office work

The Quiet Rush

The lights are on, but the office feels dark because the sky’s so overcast. It’s not raining, but that really doesn’t matter; the crew isn’t working today. It’s Friday and the crew works four ten-hour days, Monday through Thursday.

The lab techs have that schedul too, so they’re also not around. There are a couple of people from the natural resources side of the firm and one other archaeologist comes in for a few hours to work on a report. For the most part, though, I’m alone in the office.

This is my favorite time to be at work. There are few distractions and the schedule is relaxed and easy-going. I have a large list of duties that need to get done, so even a relaxed Friday keeps me busy.

The first order of business is also one of the most important. Timesheets. I sign, scan, and submit the timesheets for the hourly employees. I also enter the number of hours from those timesheets into a tracking spreadsheet. This allows me to keep track of both the budget and the workload.

After that, I respond to any emails that might be sitting in my inbox. There’s usually only one or two and they don’t usually take too long to address. I then fill out the rest of the morning by backing up the field cameras and field notebooks, as well as pulling newly-recorded data from the GPS unit and entering it into our project’s geodatabase. I’ve automated a lot of this last task, but I still look through the data to make sure that everything that needed to be recorded was and that the data looks accurate.

The afternoon is mostly spent looking at how the field teams are going and planning on where they’ll be for the following week. I work on getting the necessary land access permissions to the locations they’ll be working at, as well as submitting digger’s hotline locate requests for where the teams will go later in the week.

Finally, I look at the workload spreadsheet that shows how the field crews are going. I calculate the number of excavation units that they’ve excavated in the past week, the total over the year, the estimated remaining number of excavation units for the project, and the average number of units per week for this project. I write an email to the client that includes this spreadsheet and add a few paragraphs that discuss specifically what sites the field teams have been working on and where they’re planning on going next week. It’s kind of a boring topic, so I also try to add some color by discussing what the teams have been finding at these sites and any significance that those artifacts might have.

Some of the above duties are done on other days as well, but that’s my typical Friday. The above duties are more clerical than what you might think an archaeologist does, but it allows the field teams to do their job and also allows us to turn all of that fieldwork into a usable product.

The Unexpected Task

It was an odd morning from the start. Turning on the radio to hear the radio hosts using that tone of voice that they get when they have “breaking” news. Congress was doing something, or rather wasn’t doing anything, and this was forcing them off-script.

The drive to the office/lab was similarly odd. The fog was thicker than normal for this time of the year. Signs along the highway were warning that the right lane was closed for a painting convoy. That convoy never materialized. I drove patiently behind a semi that was hauling bales of hay. Driving slowly through the thick, timothy-scented fog.

I arrived at the lab, one of the technicians was waiting for me. Normally, all of our technicians are on the field crew, and the field crew works ten-hour days from Monday through Thursday. This tech missed a day and wanted to make up hours. I had some lab work than needed to be done anyway, and had agreed to let her work some hours in the lab today.

When I got out of the car, the first thing she said to me was not “Hello” or “Good morning” or any of the usual morning salutations, but “I have some bad news.” Bad news. Yes. Hang on while I sip coffee from my travel mug.

As it turns out, there was a problem, but it wasn’t particularly bad. The Jeep had a flat the evening before and the spare was evidently not intended to be used on the Jeep. It didn’t fit. So, we took the spare off and I had her drive it over to the car place while I made arrangements with the purchasing guy. I should have guessed, but we needed to replace all four tires on the Jeep because it’s an all-wheel-drive vehicle and the tires all need to be the same size. So, the technician brought the wheel back and we had the Jeep towed to the dealer, who had to order the necessary tires. They’ll be in sometime next week.

The rest of the day was much more typical for one of my Fridays. I crunched the data to show our progress on fieldwork for the various projects we’re working on. I plotted out the areas where we’re planning on doing fieldwork next week. I responded to inquiries about whether certain undertakings would need any cultural resource work. I prepared the crew’s timesheets and sent them to the accountants to be processed. I answered questions about how to process artifacts to be cataloged.

Friday is usually a quiet day for me. The quiet days usually involve something I hadn’t planned on. Like most people, I carry that mental list of things that I have to do during the day. I rarely get to that list before lunch. The unexpected task inevitably takes up my morning. Sometimes, it’s a high-priority project that we need to complete sometime yesterday. Other times, someone has been injured and it’s a worker’s comp issue (those are the problems that I’d prefer to not have). Still other times are logistical issues that need to be resolved so the crew can keep doing their job. Not all of these issues involve changing a tire, but the variety keeps the job interesting.