use it, I made myself a Figma board for ‘stuff that may need sorting’ with ideas I collected from others or that I brushed past in my first few days. It ranges from cultural stuff like — ‘Can we make the Monday morning 10am meeting better for everyone?’ to ‘How can we remove the pain from creating annual reports and keep the good stuff?’

I’m planning to have a few of these projects spinning at once when I get properly up to speed, but I started with the reports one because it could deliver big time-savings if we can do it, and it has the immediate benefit of things I can do that are practical and helpful and will make people smile — like by doing their reports for a few weeks. What can I say? When it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to be loved?

Through doing two reports (so far) and getting to know each person’s process, I made a sheet of all the data we put into them, where we find it, and the method we use for getting it into a report. And I am here to tell you that it is crazy, my friend. I’ve spent years writing these reports, I know what goes into them, but writing it out cold as a process makes it utterly clear that things need to change. And that’s good! Because that’s within my grasp. Given the time it took me to do just the stats part of each report, even if we can pull half of those stats from the product in a simpler way, we’d be on track to save many days of people’s lives. The benefits of making this easier are way beyond just saving time. We only do reports annually as they’re hard to put together, but an easier-to-generate report could be created any time we like. And there’s a chunk more to find out about what our customers find useful in the reports and if there’s more stuff they’d like to know, so that – whatever we do with them – we keep the good stuff and build on top of it.

Other things

Ally updated me on our new Geospatial product, which was still being built when I went on leave, and got launched at the start of this year. It looks great and it’s exciting to have a new product, but especially one which can start to tackle the challenges of place-based engagement.

I went to a security meeting and got updated on what my new colleague Ben has been doing to help us define and achieve our security aims. And[2] I did the mac health and info sec quizzes, which are part of our way of making sure people know what they need to know (and that we know what people don’t know so we can do more training).

On my ‘how can I be useful? vibe — I updated our business continuity article in relation to COVID-19 and where we are now.

Observations and other

I wouldn’t recommend anyone else check their emails intermittently while on leave, but for me the stress of coming back to n emails would have been too much. I was glad to come back with no surprises lurking in my inbox. I do not like work-related surprises.

Since I’ve been away, our IRC channel has fragmented more into individual chat rooms by job role. I’m not sure yet if this is a good, bad or neutral thing, but I’ve joined all the rooms. Is it an example of the team becoming more siloed, or of people avoiding cluttering the main channel with questions/info which might only needed if you’re doing a particular thing, or perhaps it’s a bit of both? I guess I’ll find out.

What else?

Ah it was so good to see everyone again and to remember I used to do a thing.

[1] Formerly Teamweek, we use it a bit like a shared calendar to see crunch points and so on — it used to be great for the way we used it, but I’m not sure I’d now recommend it for that.

[2] I realise I use ‘And’ at the beginning of a sentence a lot, and I know that it’s Against The Grammar Rules (as is capitalising things like in Winnie the Pooh, I suppose), but I’m writing this footnote to say I don’t really care.


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August 21, 2021 at 01:59PM

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