How a 1.5 ft tall paper Brachiosaurus helped get rid of a rule in my call centre

I used to work in a call center. If you know the actor Chris O’Dowd from The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids and the new Get Shorty TV series he used to work there (but not at the same time I did) and tells a story about his time there here: It was a charity fundraising call center, one of those that call you up and ask you to give a regular gift, ideally monthly to help X charity… Its no longer around so I might as well name it; Pell and Bales. It went into liquidation 2 years ago after being around about 25 years. If you weren’t in when we called (or were just ignoring the phone) they’d call back later, often, I think I saw a 23rd attempt once but that was at the very end of a LONG campaign, but it was usually low teens. They said it wasn’t a sales job but it was a sales job. We were often calling elderly people who it was obvious from the get-go they couldn’t afford it but you had to ask. You had to ask 3 times. Each time was a smaller amount in the hope you would wear them down. It wasn’t pleasant, but apparently, it is the most cost-effective way of fundraising ‘apparently’, although this accounted for people giving monthly for 4 years, so who knows… It was incredibly boring, and a little soul destroying hence why things like Chris’ Tiger Swan happened. We were always trying to find ways to keep ourselves entertained. I once got 26 F1 drivers past and present into a Samaritans (suicide hotline) script because it entertained me and not one person, caller or superior complained. I think the fact I got 4 times the gifts using it helped, even if they had listened to my calls.

I worked there for quite a long time until it destroyed my mental health, I could quite happily blitz and do 57.5 hrs a week when I was feeling good and this allowed me to take December of when my Seasonal Affective Disorder kicked in heavily, although the emotional damage probably knocked it into Bi-Polar Disorder and eventually full-on Depression as well as Anxiety. The night shift was extra well paid and was very quiet as we were calling Canada. Somehow it worked out cheaper for a UK call center to call over the internet than for an internal Canadian one to do it. I saw it as a way to earn more sacrificing evening home time for £15 an hour. So finding things to keep your morale up were important.

When I started working there, there was a rule: campaign-related material only on desks. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with no electronics people weren’t allowed puzzle books, newspapers or textbooks. We were often dialing phone numbers that were out or would never pick up – mid-afternoon especially, we could go 20+ minutes without an answer. One late evening in a campaign whilst dredging the last unanswered numbers I actually fell asleep, feet up on the computer tower head back nap. After about 9 or so months there I discovered a trick that allowed you to get the radio between calls and that went around the center like wildfire. (If you are on T-Point log into your phone first before the system and it was there, we were always taught to log in to the system first then the phone. If you work in a call center, try it to see if you have that too)

I say ‘had’, because as part of the fundraiser reps (they didn’t recognize the union which is legal in the UK) that got rid of it. I think part of the fact I found a loophole of malicious compliance with the rules and kept it up was a noteworthy part…


I was bored one day and started folding paper (most people doodled on the back of the printed scripts) and eventually I figured out how to make a box using 2 sheets. I initially started making them see how many boxes I could stack on top of each other when I was told to stop using the water cooler cups to do it to stave off boredom (I wasn’t at my usual spot and for some reason the trick that allowed me to get the radio on my headset between calls I was at didn’t work in this bit of the call center), then I started playing around with the boxes and the bits left over to create a way of connecting them together. I linked these boxes together and my first paper dog was created, I was trying to make a centipede but it was a lot more awkward than I imagined and the dog was created by accident. They were simple and fun to make and could easily be made even whilst on the phone, once you had the muscle memory. Many people asked for one so I did. I started using the printed out pages from the scripts and the charity data packs that we were given in the briefings which were more often than not thrown away. Eventually I had to tell people to save the packs they were given so I had the paper to craft with. I had a Campaign Manager come round once and try to tell me that “Only campaign-related materials are allowed on desks” So I took the head off the dog and flicked open the head of the dog and handed him 2/3rds of a script of the campaign I was working on. “It is campaign-related material, as the rules state. There’s no rule about it having to be in a certain shape”. He wasn’t being paid enough to care that much so walked away knowing I was yet again with the rules I was known for being an ‘eccentric’ and would often go straight from the evening shift at 9pm to my Uni’s fancy dress night which happened once or twice a month. This meant on occasion I was in the call center in costume but it was within the dress code (they tried the day I came in as Beast from X-Men but I bought out the dress code and referenced the line about skin color. I agreed not to come in wearing face paint again but could stay at work that day – The fact I was in a suit probably helped) so they couldn’t say anything – especially as people were often there in grungy stuff. I actually went as a cheerleader once (although I only swapped from thin black trousers to a mini skirt and took the t-shirt off to reveal my homemade Cheerleader top in the last 10 minutes. I kept my fake boobs in the fridge, which were Jello in Balloons, and stuffed them up so I didn’t have to waste time at the end of the day when no-one would see) but I was walking round in high heels all day to practice (I’m Male) so other guys borrowed the shoes to try them out and were surprised how easily I could walk in them. The fact that I was known as ‘a bit weird’ probably helped me as I got a half-hearted “technically you are right” type of response and I went back to my paper folding

After a while, I tried different sized cubes. My basic design was made using 3 sheets of A4 but I halved it so had 6 sheets of A5 to play with as it allowed small sweet paper animals to sit on the desk as something cute to have on there as we weren’t allowed to decorate our desks, especially as most people chose a different one each day, I just liked the same one as it had quick access to the kitchen to make tea (I’m English some its almost required) and in my personal sweet spot of the air conditioning as different places had different temperatures due to managerial preferences. The cleaners didn’t throw them away either as the basically vacuumed and were told not to touch the desks in case something needed was binned. It was around this time the meeting of the fundraiser reps was coming up and I put my plan into action. I wound up making dogs of different sizes. I gave them to lots of people so they were all over the call center, anyone who asked got one. Campaign Managers could always see one or two looking around. I started experimenting with different animals I did a pig, then a magpie/turkey thing (although the original plan was a peacock using concertina for the tail, but it didn’t work as I had hoped) I finally figured out my centipede, a rabbit sitting up on its hind legs and finally a giraffe. Well attempted giraffe, in the end, it became am 18 inches tall(ish) Brachiosaurus. It had a body from A3 paper, a neck and legs from A5 and an A4 head At some point, managers came over and asked me to get rid as they ‘did not comply with the rules’ so I grabbed a cube flicked it open to show my script. “Scripts and campaign-related materials are allowed” they knew I was right so they couldn’t get me. Being one of the more creative reps stood me in good stead even though I’d only been there a while and was well past my probation and was consistently in the top 20% of people getting gifts with a ‘wrap’ time well under target.

We got the books/newspapers we wanted at the next Reps meeting. The menagerie of animals disappeared and was replaced by an Evening Standard. I still did the occasional dog though as they helped my anxiety, I still do, as they are cute and if I’m ‘glitching’ (as I call it) a 15-20 minute dog from a couple of flyers settles me nicely. Other people bought the study materials in so they could do uni coursework. Other people bought coloring books, Sudoku puzzle, and crosswords in, a surprising amount of people bought in knitting and crochet in aswell, card games too, although as long as we weren’t gambling whilst playing. There was a noticeable shift in morale, you could see the tension in people bodies lessen. The overall ‘wrap’ time in the call center dropped about 6% across the board as people weren’t taking extended loo breaks as they could actually not be bored to death between calls.

It’s still my joint-favorite thing I did there as a rep, the other was leading the reps in the pay rise negotiations. Reading the City AM and standard taught me about things like tactics, useful managerial speak phrases and the RPI and CPI difference which they tried to use against me but I countered that instantly to some shocked faces as they didn’t think anyone would know the difference let alone why they were calculated differently.

I enjoyed being a rep, just a shame the other part of the job broke my brain

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