So this has been a pretty manic week! And I haven't updated properly in forever and don't often talk about work, so I'm gonna. This is going to be a long screed but don't worry, I don't expect anyone to actually read it!
The story of this manic week doesn't start this week. It starts a year ago, when we were a reasonably well resourced team. This team consisted of Boss Linda (building manager and departmental safety officer, working 4 days a week), two full time receptionists (Susan and Amy), two part-time administrators (Catherine, dealing with facilities, and Sarah, dealing with health & safety), and me, the full time administrator, ostensibly dealing with business continuity and meeting support (I have, like, eight meetings and counting that I support), but also filling in the gaps in everyone else's areas of work - seriously, we did a workshop to iron out all the tasks our team deals with and filled three pages of flip chart paper, and I was the only person in the team who could honestly say that they do all of those things, not just some of them. But, you know, we all had our areas of work and that was okay.
Then last May Catherine and Amy both got new jobs and left, within weeks of each other, with Sarah due to go on maternity leave in the August - only she didn't make it to August, she went into hospital on bed rest in the June and was kept there till the baby was born. So in less than a month, we lost half our team, plus we were already counting down to September when receptionist Susan was to begin flexible retirement - and there was no handover for Sarah's H&S work, because of the circumstances, plus she hadn't got around to writing up all the procedure documents she'd been promising me since January, so I basically found myself doing my job, Catherine's job and Sarah's job all at the same time, including having to make up most of Sarah's job from scratch because she hadn't written her procedures.
Last summer was a frantic time. We took on a temp for reception while the new receptionist was recruited, so that helped, but I was still doing three jobs - or, taking the part-time hours into account, two-and-three-quarter jobs. Then we had a new member of staff seconded into our team, Becca's full time hours supposedly meant to almost cover Catherine and Sarah's roles, with the surplus still falling on me. Except that it was never going to work out that way, because she was bringing her pre-existing workload with her, she does HR administration for the department, which supposedly took up 40% of her time - but that still left 60% of a full time person for our team's work, right? Wrong. That 40% has actually proved to be more like 75-80%, and increasing all the time. So although it's been good to have another person in the team, we've had very little practical benefit from her being here, and have gained an extra area of work from the deal. She's also, while pleasant enough, not what you'd call a team player.
The new receptionist Eleri is great though, which does help, but we have simply never replaced the staff resource that was lost last year, plus for the admin portion of the team (which is currently me and Becca) occasional reception cover has become weekly reception cover ever since Susan dropped her days in September - and if Eleri is off on a day Susan doesn't work, we have to cover the entire day. And Becca has never quite got around to actually learning how reception works (I've been trying to get her to spend some time with Susan training since September), so while she can handle a lunch hour, she flounders if asked to do more than that.
In February, Becca got a new job and handed in her notice - just two days before Boss Linda was going on leave, which wasn't great timing. That was the week before last. Now, she is the only HR administrator in the department, which means her HR work is going to fall on our already over-stretched team when she goes and filling that gap has to be an urgent priority, coming on top of all our other current urgent priorities (we're in the middle of health & safety annual management review, plus the aftemath of a major incident in the data centre in January). So there's that. Then last week, while Linda was off...Becca was in work on the Tuesday and Wednesday. I was with her all evening Wednesday - we went with a group of girls from work to see Pride & Prejudice on stage at the Millennium Centre (so much fun, thoroughly recommend!). Then on Thursday Becca phoned in sick, having been absolutely fine the night before, but was careful to leave a message rather than speak to anyone, and it was kinda fishy because...she had a long weekend booked to go up to Scotland for the rugby and did exactly the same thing last year, called in sick the day before going on leave for the rugby. Then this week she called in sick Tuesday and Wednesday as well, supposedly the same complaint as Thursday, a bad back, which, for one thing, you aren't supposed to mix sick leave and annual leave like that, and for another - you tell me how someone with such a bad back they can't come to work manages to travel from South Wales to Scotland, sit through an entire rugby match, and then travel back, and then when asked about it simply goes into raptures about what a lovely weekend it was without mentioning the bad back even once. To be honest, we were actually surprised she turned up at all this week - we'd half expected her to simply go off sick until her last contracted day! She has form, in that regard.
But I'm glad she has come back, because this week has been crazy. It started last Thursday, which was the first day Becca called in sick. Boss Linda was on holiday and Susan doesn't work Thursday-Friday, so it was just me and Eleri representing our team when all the doors suddenly stopped working.
Our building houses the main data centre for the entire university, so it has to be kept secure, so we have access-controlled doors everywhere, and they've been running at risk since before Christmas, because the system is end-of-life and in need of upgrade, but the newer controllers in use elsewhere in the university have had a different fault that's been under investigation, and we didn't want to replace our intermittent fault with the total failure experienced elsewhere, so we were waiting and monitoring...and then our end-of-life system died completely, at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon in half-term, when hardly anyone was in - including Boss Linda, the building manager. So I spent about an hour running around the building with the Director of Services & Operations, pretending to be Linda, checking all the PAC doors, figuring out how critical the failure was, helping to figure out what could be done about it in the short term, etc. I ended up working late that evening to keep a thoroughfare open through reception, because none of the access controlled doors out of that area worked, so it was the only way to get from the front of the building to the back. All the external doors had failed open, when they are meant to fail locked, so we had to get Security out to physically lock the building that night, which meant making everyone who would normally work late, go home early, and then I had to take the grandmaster key home with me and come back in at the crack of dawn to open up and let people into the building.
Then Friday night the same thing, after a manic day of attempted fixes with the problem just getting steadily worse and worse. And Monday morning the same thing - I've had to go in early to open up every day this week, in fact.
Monday was the craziest day, because it was the start of a window replacement project that had been arranged before anyone knew all the doors were going to break. I got into work about 7.35am to open up (my contracted hours are 9-5). By 8.15 I had contractors stacking up in reception - contractors arriving to move CCTV cables, contractors arriving to take down window bars, contractors arriving to replace the windows, contractors arriving to fix a roof leak...and contractors arriving to work on the broken door controllers. And then another contractor arriving to work on the fire alarm panel, which was in fault because of building work next door, which is on the same system. PLUS all the staff who actually work here, having to troop through our store room behind reception to get into the building, because none of the other doors worked (and I can't describe how much fun it is to spend an entire day yellling at people over the intercom because they don't believe you when you tell them the door doesn't work). AND then Boss Linda arrived - and I'd talked to her line manager on Friday and made him promise that he'd contact her over the weekend and warn her about the door problem, so she wasn't blindsided by it on Monday...and he forgot, so she was blindsided by it. And that was all before 8.30am.
So Monday was a busy day, and the week has just gone on from there. Every day has been insane. I've barely touched any of my actual own work.
Eleri is on holiday this week, but Susan is back, so we at least had a receptionist here until Wednesday - but Susan doesn't work on Thursdays or Fridays, so we already knew that Becca and I would have to cover the desk between us for those two days, but then with Becca calling in sick (very fishily) I was getting really worried about not having any cover at all for these two days, but luckily she has turned up - just when the worst of the week is over, because they finally got the doors working again at about 3.30pm on Wednesday.
More or less. They were still a bit dicey on Thursday - new controllers operational, but they kept dropping cards, so various people were experiencing intermittent faults still. But by and large the doors were working. And, touch wood, seem to still be working today. Although personally I'm not gonna trust 'em until after the Easter break, which will be the real test - will we develop the same holiday profile fault the rest of the university has had?
So the doors are working again. Thursday we still had window contractors on site, and window bar contractors turning up to replace the window bars, so there was still a lot of running around, plus I was tied to the desk all morning, although Becca was at least in work to relieve me after lunch. But Friday, I thought. Becca can do the bulk of reception for the day, maybe I'll actually get some work done, because I've had work stacking up all week that I've barely even touched, there's been so much going on. But no - because Becca has never bothered to learn reception duties properly, I was up and down all morning dealing with queries she couldn't handle. Plus the roofing guys were back out because the back corridor is leaking again, so I was up and down dealing with them, and now I've come down to the desk to do the afternoon shift, and there are people coming and going all the time so I still can't get anything done, and the fire alarm guy is back and seems to be having an absolute mare, he's been pacing around cursing for most of the day, which I'm assuming means he can't fix the fault, and he's so stressed he's making me stressed!
And all in all, I'm really looking forward to the weekend!
On Monday, I get to lock the spare reception keys back in the key cabinet, after having to take them home with me every night for over a week. And at least I'm not carrying the grandmaster around with me any more.
But then Susan is on holiday next week, so we still have daily reception cover to arrange between us, and I've been booked for another halfday on the desk while Eleri does emergency HR training to take on some of Becca's work (I refuse to touch HR, I've got more areas of work than I can fit into a week as it is), so I'm still going to be spending too much time on the desk to do any of my own work!
Hopefully there won't be any contractors or crises to deal with next week, though.
This rather incoherent blog post has been brought to you in about a dozen different installments over a period of days!