Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of the pain-in-the-neck style stuff in my daily working life too. All that non-productive paperwork which seems to be very important to somebody else (though I suspect rarely, if ever, actually read), which has accumulated over time like a series of archeological layers you can dig back through to examine the management anxieties and fads of different eras. Don't get me wrong either in thinking there is no conflict, that everyone pulls their weight equally, that merit always triumphs and that the undeserving inevitably languish in obscurity. No sir. So far, so familiar in every large organisation, right?
And yet, I am uncool enough to say I love my job, like some sort of ridiculous American inspirational CEO or pushy office junior. Why?
What is it that really matters to most people about their jobs, once they have one that can keep body and soul together in a satisfactory manner, that is? I suppose it's about two things: (i) whether you actually believe you are achieving something, and (ii) who you work with. Simple really. In both categories, the WebCom life works for me.
This is supposed to be the traditional end-of-year review post. Actually, I looked, and there has only been one before, in late 2009, so let's say that makes a tradition. I was musing about it in the office – in fact, thinking "that's-another-bloody-thing-to-do" – on the last working day of the year, slightly aggrieved about being the only one still there (trying to clear out some of the sort of stuff referred to above) when, at 5.46 pm, something happened: an email arrived.
I have to say I felt inordinately delighted … the sheer webcommishness of it
Not usually the source of much joy, but on this occasion the sender was one "santasecret[…]@gmail.com", the title "****SURPRISE****" and the message "Go and look in your pigeon-hole NOW". Which I naturally did, to find a card and the kind of present you actually want to receive. I have to say I felt inordinately delighted. We do the Secret Santa thing every year and it always spreads an improbable amount of happiness. But a gmail Santa, getting in there at the last minute, with perfect timing, and a really nice personal present? Well, it gave me a warm glow, not only about the clever generous person who is my Secret Santa, whoever he or she is, but about the sheer webcommishness of it, the atmosphere in the team that makes this seem if not exactly typical of our daily life, then not anomalous or strange either.
Who you work with
Who you work with makes all the difference, as I said. In many ways, it hasn't been easy. Over 2011 (see? I am doing that review of the year thing…), nearly half of the entire WebCom team has changed. I was worried that the famous spirit would go, that the newcomers would not feel part of the team in the way that their predecessors, who were the "founder" members of the unit, had. I was also worried that maybe some of the impetus and energy would leak away, as the pioneer days came to seem a thing of the past. It was also hard to see some good friends and very able colleagues leave, and frustrating too that the vacancies in several cases took months to fill. At one point in the year, I even thought I detected signs that people were not all happy or comfortable in the team. But then, yes, it came back. The team now is every bit as good as it ever was, perhaps better even. A year which included these moments of doubt ended with my Secret Santa and, of course, this.
Let's say it: in many ways it doesn't feel like part of an EU institution at all
Of course, it's not just a cool video and a Christmas present which make people great to work with. It is, and I am not exaggerating, being surrounded by a young, friendly, enthusiatic, motivated and creative team which makes them great to work with. I shan't pretend that everything is perfect in the world of WebCom, but, having kicked around the Parliament for over twenty years, and having worked with some very talented and remarkable people throughout, I can still honestly say that this team is different. It has an atmosphere unlike any other. Let's say it: in many ways it doesn't feel like part of an EU institution at all. To a large degree, that goes with the territory: the web, a team composed mainly of new recruits, the fact we take – we need to take – the kind of people who get social media, the fact that, if we are to do our job at all, we have no choice but to innovate all the time. I sometimes wonder what ex-webcommers make of the EP world outside our little sub-culture, but they're smart, adaptable and they need to move on some time.
And, finally, after all the guff about sub-cultures and motivation, let's just say it: there are just some great individuals working in WebCom right now. Step forward, Secret Santa!
So, reasons I love my job no. 1: being with great people.
What you do
Wasting your time with great people can be fun, but doesn't necessarily mean you love your job. Fortunately, I don't think we waste our time.
It's not that we're cool, but that we're lucky enough to have a cool job
The internet is a fantastic field to be in. Things are moving so fast, you have to be on your toes, you have to try to spot the trends, you have to be creative, you have to be out there, at least in terms of our EU/institutional world, doing things that are breaking new ground all the time. You don't know what you will be doing in a couple of years, because no-one knows what they'll be doing in a couple of years on the internet. Let's face it, it's fun. It's not that we're cool (though we may be) but that we're lucky enough to have a cool job. Moreover, no-one would seriously contest that the internet has become the prime mass communication tool in our world, both directly and through its pervasive impact on the media. Sure, you still can't beat TV for getting a message, or particular content, across to a lot of people at the same time, but when it comes to informing people's daily lives, to giving them a way not only to hear, but also to send, messages, online is where it's at. And that's our job.
2011 will probably go down as the year we got cracking on the refonte
2011 will probably go down as the year we got cracking on the refonte, principally upgrading the website. Near the end of the year, we launched a redesigned version of the website, the most visible, but very far from the most significant part of this process. Some of the groucherati moaned about it of course, and, yes, it was buggier and less stable at the outset than it should have been. But most people loved it, and the truth is, the EP website now looks good, and, like any other website, once you've become accustomed to it, is easy to use – though it still has to get easier. We now have the basis for the really interesting and innovative stuff that comes next.
Not that innovation has been on hold. In 2011, along with our friends and colleagues in our sister Webmaster unit and from the IT department, we developed and launched a mobile version of the website, we made a new website for visitors, we developed the new portal page for the main site, we helped develop a strategy for the websites of Parliament's Information offices around Europe. Outside the website, in the world of the social media, we have seen the number of fans of our Facebook page double to (right now) 211,029, we developed our own Facebook chat application and used it to chat with 14 MEPs and one Arab Spring activist since, we have a really innovative application on Facebook to promote the Sakharov human rights prize (so innovative that Facebook's own automatic filters initially couldn't handle it), we have the new "MEP tab" on our page, grouping all the MEPs on FB and allowing you to "like" or "friend" them right from our page (plus a similar tab for FB pages of the Parliament's offices), … Pause for breath … We introduced a new Twitter strategy, which saw the number of followers we have triple over the year (it helped that the editors who added most won a bottle of fizz for their efforts!), we are now the proud managers of a Parliament LinkedIn group, we have started making our own (endearingly webby?) web videos for YouTube and Facebook and are looking forward to going onto Foursquare next year, as well as launching something truly remarkable, currently codenamed "Newshub", on which we have been beavering away, and about which I will maintain an air of mystery and suspense…
Am I getting carried away here?
And dare I add that along with all of that we have carried on publishing daily news on the Headlines page of the website in 22 languages (this used to be all we did once upon a time…), updating and managing Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and co. daily (really great pictures on Flickr, by the way, have a look), we now do infographics on a weekly basis and are planning way more, and, and, and… Am I getting carried away here? The point is, all of this does make a difference – this is a Parliament which is really communicating online, breaking out of the famous Brussels Bubble.
So, reason I love my job no. 2: doing great things.
I like to think most of the team read these blog entries (actually the blog is one thing where we do sometimes have different opinions), so this last bit is for you guys.
Thanks for all the work, thanks for being such a great team, and have a really happy Christmas. See you next year.