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Work shadowing’s worth it

7 May 2015

‘Work shadowing’ can summon up images of handing down advice to a grateful recipient at the start of their career. It also sounds like a challenge – sitting at work with your hands tied, emails flying in, people asking you to do things, but you can’t respond. Isn’t it a total pain?

Well no. In my experience, it makes you hover, cloud-like, above your desk and consider how you do things. Having to explain to someone what you do all day, concentrates the mind. Describing your work, your colleagues and the networks you’re part of makes you feel proud.

Last week, Catherine, who works in communications for the government, visited my workplace. Here’s how the day panned out.

I showed Catherine how we do our ebulletin, our opinion pieces, press releases and social media. I told her about the Think Local Act Personal consortium, who are passionate about person-centred social care; and explained about our Co-Production Network, which includes people who use services and carers, all contributing to the products we produce as ‘experts by experience’.

In the afternoon we looked at two products we’ve since gone on to launch. Catherine was able to see our plans for both launches, how we write bulletin copy for stakeholders and get press releases signed off. After lunch, where I learnt more about Catherine’s own area of work, it was time to meet some guests, and Catherine sat in.

Our visitors were from Japan’s Bar Association. They have several issues going on in their country at the moment, including a scenario where younger people are gravitating more and more to cities, leaving older parents increasingly on their own in the countryside. Our guests in turn heard about my organisation’s expertise in areas such as the Care Act 2014, and our mental capacity work. Both issues were highly relevant to our guests, because, as lawyers, they were looking for good practice in these areas involving such legal complications.

Later on I asked Catherine for some feedback on how she thinks we do things. She gave some great advice on social media, including the idea we could start using ‘quotagraphs’ on our tweets – quotes with small, simple animations to make our social media a bit more accessible. We’ve used some already and had great feedback.   

I've come away from the day with a clearer idea of what my job needs to be about. Although it is a day where you can’t attack your ‘to do’ list, I’d say it’s definitely worth it in the long term, and I’m sure it’ll make me more effective in my role. So, reach out to your contacts and set up a day of shadowing.

Steve Palmer

press and public affairs manager, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

Steve's current communications work concentrates on supporting SCIE to achieve its business goals. Since 2003 he has worked for charities dealing with substance misuse, mental health, learning disabilities, volunteering and wider social care. Steve was previously at the BBC and before that he had another career at Trailfinders Travel. He is also an advocate for rights for people with learning disabilities. Steve’s written a ‘warts and all’ book about his son entitled Down’s with the kids. Steve supports Stoke City and enjoys getting muddy at summer music festivals.