I’ve mentioned this before, but I have worked in a couple of different teams within the same borough. Through fair means or foul, yesterday, I ended up in the office where I used to work before I moved to my current team, roughly five years ago.
I was there for a meeting in one of the side rooms but decided to wander into the open plan area (after making my way through much better security than there had been when I worked there!). Fortunately, someone ‘official’ recognised me and ushered me in.
The room had changed. They have moved to ‘smart working’ with laptops and hot desking. They have little lockers with their names on, reminiscent of school – as the lack of personal desk space means that things can’t be, as they were, left on desks.
Some of the faces have changed as new people have arrived and older ones have left. Retired or ‘reconfigured’ to different teams.
But there were enough familiar faces for me to find a warm welcome. It had been a good team to work in.
I commented on the desks and the laptops and I was met with some level of surprise that ‘hot desking’ hasn’t yet made it to our offices.
‘No’, I said ‘we still have our own desks’.
I was met with wistful sighs of memories long past.
As I said it, I could feel the preciousness of those words – and acknowledged, internally at least, how rare they must sound to this team.
We passed some general conversation about respective families before inevitably asking about work.
‘How are things going here?’ I asked tentatively.
A few nervous laughs and rolling of eyes.
‘Busy – but that’s pretty much a default decision’.
I decided to grasp the proverbial nettle.
‘How about.. the cuts?.. are they affecting you guys.. are there any jobs going?’.
I still work for the local authority but feel a sense of detachment as I am seconded into the NHS – so I don’t always get the same information as those directly working in the local authority might get. I was really eager to find out some more information.
‘Think so’. ‘Yeah’. There were despondent nods and acknowledgments all around. ‘There’s no money left in next year’s budget, let alone this years’.
‘People are leaving and not being replaced – that’s mostly how we see it – but we are being asked to do more. There are rumours about people being asked to leave but we haven’t heard anything concrete yet’
They told me about services that were closing – day centres, sheltered housing losing the on-site wardens, posts being amalgamated.
The morale was notably low. It had been a happy team, full of chatter and jokes. I like where I work now. I like the work I do now. But that old team had been and is the friendliest I had ever worked in, as a member of staff.
It was flat and clinical now. People didn’t have the same opportunity to build relationships with colleagues. There were no students (a couple of the social workers there, at least, are practice teachers and a few more on top would be workplace supervisors). Usually, when I have been there there were always at least a couple of students around, this time of year.
‘Nah, we haven’t taken any students in this team this year. We just don’t know what’s happening in the service. There are more meetings planned but it isn’t fair for a student to be learning in this environment at the moment’.
I was given the names of a couple of people who had left or were about to.
It was the team I remembered but it was a shell of what it had been. The spirit had more or less been sucked out of it as we are increasingly turned into mechanised automatons drowning under paperwork in what had been heralded as a system of paperless offices.
I think I might have seen the future.
It wasn’t working.
It was inputting.