Job sharing at the BBC

Patty (left) and Sarah

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of children must be in need of a job-wife.”

Patty Papageorgiou and Sarah Beatrice shared a job role at the BBC and they sat down to answer questions to give us the lowdown on how sharing a role worked for them, how it came about and the things they learnt along the way. It’s a great read, full of insights and tips. Huge thanks for making this happen Patty and Sarah!

Sarah sets the scene…

“Television post-production can be an unforgiving workplace, where days working well past your allotted going-home-time are the norm and the constant squeeze on budgets means doing ‘more for less’ like some sort of scrooge-cum-conjurer. I have often heard the phrase along the lines of “if you can survive in TV you can do anything!” (I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but you get the gist). In the area where I worked for over 12 years, the pressure to deliver programmes against a ticking clock and misbehaving tech is quite literally head-splitting. Script-changes, unhappy commissioners, over-bearing talent and many other spanners find their way into your works as you watch your window of allotted time contract like a shrink-a-dink toy and the post schedule explode in a myriad of excel colours (mostly shades of red!). But… you work with some great people and you get stuff done and lots of people watch it and sometimes then even love it. But also sometimes it can all get a bit much. And then you go and do something stupid like having a baby…”

How did you get into doing a job share?

SARAH: I hadn’t really considered a job share – this was ten years ago and it really wasn’t on my radar; I certainly hadn’t come across it much at the BBC at all. I had been made redundant from the BBC about 18 months earlier and I’d three-year-old who’d just started pre-school. I was struggling to find part time work and was doing a job I hated in exam administration.

I got a call from the CASUALTY Post Production Supervisor who I enjoyed a good working relationship with when I was her in-house Bookings Manager at the BBC. She asked if I’d be interested in assisting her and that it would be part-time. They already had someone in mind that they liked so would I be interested in a job share. I said yes immediately, not really knowing what a ‘job share’ entailed and from there I found myself working with Patty.

PATTY: I had recently relocated with my young family from London to Wales, after a long maternity break. I was ready to start getting back to work and the job share offer was a perfect way to ease myself back into the workplace. My commute was longer than Sarah’s, so they offered me three days to make it worth the travel – I thought that was very accommodating of them. Like Sarah, I had not heard of or thought of job shares, neither had I seen any advertised, so it was a very pleasant surprise to be given that option.

What was it like, splitting a role?

SARAH: I said working ‘with’ Patty but in truth we rarely saw each other! We were lucky enough to meet for a couple of days and have a proper handover from the full-time Post Production Coordinator. The role required us to work through a series of weekly tasks such as creating post-production scripts, weekly meeting agendas and final paperwork on the BBC system.

We quickly realised that our jobs would actually look a little different given that certain tasks fell on different days. We both did these main tasks and became confident at them, but my end of the week fell more to scripts (and spotting things that needed to be fixed at online) and Patty’s to paperwork. We also had to respond to ad hoc music clearance requests, organise and book ADR sessions with staff and guest artists and deputise for the Post Production Coordinator when she was on leave.

PATTY: It really was perfect. I appreciate that this doesn’t always happen but everything just fell into place so easily. The previous Post Production Coordinator had already split the workload into daily tasks, which were then easy to allocate to our given work days. This way we were able to take ownership of certain jobs with the other person picking up and supporting when needed. For example, post production scripts fell on Sarah’s days (which I was very jealous of!) but if she hadn’t had time to finish, I was able to complete them on my day in. Same with the paperwork – if I didn’t manage to finish it in time, Sarah could pick up where I left and submit it. So there was a rolling list of tasks that we were both across at any given time.

Another benefit that comes to mind was holidays. When one of us took holiday, the other was able to cover some or most of that time, so the desk was rarely unmanned. This was a plus both to the production as work was able to continue, and to us as we got to earn a bit of overtime as well. So a win-win.

The weirdest thing about splitting a role was that I felt I knew Sarah so well and yet we hardly ever crossed over during the whole year we ‘worked together’!

What techniques or hacks made it work well?

SARAH: We were quite analogue – we had a big diary and we made a note of deadlines and any bits and pieces like paperwork to look at or DVDs just went in there. We also wrote an email handover at the end of our ‘shift’ – usually starting where the other left off and amending, copying or adding bits of info. We’d call each other if we got stuck and were both totally fine with this as our days off usually entailed looking after small people so we were glad of the adult conversation. I have since worked two other job shares and the handover document evolved a little into an excel document (with tasks, updates and priority), as has the technology such as smarter phones, shared calendars and scheduling apps. However, it depends what works for both parties. If one of you has techno-joy whilst the other is a techno-phobe, it won’t matter how lovely your Trello board looks – if one person doesn’t like using it, then it might was well not exist.

PATTY: Good, clear communication. We had a common diary where all tasks were logged and updated with messages to one another, so at any point we could see what had been addressed when, what needed following up, and what was planned in for later dates.

An Excel spreadsheet that took a life of its own, especially for ADR – and is still going to this date if I am not mistaken. I have been back to do some cover over the past few years and it has been lovely to see the post production spreadsheet alive and well (and growing!)

We had separate email addresses, and production knew to copy both of us in all correspondence. This ensured we each had an email trail accessible for everything the Post Production role addressed. Sarah has mentioned the handover email, which I usually began as a draft at the start of my ‘shift’ and kept updating as the days went by. This saved me wasting time trying to type up a long summary at the end of my half of the week. Over time, it became an organic process, a habit and there was little reason to bother each other on days off for clarification on anything.

Compatibility was a huge factor. A complete fluke perhaps, but we both had similar processes in the way we worked, prioritised and communicated, so it all fell into place. And both being left handed meant the desk was always set up how we needed it! (The Post Production Assistant before us was also left handed, so the set-up we inherited was perfect!)

Overall, how successful a job share was it?

SARAH: In the case of Patty and myself, I loved working our role as a job share. It was fun (really), I felt someone had my back and we both thought more or less along the same lines, so I never had the cringe moment where I had to backtrack over an email my ‘other half’ had sent. I also never felt that she left tasks to me that she didn’t want to do. We were both grateful for the role and worked hard – many job sharers feel their employer gets a good deal and more than they might get from one full-timer, I would hope that the employer would agree with this. I never felt that I had slack to pick up.

PATTY: From my point of view, it was the best job I’ve ever had! I’d previously gone back to work part-time after my first baby, and although my employer was incredibly accommodating, it was really stressful for both myself and my boss. The workload kept piling up on my days off and I would generally waste my first day back trying to catch up. I was constantly overwhelmed and my colleagues and boss were having to pick up tasks they knew nothing about on the days I was not in. So job sharing offers so many benefits to the employer and the employee. Peace of mind that the work is getting done, efficiency, and a stress-free workload. You are always supported by another colleague and two brains are always better than one when it comes to problem solving!

Any final bits of wisdom you don’t mind sharing?

SARAH: To date, I have never heard of a man working a job share (Raising Films – this is such a good point!) which just goes to show that we still have a very long way to go to alter our societal norms around work, breadwinners and responsibility for the care of children. But not only that – what if you don’t have kids but you just find working five days a week overwhelming? Or you have aging parents or a family member with special needs? What if your priority isn’t to maximise your earnings but to find some balance? There are so many reasons why job sharing and flexible working can benefit people. My hope is that one day these things will be considered the norm, empowering people to have an improved work-life balance and not feel that they are constantly having to choose between the two.

PATTY: Sarah’s mostly covered it. There are so many benefits to a job share, I can’t really think of any negatives. I guess you have to factor in the challenge of finding two or more people you are compatible, otherwise I can see how it could become more problematic than helpful. But I think if there were more job share options on offer, more employees would consider them and this would really widen the pool of candidates, which would in turn widen the chances for compatibility.

A note on shared email addresses from Sarah…

I found myself thinking a lot about this recently when a job sharer at a post house sent me an email from a shared address. Not a group email, just two people made into one via email. I know the business in question and this is probably the first time they have experimented with a job share arrangement. Personally, I’ve never felt the need to have a shared email. Post production is a lot about relationship building and I have found that as long as you are clear from the outset that you work a job share and copy your other half into emails, no one has ever minded and simply hits ‘reply all’. Yes, there is always the one client who is too busy to learn both your names and insists on always addressing just one of you, but this is easy enough to deal with. I feel that melding your names and losing a single identity may not actually be helpful to building a positive working relationship and that it’s mildly insulting to the job sharers – they are, after all, still two individuals with their own strengths and skillsets. It’s actually fine to divvy up tasks to the person better suited in a job share and savvy clients would often use this to their advantage!

About Patty and Sarah

Patty’s first job was a runner at a London Post Production facility, which became a stepping stone towards Facility Manager, Post Production Assistant and eventually Post Production Coordinator first in features and then moving on to continuing drama with Casualty at the BBC. She also worked briefly as Production Coordinator in factual entertainment, but in 2017 she put all that behind her to pursue her passion for writing. Now Patty supplements her screenwriting habit by providing content, proofreading and ghostwriting services as one half of Axolotl Media Ltd.

Patty on Twitter

Axolotl Media on Facebook

Sarah is an experienced Post Production Coordinator, having worked at BBC Bristol for over 12 years on both in-house productions such as Antiques Roadshow and Casualty and with external production companies such as John Downer Production Ltd’s titles EARTHFLIGHT and SNOW CHICK – A PENQUIN’S TALE. Most recently she was a Business Coordinator in the BBC’s Natural History Unit and its internal post production facility The Digital Village.

She left BBC Studios in December 2019 due to a departmental restructure and is currently working on a transport project for the West of England Combined Authority. When not at work (or chasing after her kids) she enjoys creative writing, the great outdoors, bikes and the occasional foray into arts and crafts, most recently attempting willow work.

Sarah on LinkedIn