In September 2020 I became a remote scanner for Ancestry based at West Sussex Record Office. Being isolated from the rest of the scanning department, which is dispersed across the globe, would ordinarily come with its own set of challenges. However, working during the Covid-19 pandemic added extra challenges to remote working.
Firstly, I am currently the only scanner on-site due to recruitment issues caused by Covid-19. From a company perspective, you become increasingly isolated from your colleagues – while previously you may not have been working in the company office, everyone still would have been on-site. I would also not have been the sole scanner based at West Sussex Record Office. Now, however, I have been working on-site while a large proportion of the company is working from home. This means that while we are all now isolated, communications are primarily targeted at helping those working from home. This can add to the isolation that working remotely already brings.
Working on-site during the pandemic is also isolating due to the reduced numbers of staff working alongside you. I am in the unfortunate position that due to the available workspaces at West Sussex Record Office, not only was I isolated due to working on-site during the second lockdown, but due to working in a small, out of the way carrell. This has, however, had its benefits, as being used to working alone in this space made it easier to adapt to the second lockdown.
Isolation also made adapting to Covid-19 health and safety practices easier. Working in an office alone meant that I have had a reduced need to clean to prevent the spread of Covid-19; only shared spaces such as door and trolley handles have needed to be cleaned. Furthermore, working in an office which is largely separate from the search room and other public spaces has allowed me to work without a mask for the majority of the time as I rarely come into contact with other members of the public or staff. I have been lucky enough to be treated as staff by West Sussex Record Office in relation to the production of records. This meant that I have not had to quarantine records before or after production, unlike the general public, leaving the working practices of remote scanning relatively unchanged from pre-Covid practices.
As time goes on, I’m increasingly aware that I will have difficulty adapting to working practices in normal times. The minor increase in staff on-site at West Sussex Record Office after the second lockdown lifted felt like a dramatic change as I’d become used to working in isolation. The increase in staff will be gradual, but I believe that it may feel like an uncomfortable transition towards working practices I have not yet experienced. Not only will I be working with another Ancestry colleague for the first time, but there will be a gradual increase in the number of West Sussex Record Office Staff on site as well. Furthermore, as it becomes safer to invite the public back to the record office there will be increased numbers of researchers. It will be nice to see West Sussex Record Office in its normal working order should I be there when they are able to return to normal, but I expect it would feel like we have too many people on site following my adjustment to Covid-19 regulations. I think it will be a challenge to readjust to our former normality after working alone on-site throughout the pandemic.
Sian Howell, Digitisation Operative, Ancestry