Linda's blog

Akron: 12 October 16: On Being Oriented

Our first full day of orientation is behind us, and I'm tired.

Last night was getting-to-know-you stuff, involving cutting pictures out of magazines and tossing yarn across the room, then stretching a metaphor to nearly breaking point. HR games... reasonably fun for me (Until the metaphor started screaming for mercy), but not so much for my less-social husband.

Today involved sessions with various staff members talking about their areas of the organization: the structure and organization, mostly, with some discussion of communications, and a session on the concept (and action) of service. Learned a few things, and gratefully latched onto the organizational chart for the US office. I'm going to be writing in as many names as I can link to the listed job titles, in hopes that I can direct people a little more competently when they call.

This evening, we had a storytelling session, with Ken (whose specialty I temporarily can't recall) giving us the highlights of how MCC grew from a dozen or so people in a church basement to the sizeable organization it is now. I enjoyed the presentation, and I had the feeling he could have gone on all night, given the opportunity.

In some ways, though, it would be easier sitting at the reception desk - it's less exhausting than trying to take in all the information being poured upon us. We did, however, have the chance to use the new Lifesize video conferencing setup. We had four people from the Winnipeg office connect in to do presentations, rather than have them fly in. The sound and visual was remarkably good (as everyone who used it for the first time, and that was all of them, told us), and I suspect the unit will have paid for itself, both in saved airfares and in saved work time, by the end of this week.

Wouldn't that be a lovely way to chat with the family back home...

Akron: 12 October12: In which I go into interminable detail about my work

(Warning: thoroughly verbose.)

Another work week is over, so this seems like a good time to tell you about the work that brought us here. (I can really only speak in detail about I'm doing; perhaps I'll get John to weigh in with his perspective at some point.)

My position is 12th Street Receptionist. It says so in my email signature. This is my official work email, though, and it is basically verboten to use it for personal matters, so you may never see this signature, but I assure you it's there, nonetheless. 12th Street refers to the street address of the office, to differentiate it from, say, Material Resources Center, Villages (the preferred appellation for the more unwieldy "Ten Thousand Villages"), or the regional MCC offices.

My responsibilities are varied. As you might expect, I greet people as they come in, and I answer the phone. I open up in the morning and unlock at night. I edit the office daily newsletter. I organize airport runs to get travelers to and from MCC-related trips. I calculate mileage on the office and unit vehicles, and submit the weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports required. I also edit the monthly office calendar. There are some miscellaneous things as well, but that covers the majority of it.

So, now the detail.

I haven't had a lot of people walk in, other than MCCers, but I have answered the phone a lot. A goodly proportion know who they want to speak to, and then it's just a matter of looking up the appropriate extension and switching them. Sometimes they even know the extension. Some call about address changes, some call about donations, some call about HR issues... and most of these I know how to route. I have cheat sheets at my desk for the common questions, and anything I don't know, I am to transfer to my supervisor or her assistant. As receptionist, I'm all about routing: I don't give information, I pass the caller on to the person who has it. So when someone asks if MCC accepts dontions of encyclopedias for third-world countries, or if we have a canning facility that would be available for use in exchange for a donation, I can pass them on to someone else if I don't have an easy answer... and usually, I don't. We do have about sixty people working in the office, but I have a cheat sheet with everyone listed in alphabetical order by first name (and yes, my librarian's soul cringes at that, but it's been remarkably useful in that form).

Locking and unlocking takes two forms. The obvious one is that I unlock some of the office doors when I get in, and lock them again at night. There are two doors on the street side of the building (which I'm informed is "west") that I unlock, and one on the parking-lot side ("east" - like I know. I'm thoroughly disoriented, but that's another post). There are an additiona three doors (two east, one west) that are on an automated keyless system, and they lock and unlock automatically, but I'm supposed to check that they've done so. (Whilst I'm running around - the loop takes me about three minutes - I also turn a few lights on or off.) In addition, twice a week I check the locking schedule for conference center buildings behind ("east") of the admin building. The schedule there varies, depending on which of the houses are occupied and who's booked the Meeting Place. This requires consulting the scheduler on Lotus Notes (for the Meeting Place) and the lodging spreadsheet on one of the shared drives (for the houses) to determine what's in use when.

The daily news sheet is both basic and complicated. The format is set up (again through Lotus Notes, with which I maintain a like-dislike relationship - not love-hate, mind you, not yet) and largely invariable. There's the logo, the date, birthdays (if any), the menu for the day and the menu for the next day. Then are the announcements, followed by a standard announcement about submitting items, and a footer with the Quote of the Day and the Word of the Day. As I say, basic. Even the font, size, and majority of style is dictated. The complicated part (for me) comes in putting things in the right order. There's a distinct hierarchy of importance, and I'm not always sure I get it, but so far the proofreader of the day (yes, someone else always proofs it) hasn't quibbled. Chapel announcements,Soup Wednesday menus, Comings and goings, job postings, classifieds... all kinds. In the end, I assemble it, but I have minimal editorial authority. So it goes. I never did enjoy the editorial authority of running the school newspaper.

Airport runs. I had no idea what I was getting into with this. I don't actually have to do any of the driving, but... okay. Someone needs to take an MCC-related trip to/from Akron. Travel information is passed on to the appropriate person in the department, and that person enters the information (arrival/departure, train/air, domestic/Canada/international, time, date, flight number, airport, passenger name, contact cell (if any), plus a few bits and bobs about which department is requesting (and therefore paying for) said trip.) This is where I come in. Taking into account all information listed above, I calculate the time the driver has to leave the office to arrive appropriately, and how long the round trip will take. Once I've figured start times for all of them, I check for trips that can be combined, and jump through those hoops when required. Then I reopen each trip with a calculated start time, go into a semi-linked section of scheduler, and book a vehicle for that length of time. As it's only semi-linked, I go back to the airport trip once the vehicle is determined and manually enter it. Next, I select the trips and copy them into a table, and send the table around to our volunteer drivers, who then (over the next few days) tell me which trips they're available to take. After that, I assign drivers (trying not to overwork any of them - most of them are older gentlemen, and volunteer burnout is a sad thing at any age), and send trip confirmations to the drivers and the person who originally requested the trip. A highlighted copy of the trip info goes into the driver's file for them to collect when they come get the vehicle.

Just to make things more interesting, although people mostly fly in and out of Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia are common. JFK in New York comes up sometimes, as does Washington, Newark (New Jersey) and La Guardia. Each of these requires a different start time, and that start time further depends on whether it's an arrival, a domestic departure, or an international departure. Today I finally got sick of counting backwards on my fingers, and built an Excel form where I enter the time into one cell and all the times calculate automatically. I think that with a little tweaking, I can work out the last few wrinkles, but for the time being, it will take care of a lot of problems. And yes, there are at least a couple of flights a week. Right now, with orientation, it's been about a dozen a week.

So all these trips have to be worked into a budget somehow. I'm not sure how all of it works, but I know that I get to do some of the basic number-gathering for Financial Services to crunch. The drivers fill out forms with date, driver's name, start and end odometer readings, and a few other things. If everything is filled out, that makes life easier. If not, I dig. Once a week, I make sure all the mileage is accounted for on the slips, after which it has to be broken down in a few ways, and I have the joy of filling out the spreadsheet and submitting it. Apparently someone checks all my work, but at least I make it easier for them. I get to do this with the vehicles that are assigned to the service worker unit as well, and keep the mileage accounts up to date for the individual service workers. Those get sent out once a month, and there's a quarterly report as well. (Yes, I've made copious notes in my Receptionist's manual. It has saved my bacon more than twice.)

The office calendar gets sent around to everyone. Primarily, it exists to let people know about MCC meetings, remind them to submit their time cards, and tell people about staff birthdays. I am allowed judicious use of clip art and insertion of holidays of various kinds. Until now, the receptionist(s) have been using a template in Word that was basically a blank grid; it required the filling in of all numbers. I am implementing the use of Publisher, and I'm writing a process manual for the next receptionist, in case s/he is not familiar with the program.

Other stuff involves selling stamps and meal tickets, writing rent receipts, making signs for chapels, brown bag lunches, and office closings, keeping driver permits up-to-date...

Yes, I've been busy. How've you been?

Akron:12 October 10

Technology means that we're not nearly as far from home as we might be.

This afternoon, I answered a question from one of my co-workers back at the library (about a process I'd neglected to write up). Simple email from her desk back in Manitoba to mine out here and back again, with no fuss, in practically no time. Pre email, it would have been a phone call or a letter, expensive or slow, and too much trouble to bother with. I can't say I mind a bit of connection, either.

We also had the chance to skype with both sets of parents over the weekend. We'll be pursuing that more aggressively once John gets the internet connection up to snuff. (Judging by the "Woo-hoo!" and the upflung arms over on the other side of the room, it's just been accomplished.)

We can make internet-to-landline calls as well, and we've already done so. We have a landline here in the apartment, but we weren't sure that would be the case. I've also logged in to my Manitoba-based bank account, noticed a small problem, and sent off an email to correct it.

The best part of all this lovely technology? Why, staying in touch, of course. (One has to say that sort of thing when one's friends and relations are reading one's blog posts. It has the advantage of being true, though.)
Second best? It's basically free. We already had the laptops and toys like headsets, and John as an IT guy has access to any surplus-to-demands electronics the IT department has lying around.

On to other things.
Monday night was Columbus Day locally, and Thanksgiving back at home. One of the other service workers here (she works in hospitality for the Welcoming Place) is also Canadian, and she invited us, the other resident Canadians, and the other service workers for a Thanksgiving meal. It wasn't a large gathering: there are only four or five service workers here at the moment. In total, the Akron unit has eight or nine SW positions, down from a historic high of about sixty. (That... is a long story.) Three guys are out with the mobile canner, so that leaves receptionist, IT, records, and hostess. Add in the unit head and her husband, two SOOP-ers (Service Opportunities for Older People) from Toronto, and a friend of theirs who's here to help for the week, and you get the crowd around our table. Turkey, dressing, potatoes, buns, mixed veg, and pumpkin pie for dessert - it was lovely, and I'm guessing it'll all happen again in November when American Thanksgiving hits.

I was going to talk about how the actual work part of being a service worker is going, but I think I'll save that for tomorrow or the day after.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 October 09


This week has been mostly occupied with massive changes in my life, and I am currently almost library-less and book-less. There's a small library at work with an even smaller fiction section (six shelves? Eight?) and I have not yet obtained a card for the local public library.

That being the case, most of my reading has been done online, and not the ebooks of Project Gutenberg, either. My book reaing, then, has been confined to a single title: Best-loved folktales of the world, edited by Joanna Cole. It is indeed a lovely collection of folktales - European, African, Asian, American - of various lengths and various components. It's interesting to note how certain elements repeat across cultures: the absolute simpleton, the brave girl downtrodden by her sisters who wins out, the child who wins over impossible odds because of the goodness of its heart as demonstrated by small kindnesses... I myself am fond of smart and sassy women who use their brains to win, like Clever Manka of Russian lore.

I do have some books I bought at the local library booksale (that was a madhouse - I was quite impressed), but this post is titled "What I'm reading now" rather than "What I will be reading eventually"... although now that I think of it, that hasn't stopped me bragging about booksale buys before, has it.

All right, then. I bought Lee Child's Without fail, PD James' A mind to murder, and Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Elsewhere, I found a copy of Jasper Fforde's The big over easy. Now I just have to get off my laptop and pick up a book so I'll have something to write about next time.