So I’m back at work now, and settling back in; unsurprisingly, some things are the same, some are different. I’ve got the same job title and job description as I had before; I’m sitting at the same desk; my team-mates are mostly the same people. However I’m now working part-time (80%); I’m working from home on one of those days; I’m working on different projects with a different emphasis; and there are other, bigger changes on the horizon.
Admin first: working part-time is, so far, a bit like working full-time except I run out of time to do everything slightly sooner. In my experience work is never really ‘finished’ and will always expand to overfill the time available. I do find that it still takes me by surprise slightly when Thursday is the end of the week (particularly as I’ve shifted my hours earlier so I’m leaving at 4 to pick baby up from nursery), but I’ll adapt to that in time. I also find that I simply can’t finish off odd bits and pieces in the evenings and at weekends as I used to, because at home baby takes up all my time. On balance, I think that’s probably no bad thing! Working from home one day is useful from a work point of view as it means I can work longer hours that day (I don’t have to travel) and I don’t get interrupted all the time; it’s useful from a personal point of view as it means I can have lunch with my husband (who has that day off work — he’s also gone part-time) and my baby, and give her an extra feed or two in the daytime.
As for the actual work: the emphasis has changed because a) the work our team is doing has changed, and b) my hours have changed. As a team we’re doing a lot more Drupal work, and my line-managers wanted me to focus on that; they (quite reasonably) argued that if I was only going to be working 4 days a week I should specialise a bit more rather than trying to do a bit of everything. This makes perfect sense, but I enjoy being a generalist and sometimes I feel as though the new regime is going to be a bit more limiting; still, there’s plenty of interest to be had in it at the moment, and we’ll see how it goes. I had barely touched Drupal before I went on leave, now I’m one of three ‘Drupal people’ on the team: it’s been a steep learning curve, and one that’s been frustrating at times. I’ll explain a bit more about the situation as I think it illustrates some of the problems of team/project work, but also how the personnel of a general web development team can shape the projects that the team takes on (and vice versa).
Our team handles web projects across the University. It does other things too, but the web stuff is what’s relevant here. Once upon a time, J (one of my line-managers) was our only Drupal developer; this was sort of a hangover from him having been the ‘Web Design Consultancy’ in the department, but let’s not get too far into organisational history or genealogy here. Anyway, J started making lots of good sites in Drupal, and people around the University started asking him for more of them. He became very busy. When he hired T (another Drupal developer) to cover my maternity leave, he doubled the capacity for this sort of project; but it’s one of those things where increasing the capacity actually increases the demand, in a sort of virtuous circle: more people get good sites built for them, more people tell other people, more people want us to build sites for them. By the time I came back J and T had developed an efficient system for rolling out new Drupal sites, and demand had increased even more, and their workload had increased to the point where they were having to turn away projects because there simply wasn’t time. The idea was that I would come back, learn Drupal, and take some of the strain off J and T; but of course they were often too busy to show/teach me the necessary stuff to allow me to do that. Obviously I did my best to make progress on my own, but there were times when I was frustratingly stalled. Fortunately, that’s getting much better now, and it’s another virtuous circle: the more I learn, the more I can do on my own, so the more I can actually help ease the workload rather than just increasing it. On the other hand, maybe it won’t ease the workload: maybe it will just continue to increase the demand, in the same way that building a bigger motorway actually just increases traffic. All I know is that personally I’d much rather have too much to do than be unable to get on with anything.
The bigger changes are also interesting: the University’s three central IT departments are merging to form one big department. The three departments are:
- the department I work for, which provides IT services that support academic computing
- the department that provides IT services for the business/administration side of the University
- the department that provides IT services for departments A and B
I won’t go into details about the merger, but it will hopefully mean lots of positive changes: more streamlined processes, less duplication of effort, less development of incompatible systems, and — hopefully — lots of new opportunities as people move roles and new positions are created. In a way it’s an excellent time to be coming back to work: starting again has meant thinking a lot more explicitly about what I’m doing, what I want to do, and how I want to do it, and that’s a good state of mind to be in when new opportunities are arising. Of course, it’s a good state of mind to be in at other times too; but in general it’s quite easy to put off strategic thinking — in terms of the actual work, or in terms of your job/career — until all the day-to-day stuff is finished, even when we know that the daily to-do list will never actually be finished.
So, the ‘year off’ wasn’t a holiday, but it has been a ‘break’ in some ways: a break from the routine, a break in the endlessly-refilling task-list, a long enough break from some ongoing projects that I’m (thankfully) no longer seen as the only go-to person for them. There are valid reasons to worry about a break in your employment record, but in the long run I think this break will turn out to have done me more good than harm.