Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Managing a 24/7 team and service

The Customer Services Team that I manage consists of daytime staff, evening staff and weekend staff some of whom are full-time and some are part-time, some are semester only and some all year round.  There are lots of them and obviously they are never all here at the same time.  In fact it is a feat of logistics to cover the service with so many variables.
This is not an unusual situation for libraries that are open evenings and weekends in an educational environment - more staffing and coverage is needed during term time as opposed to vacation time - I'm not sure how much it has changed over the years but I suspect not much.  However as well as it being a result of historical arrangements, it is also very much a modern phenomenon.  While we don't have any zero hours contracts we do have posts that are split to cover the hours when we need staff resource (Information Assistants).  We are also open 24/7 during revision and exam time which is a response to student demand.
All in all there are approximately 35 members of staff in the Customer Services Team.  The challenge is to provide a consistent service across the working teams and across the time frame.

Currently, as we are open 24/7, there are certain points in the day which are handover times and it is essential that this happens smoothly and effectively - and for the most part it does.  There are certain people who are key to the process i.e. the Service Desk Supervisor, the Evening Assistant Librarians and it is also helped by the fact that most of the daytime Library Assistants are experienced and have been in post quite a long time.  The Evening Assistant Librarians overlap by an hour with the Service Desk Supervisor, the 24/7 security staff overlap slightly with the Evening/Weekend staff to hand over late evening.  The next morning the 24/7 security staff hand over to the daytime Library Assistants and so it continues.

The challenges arise when there is either something new or something that needs to change.  When I first started in my role, one of my first thoughts was 'Who are all these people?' 'Why do they all work different hours and different days?' - none of it seemed consistent and in fact it wasn't.  I had to create a spreadsheet to get an overview of what people do and as new people have been appointed, we have tried to match roles up with current ones while at the same time trying to update roles to match service need.  A lot of the reasons for peoples hours are historical and based on need at the time and this will be reviewed.  Although the aim is to provide a consistent service, the environment and demand is different on evenings and weekends than it is during day time hours so there has to be flexibility and the capacity to change.

Communication, as ever, is one of the greatest issues.  On a practical basis, I had to consider how I was going to actually meet all the people in my team.  I would have to work daytime, evening and weekends......and although I like my job, that wasn't one of my aims.  In general I work 9.00 or 9.30 - 18.00 as this covers the 16.00 - 18.00 slot when daytime staff finish and evening staff start.  Luckily some of the weekend staff work evenings as well so I get to see them.  I rarely work weekends but have done so two or three times and so have met the weekend only staff.  But how would it work if I was to meet up with all staff every week - it would be impossible and impractical on both sides?  Obviously that is what the Service Desk Supervisor and Evening Assistant Librarians are for - to line mange the  different sub teams and pass information up and down and I meet with them regularly.
However I do want contact with all of the staff.  We have introduced team meetings and these happen on a rolling basis.  One morning a week between 9.15 - 9.45 and repeated 9.45 - 10.15 (it has to run twice as the service desk has to be covered) and one evening a week working through the different days (a Monday one week, Tuesday the next etc.) . This should mean that everyone gets to attend a team meeting twice a month or at least once a month.  I keep notes from the meeting and circulate them regularly adding new bits from each meeting if needed.  I upload them to our Intranet site also.
I do use email quite a lot to communicate with the team as a whole and parts of the team - I try to filter it appropriately but also rely on them filtering what they don't need.  I also email the Library Service Desk account so that anyone can pick up emails from there.  It's not possible to get everyone in the same physical location at the same time but it is possible to have a team communication channel.

I am learning that with a large team it is not possible nor preferable to know everything that is going on although I often get situations when I think either 'Why did no-one tell me that' or 'I really don't need to know every detail of this'.  Some staff want to interact more, some hardly ever.  I always have an open door and try to spend time just chatting and engaging with people and picking up on the general vibe of what's happening.