THE ATCON OFFICE

By Fiona Anderson

Neither Peter nor I had any experience of this, because this function is usually handled as part of the Ops Room by an Eastercon, but with our much higher probable traffic, it seemed a sensible idea to split the Ops functions up, and have the AtCon Office handle all incoming telephone queries, passing any doubtful cases to Ops.

For a long time, I wondered why it had a budget of GBP 5OOO and was convinced there was something obvious that I was missing, however, I came to the conclusion that I could use the money better elsewhere and just run a basic telephone answering service out of there.

When I discussed this with Peter, he clarified my thinking greatly with all his questions, so that we both became clear what we wanted it to do, and we drew up an appropriate kit list together.

As there was an ongoing shortage of staff, we decided to open it only from 9am to 6pm, and transfer all calls to the Ops Room after that I had also promised Peter that he could ask the Ops Room to lend him one of their Crew if he ran short of people. In the event, he got enough shift managers, and the Gopher Hole made up his shortfall on Crew.

This Office was an invaluable service to the Ops Room, and should in future be added into the Ops structure right at the start - I never understood why it had been under Memberships in the original organisational structure, when it's function was so obviously ops-related.

My own theory is that someone had taken an American org chart and used that without thinking enough about how the Brit system differs from the US systems. The convention organisational structure in general changed quite a bit during the run-up to the convention, sometimes plannedly, but more often as it became clear things weren't working properly. Next time there needs to be debate on why things are where they are in the organisational structure, and the shape of the whole chain of responsibility itself, before these sort of adhoc arrangements are entered into.


ATCON OFFICE KIT LIST

By Fiona Anderson

Wall chart of program day by day
4 chairs
3 tables
3 mercury phones
miniswitchboard
map of Glasgow
map of Scotland
FAQs list with answers
stationery
power points
photocopier


INTERACTlON WITH ATCON OFFICE

By Fiona Anderson

(These are the instructions that went into the Ops Manual after consultation with Peter)

The AtCon Office is situated directly beside the Ops Room. It will be open 9am - 6pm. All telephone calls from the public, press and others will be connected to the AtCon Office. Thus the Office acts as :

a) an information centre, answering all the general enquiries from the public, from members, and from the press and official bodies. The Office will direct queries from the Press to our Press Liaison people directly (who are in a nearby room), or ask Ops to bleep these.

b) it has an important function as a filter, dealing with all the routine enquiries and leaving Ops, Security and other Con areas free to deal with more specific problems.

c) it is also an exchange which directs more specific enquiries to the appropriate area, e.g. Ops, Security etc. There will also be a concertina file in the Office where they will keep written messages / notes for named staff who may come in to pick them up.

d) the spare wheelchairs for Disabled Access will be kept in the Office. They will be given out on the direction of Cuddles, who ts contactable by bleep. all users of these should have made arrangements with Cuddles prior to the con. Any queries about them should be directed to her.

e) lost property will be kept in the Office. and the Office will liaise with the Information Desk to ensure that both have a complete list of all lost property held where it was found, etc

f) Should the Office receive a telephone Bomb Threat they will immediately inform the SECC Security, then our own Security, then Ops. At that point we should be preparing to initiate an evacuation, but only to actually do so on the advice of the SECC Senior Security Officer, who will inform our Chief Steward if he decides to do it. (See Emergency Procedures section)

Pre-con the Office will perform all of the above functions. In addition, it will provide information to con staff not yet on site, and link them as necessary with people already on site.

Should the AtCon Office have insufficient staff then the shift manager will ask Ops to find a gopher. Should there be a shortage of gophers, the Office shift manager will ask the Ops Manager to lend one of the Ops Crew to help in the Office. The Ops manager may or may not decide to do this.

When the AtCon Office is closed, the keys will be held in Ops by the Ops Manager. and the Ops Room will ask the SECC switchboard to redirect all telephone calls for the convention Office to the Ops Room.


THE ATCON OFFICE

by Peter Bell

1 SET UP

The Office opened as Pre-Con Office on Monday 21st August. I was able to work there relatively undisturbed on Monday and Tuesday. This time was invaluable for setting up the Office and preparing lists of the information likely to be required. The office was equipped with the minimum necessary furniture: 3 trestle tables and 4 chairs. Another table and some extra chairs found their way in but were not needed by the At-Con staff. A photocopier was introduced at a later stage for general use

(Fiona: general use by STAFF that is).

I put in the chairs and tables myself, picking up the stationery I had ordered and spent most of the time in the first two days assembling all the information. By the time we opened officially on Wednesday the Office was up and running. Its successful operation was due in large measure to there being someone available in these 3 pre-con days to set things up.

2. INFORMATION

Lists were prepared and fixed on the pinboards on the walls. The 2 tables were arranged one under each pinboard and information duplicated on each for ease of reading. The following lists were prepared :

1. Membership rates Q@
2. Dates and Opening times
3. Main Program items
4. Internal telephone directory

In addition there were notices on procedures, emergencies, and general information. We also had available information about public and con transport to the SECC and information about accommodation, bookshops, cinemas, libraries, and maps of Glasgow and Scotland. By its nature, in dealing with outside calls, the Office did not have requests for information on some of these. It was a useful backup though, to the work of the Information Desk and the Glasgow Tourist Board desk, both of whom gave us co-operation when needed.

3 STAFFING

The plan was to open the office from 9am to 6pm each day. The day was divided into 3 shifts each of three hours: 9am-12 noon, 12-3pm, 3-6pm. Each shift was staffed by 2 people, a Shift Manager and an Assistant. It was considered important to have an experienced person as Shift Manager and for all staff to have good communications skills. We were extremely fortunate in our staff. Even the people we were sent from the Gopher Hole (to fill the few vacancies not programmed in advance) were first class, thanks to Miranda. The Shift Managers were asked to do a minimum of 3 shifts over the period of the con. Some did more, and one did less because of other commitments. Some of our assistants came back and did extra shifts for us. There was a good friendly atmosphere in the office.

4 ATCON

We kept a log (fairly consistently) of all calls that had to be passed to some other branch for action, ie to Press or to Ops. Unfortunately we did not keep a tally of all calls received, which would have been interesting and a full justification for the existence of the Office.

On Wednesday there were many calls from the media and from con staff. On Thursday the bulk of the calls were from the media, all the UK television channels, German and Rumanian TV, many radio stations, and the national press. A considerable number of these calls failed to reach the Press Office because there was no-one there to take them.

On Friday there was a massive response from the public, which was repeated on Saturday. Around 100 calls on each of these days requested information about the "sci-fi exhibition". On the remaining days, as expected, the number of calls fell off. Sunday was very quiet, while on Monday there was a small increase of calls from staff arranging removal of materials.

A very rough estimate of the total number of calls lies in the range of three to four hundred. We saved Ops a lot of trouble and dealt with a couple of hundred routine enquiries saving others from the hassle.

5 PROBLEMS

The biggest problem for the office was assembling and updating the information callers requested. "What authors were there?" That sounds easy, but we did not have a list at the beginning of the con.

An interesting cultural quirk arose when american staff were reading the names of authors to callers, in that the most popular authors in the States are not necessarily as popular or as well known here. A list was made, underlining popular authors in the UK.

Information about program items was not available in the most easily digestible form, given that we had callers requesting "What sort of thing is on?" and expecting a concise answer while other people were queuing up to ask the same question. A list of program highlights and a list of the main themes of the Program would have been invaluable. Changes to the program were not always available. I think AtCon Office set up the earliest internal telephone directory. But we had trouble keeping it up to date. Finance changed its number at least twice in one day, no doubt for good reasons, and Program was always difficult to find.

6 SUMMARY

The Office ran smoothly because I had time to set it up and beause I had extremely good staff, thanks to Fiona before and Miranda during the con. There were no dramas, no arguments, no walkouts, Just a friendly group of people doing a job. It was good fun.

It went well also because the actual accommodation was really good. The Office was roomy, there was sufficient equipment, and two telephone lines were adequate. I do not approve of the idea I read where, in some US cons, the AtCon Office gives out pens or loans equipment items. We did have some problems when several people tried to use the photocopier and engaged in noisy discussions while our staff were talking on the telephone lines. The AtCon Office needs quiet. Whenever possible, if there are enough offices, the AtCon office should not house any other activity. We had no trouble with wheelchairs and the literature from the Information Desk being stored in the Office, but it would have been better if another place had been available.

For me, for my first time, it was great. Things went well, I met a lot of fine people and enjoyed working hard for the first time in years. But I won't make a habit of it - unless someone asks me.


AT - CON OFFICE PROCEDURES

By Peter Bell

1 At the beginning of each shift the Shift Manager logs in by entering his name in the Log book. There is a space for each shift.

2 It will be most efficient if each Shift Manager arrives about five minutes before his shift is due to start so that he or she can be briefed on any outstanding problems by the current Shift Manager.

3 If an Assistant is available, then the Manager has no further problem (provided the Assistant shows up!). If there is no Assistant, the previous Manager should have initiated action to find one. See below The new Manager should continue to take action. by asking OPS for assistance, until an Assistant is in post.

4. The Manager should ensure that the Assistant has read the Health & Safety leaflet and signed a Volunteer Form. If not, the Manager should ask him to do so. The Assistant should then sign the log on the front inside page of the Log Book. He should also sign in for his shift.

5 The Manager should give the Assistant information and assistance, as required, to carry out the work of the Office.

6 Both Manager and Assistant should Log all incoming calls which present problems and which are therefore referred to other Branches. The Manager should write an Unresolved Problem Note, and put it on the Board. for all calls which have not been brought to a conclusion.

7 Half an hour before the end of each shift, the Manager should ensure that both a Manager and an Assistant are scheduled for the next shift. If this is not so, the Manager should ask OPS for assistance.

8. At the end of the shift the Manager should sign the time sheet for the Assistant and issue a Gopher Refreshment Ticket as appropriate. When the next Manager arrives, the Manager should sign off in the Log book.

9 After closing the Office, the Manager should leave the keys with OPS.


AT-CON OFFICE - INFORMATION TOPICS

By Peter Bell

Information is provided on the following topics on separate sheets and on wall posters in the At-Con Office.

1. ACCOMMODATION

Caller should:

(1) Go to the Glasgow Tourist Information Office in St. Vincent Place, near George Square.

(2) Telephone that office for information: Tel: (0)141 2044400. But note that bookings can not be made by telephone through this office.

(3) Contact the Information Desk in the SEC Concourse.

2. BOOKSHOPS

The major bookshops are in the city centre.

(1) Waterstone's is in Union Street. just opposite the steps to Central Station.

(2) Dillon's is in Argyle Street, just round the corner from Union Street.

(3) There are bookshops in the West End on or off Byres Road.

3. CINEMAS

(1) Glasgow Film Theatre is in Rose Street. off Sauchiehall Street.

(2) For other cinemas, consult the 'Evening Times' or the Information Office on the SEC Concourse.

4. DIRECTIONS

Separate instructions are given on another sheet and in Progress Report. Transport Maps are available in the Office.

5 MEMBERSHIP

(1) Prospective members should come to the SEC where they can inspect the day's program before joining.

(2) Membership rates are:

Whole Con: GBP l00.00
Thu. 24Lh or Mon. 28th: GBP 20 /day
Fri.25. Sat.26. Sun 27th GBP 30 /day
24th:and 25th Or 25th and 26th GBP 50 each pair of days

6. PROGRAM