05 July 2006

Working Nine To Five

Today was my first day at work. I got up around 7:00, showered, had breakfast, dressed in my new outfit and left the flat at 8:00. I caught an earlier bus that Janine had suggested and arrived in Wilford (just outside Nottingham City) at 8:40. I signed in with a visitor's pass and waited for Sarah Brown to come and meet me in reception.

Sarah looked me up and down. When I stood up out of my chair I was a good foot-and-a-half taller than her. I knew instantly that we were very different people. I was glad that I hadn't worn my flip-flops as everyone was very smartly dressed. This made me wonder why people actually wore smart clothes to work in an office, especially in the hot summer. Isn't the main priority, conducive to working hard, to be comfortable? No 'customers' are going to see you anyway. Fair enough if you are going to have a meeting, but if you are just sitting there in front of a computer or filing, what is the point?

Gleeds is a large construction company that has offices all over the UK and around the world. I was working in the Management Services (GMS) department. I think that the main purpose of this department is to manage construction projects - negotiating with all the different parties involved (clients, constructors etc) to make sure things run smoothly.

I was allocated a nice desk with my own computer. My username was 'TempGMS'. However, I didn't use the computer at all on the first day. There was a huge mountain of paper behind my desk - 4 or 5 piles each a foot deep. Sarah told me that it all needed filing, but first I had to go through the existing files and 'sort them out'. The previous worker in my role, named David, had filed all these documents in the wrong place and had since been 'let go'.

The filling I had to do was the Northampton Schools Project - the building of 41 new schools on Northamptonshire. There was another project similarly named the Northampton School for Girls Project and poor David had mixed the two sets of documents together.

Before Lunch I tried to get to grips with the two projects and work out which people and companies were involved in each. Nearly all the documents in the files were emails which had been printed out. They ranged from one sentence to several pages. I got the impression that almost every single email sent by anyone involved in the projects (not just GMS staff) had been printed out. As you can imagine, this is a hell of a lot of paper work. I fact it is around 16 full-size ring binders full of it.

Tom, one of the people involved in the project, who seemed quite young and a little out of depth in his job, drew me a diagram to try to explain the structure of the project and how all the parties involved linked together.

During my lunch break, I couldn't help myself thinking about the filing and what would be the best way to approach this enormous task. After lunch I proposed my idea to Tom - the entire filing system needed to be changed. Instead of the 'Correspondence In/Out' system they were using, the files needed to be named 'Correspondence Sent By', so that each paper email or letter could only possibly go in one file (filed by the person or organisation who sent it) rather than the possible two files allowed by the 'In/Out' system.

I asked how long they expected me to spend on this job and I was told a couple of days. I thought that should long enough to do it, so I got stuck in straight away. One-by-one I took every single paper about out of every single file (all 16 files). I systematically began highlighting the name of the sender of each email and putting them into new piles accordingly. I continued with this until 17:00, when I was allowed to go home.

I almost enjoyed the filing task, but kept thinking I wasn't doing it quite as I should be - making it up as I went along to a certain extent. It would have been fine had it been my own filing, but it was not, it was Gleeds' filing and they probably had institutional systems, rules and codes for filing that I, as an outsider, wasn't aware of. I kept thinking that maybe I would be the next 'David' and that as soon as I left, they would have to hire another temp to undo all my wrongdoings.

Working on the filing made me realise that I'd rather be working on a task which is more clear-cut about what was required, where less initiative or decision making is required.

That night I was in a really bad mood - pissed off that I had just spent a whole day wasting time, doing some menial task that no-one would even notice and if they did it'd probably just be to complain that it's wrong.

I was also angry at myself for wasting the majority of my 'free time' either sorting through World Cup stickers of watching football matches. I could not wait for the World Cup to be over and for my sticker book to be complete, then maybe life might be able to go back to normal. I spoke to my mum on the phone, but was I was very grumpy and felt very bad for being rude to her.