Writing a Dissertation, Furlough, Moving Jobs and Adapting: A Recordkeeping Covid-19 Story – Thomas Wales

Covid-19 has had a unique impact upon the profession, from closing and re-opening archives, adapting records management practice and fending off angry historians from storming reading rooms. For me, it’s been an exciting eight months but not without its challenges.

In March 2020, I was working at Churchill Archives Centre and completing the Archives and Records Management MA at UCL. When the first lockdown came about, I was into researching and writing my dissertation on the recordkeeping process of Education, Health and Care Plans. This was affected in many ways, firstly I needed to rethink my research methods as I’d planned to interview stakeholders in person. Switching to video and phone interviewing provided me with greater flexibility throughout my research – I could engage with participants on a more ad hoc basis. I was though, acutely aware that I missed the essential facets of in-person interviewing: body language and chemistry. As well as this, my participants were themselves dealing with Covid, working from home and with new challenges to their own roles. I had to adapt to being more empathetic and understanding in my interviewing style.

I was also restricted by study spaces – conducting video interviews propped up by an ironing board and was limited to my kitchen table (or the sofa, in most cases), instead of spending hours on end in coffee shops or UCL study spaces. Losing this flexibility of working space, as well as only meeting my supervisor over video made for a strange and disconnected experience. I was extremely fortunate, although missed my job dearly, to be furloughed whilst writing my dissertation. Without this period, the final nights close to the deadline would have been longer and more stressful.

When people ask “What did you achieve during the first Covid-19 lockdown?”

In October, I took an unforeseen jump and moved jobs – a role came up I couldn’t ignore and I was extremely surprised to see something advertised during Covid. I moved to a Records and Information Management team in a local authority. I interviewed via video – which has its benefits – cutting out the awkward journey, timings and nerves. I also found it easier to prepare for and found these tips very helpful:

  • Using notes can be extremely helpful especially compared to in-person interviews, but ensure not to be reliant on these as it will make for a distracted interview style
  • In a similar vein, talking directly into the camera is important – now having spent thousands of hours on Teams, it’s very hard as the interviewer to tell either way, but ensure that your body language is positive
  • Try your best to make some of the interview as conversational as possible, as it’s much harder to get your personality across over video
  • Test, test, test your technology… I fell foul to an audio issue and it’s not fun!
  • Try and remove all distractions, but it’s also not the end of the world if the postman buzzes the doorbell mid-interview, keep calm!
  • Interview practice is a huge plus – either over the phone or on video, no matter how well you’ve prepared, others will think of different and trickier questions based off their own experience
  • Emphasise how you have adapted during Covid – as new professionals, we’ve had to be extremely resilient

So far in my new role, I’ve worked predominately online and only been into my workplace a handful of times, which looks likely to continue. When working in records management teams in the past, I’ve found the ability to wander to someone’s desk and chat about everything and anything incredibly helpful. It helps build working relationships and enables you to gain greater understanding of people’s roles. Starting a new job working from home, this was gone. Over a month into my role, it has been difficult to navigate this divide and make an impression upon people across the organisation.

Despite this, it is important to realise that this experience and way of working is new for everyone. For anyone looking to move job, or lucky to have a new role lined up, I would say not to be worried – everyone is in the same boat, that’s both in terms of applying and starting new roles. The second England-wide lockdown has presented new challenges to the first, gone seems to be the country-wide spirit that occupied the first and daily routines are more ingrained. When working from home, I’ve had to adapt my routine to include more time outside as ensuring a productive work-life balance is more important than ever.

I’m fully aware how fortunate I’ve been, there have been limited roles advertised within archives and records management. I hope that these will pick up again, but it is vital for new professionals to recognise the skills that they have and how resilient the last eight months have made everyone.

Thomas Wales, Information Support Officer, Barnet Council and Digital Training Officer, ARA Section for New Professionals

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