It’s a couple of weeks back. It’s a weekday morning, about half seven. I’ve been staying over in a hotel, and sat eating breakfast at a table on my own.
Times like this I am usually lost in Feedly on my phone, catching up on news and stuff. It’s not unusual. There’s usually the murmur from other tables. Between articles I catch snippets. Most of the time I do have a quick listen. It’s easy to be curious, eh?
But most of the time I go back to Feedly while I eat and drink.
This morning I am between articles. I hear the murmurs from the next table. These guys are up from London, they’re going into somewhere to today to check on something.
They’re contractors. They’re not invested. They don’t care. They turn up, do their thing, do their hours, clock out.
The chaps continued on. They took contractors are a mass, a whole, and applied these rules.
The last thing I overheard those chaps say before I left – having finished my breakfast rather than a sense of weariness in what they were saying – was how contractors aren’t there forever. “Full time staff” were presented as people who would never leave their place of work.
I walk into work, thinking about what I overheard.
Sometimes I say I am an “accidental freelancer”. I freelance/contract because I need to work. When there’s no full time roles for you you look at other ways of working. So, at the mo freelance/contract work keeps me busy, in work, and being paid.
When I am place though I treat it as my job though. I’ve spent most of my years working in agencies. That means the work comes first. And I want the work I do to be the best it can be. This means I’ve given up a lot of my “own time”.
I wonder on my way into work if those guys are actually talking about an approach to work that I should maybe embrace more.
Care less, not be emotionally invested.
Just do the hours.
Stick to just my role.
I get in for 8.45. By half nine I’ve forgotten about those guys. I am into the work in hand.
After work that day, I finish at half six. Over the past three months I’ve been back to the world of doing timesheets. I am supposed to record 37 hours a week, but easily rack up at least a day’s more time every week (which I don’t get paid for). I think back to those guys over breakfast.
Maybe they do have a point.
A few days after overhearing these chaps talk I am out for an unwind with some of the other designers.
We’re swapping problems, solutions, things we want to do, things we could do, laughs, rants, enthusiasms – over a couple of ales and a burger.
I hear what the other guys are saying.
They’ve also been putting in more hours than we’re supposed to. They frequently break from the “9 to 5” at short notice to do a late one.
A lot of us are cut from the agency cloth. We know sometimes we have to go the extra proverbial mile to get shit done. We just get on with it. Most of us are used to that disruption to our days, our lives. (Disclosure: Sometimes we are actually asked to make sure we get back our extra time in lieu which is one up on most agencies we’ve ever worked in.)
We talk about the things we want the design community where we work to be, how we can contribute. We talk about how we can use our experience. We talk about how we want to mentor the placement students. We work out ways we can work closer with the content designers, with the user researchers, with the business analysts, with the front-enders, with everyone.
At one point there’s the suggestion we should get a megaphone and stand at one end of the atrium and declare a manifesto with design at the centre (because design is the team’s work). Eeee, ales, eh.
But why the fuck not?
During the evening not one of us mentions anything about how we are only where we are until a certain point, when the contract runs out. We talk about what we do as a job, which we turn up to every day. Which we do. To us it is our job. We are paid to turn up, and we want to contribute.
You might already be forming the point as contractors that we are paid “alright”. But if working where we are was about money first and foremost most of us acknowledged we’d be somewhere else. Probably places in London, not spending the best past of the marooned away from our families.
We’re there because we want to do good work, for the people, with our colleagues. We want to use our experience and our skills to work better all round. We can see the potential of what that place can bring.
And I realise we are the antithesis to those guys at breakfast.
Some of us have started to talk about enjoying it so much we’re looking at how at some point we can become designers within government “full time”.
Some of it is to keep a good thing going, the other is to get out of the “contractor avoidance” that hangs around a little, how there’s certain thing we cannot do because we’re not full time civil servants.
For me, it’s the best job I’ve had since my Brahm days. And I have had some really good jobs.
And here’s the crux for me: Whether they are contractors or full time, isn’t it a good thing we have good thinkers, good makers, good designers, who give a shit, a good team doing the work? Especially in an enviornment that is so design centric, that gives permission to do good design, and needs good design?
And assembling a good team in the first place is hard, believe me.
Those guys at that breakfast table? Later that day I see them walking about where I work. I have no beef with them, or people who think like that. I am on with my thing. They’re on with their thing.
Still, proving they are wrong: Just another thing I could add to our list of things that will make where we work a better place. And maybe to people like that wherever they are.
Maybe this post will work towards that.