The event was my work’s annual two-day away day (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and the aim of this event is to give all participants an overview of the work that’s going on in our department as well as providing an opportunity for staff who don’t usually work together to get to know one another. In theory these are both Good Things, but in practice the reality is rather different.
For a start, my department is large—60+ individuals, all of whom are researchers working on complementary but highly specialised scientific research areas. By contrast, I am a project manager. I hold a PhD in Philosophy, but my scientific training ended three decades ago with an O Level in General Science. What this means in practical terms is that I sit through two days of talks and understand very little. At first I thought this was just me, but I soon found out that the science under discussion is so specialised that most people in the room don’t understand the talks. So, it’s arguable whether anyone actually does come away from the two days with an overview of what’s going on in the department, beyond a list of talk titles and a vague idea of general areas.
Having attended three away days now, I’m a bit of a veteran, and I try to fill the time constructively by taking my laptop with me and doing as much regular work as I can. But clearly my productivity is less than it would be if I were at my desk, with my equipment around me, able to communicate readily with my colleagues.
People certainly make an effort to get to know one another at these away days. A bit too much of an effort, if you ask me. After the formal sit down dinner at the end of day one, the hard core revellers make their way to the bar and drink continuously into the wee small hours. Enough said.
Perhaps the solution is simply to chill out. Enjoy the change of scene. Enjoy the free food. Forget my reservations. That’s what the rest of my colleagues appear to do. But still I can’t help feeling that something’s not quite right about all this. Where’s the return?