Thriving and achieving together – from a distance.
Posting date:1/2/2020 1:07 PM
02 January 2020
My name is Alex, and I’ve been at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, for 6 years. My role is Principal Human Factors Consultant, which involves putting the needs of users into engineering projects. I support major engineering projects, often in high hazard industries such as transportation, nuclear or oil & gas, making sure that the user is being taken into consideration at all stages of the design process.
I also help with the leadership, growth and management of the team which has grown from 6 members when I joined to nearly 20 now, split across three office locations. I’m particularly involved in managing those members in the Warrington office, which had no team when I joined, but now has three resident Human Factors consultants, with me visiting on a weekly basis.
So the part of the team I manage is in the Warrington office and I live in Tynemouth, about 175 miles away. I visit Warrington once a week, continuing to mentor junior staff and ensuring that we don’t miss out on any opportunities that come up within the office.
Technologies that help us pull together
This would frankly be impossible without the intelligent deployment of technology to keep the team functioning together. Alongside the excellent range of standard applications we use, like Skype and SharePoint, Atkins introduced Microsoft Teams in 2018. This provides our team with a mixture of SharePoint, forums, information-sharing facilities, easy access to important documents and websites and a much better video-conferencing facility. By using this in combination with our other software, I’ve been able to keep in really good contact with my line reports, in spite being so far away.
Support and collaboration
We also do simple things like sharing calendars with one another and making sure we schedule in good times for me to come across for weekly days in the office, so that we can make the best use of that time for everyone – and to ensure we all know to not eat breakfast at home, so that we can go for a breakfast barm and catchup together.
The other very simple thing that we do is share a WhatsApp group. The whole team uses it to share more fun things. This really helps to create a personal connection between us, which all helps contribute to better working relationships, even when we’re working on site or remotely from one another.
Keeping out-of-work relationships thriving
Because I’m heading back approximately one day per week at present, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep the relationships I have with other colleagues in Warrington working as time goes on. I make particular effort to link up with friends in the office when I’m back, whether for a cup of tea, a lunchtime walk or just a quick chat at their desks.
Integrating the disciplines
When I joined I was the only person in the Warrington Human Factors team. However, I’ve been a constant while we’ve built the team up to its current size, so I’ve generally acted as lead liaison for all of the other disciplines in that office, and have made efforts to ensure we’re as integrated as possible into ongoing office-wide activities.
Hands up for opportunities
In my absence, my colleague Guy has stepped into this role excellently. Acting as the immediate point of contact for all things Human Factors, he passes information on to me whenever he feels it is useful or he could use some help. We’ve worked this into his own professional development goals and he’s using it as a great opportunity to further his career and build on his existing network of contacts within the business.
The team members and colleagues from other teams then either save up questions and discussion points that need to be held face-to-face, and put appointments in my diary for the days they know I’m going to be in the office, or they go to Guy for the support they need.
Alex’s next career goal
This is a bit of a tricky one. Being in such a specialized discipline, which works across multiple industries, means that my technical input to projects is in pretty strong demand at present. While I love the line management and team leadership elements of my role, I don’t see myself moving entirely away from technical delivery any time soon.
I’d quite like to try my hand at an engineering manager role at some point, having been involved with so many different disciplines over the years and in so many different industries and project types. I know what a difference a good engineering manager can make to a project, so I’d like to see what I could bring to that kind of role.
How flexible and remote working has made a difference to my life
It’s been hugely beneficial for both me and the family. It allows me to spend more one-on-one time with the children and has really deepened my relationship with them both in a way that I don’t think would have happened otherwise. It has also made it possible for my wife and I to both pursue the careers of our dreams.
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