Tokyo 2020 – Ready to Serve

Yesterday was my first day of volunteer activities for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and it was full of intrigue. From the start to the end, it was all an enjoyable learning experience.

Step 1 - Leave early, just in case

I learned Murphy’s law, If something can go wrong, it will, very early in my professional career. So on my first day of volunteering, I heeded it. Thank goodness.

I had planned to arrive an hour early for my shift. This way, if anything went wrong, I would be covered. Well, my shift started at 8 am, so I left home just before 6. The good thing about getting on the train that early is that it’s not so crowded. The bad thing? Well, I had to leave home before 6 am.

Once I arrived at the station, I walked to the hotel I thought I was assigned to work at. However, there are two hotels with the same name across a large park from each other. So I went to the first one. After a good amount of confusion on the part of the staff and myself, it was clear that I was at the wrong hotel. They gave me a map to the other location and sent me on my way. 

While walking to the other property, I saw a sign indicating I should turn right. And that is what I did, wound around through a garden and when I arrived at the front desk I was greeted by the same people. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. I completely believed I was at the other hotel and the staff had moved from that hotel to this one. So out the door I go again and this time walk a little further, past the shrine that you see in the photo above before finally arriving at my designated workplace.

Feeling relieved, but not entirely sure where to go from there, I ask a few people who seemed nearly as confused as I was. Eventually I found the check-in area. At this point, I was still 20 minutes early, so they are not checking in volunteers yet. I soon realized that while there are ideals of how everything should work, the reality is that everyone is new, and this system is largely untested, and as a result, there are bound to be hiccups along the way. This all gives a new meaning to novel experience, everyone is new! Fortunately, the work is not too hard and within a couple of days, we will all appear to be seasoned pros.

Step 2 - A lesson on volunteer management

Even though I worked alone on my first day, I was expecting to be joined by another volunteer. So as I planned my objective, I considered what I would do if someone suddenly arrived and asked, “How can I help?”

On this day, my job was setting up the lounge for volunteers. It was quite interesting to see how the Olympics has completely taken over this hotel, and the situation is similar at  the other Olympic hotels as well. I moved supplies from floor to floor, opened boxes, set up dividers and generally made the room ready for the volunteers that need a place to take a break.

As I was assembling plastic dividers, I devised a system that would allow me to delegate steps of the process if other volunteers arrived and needed something to do. I broke down this job into four separate tasks: unwrapping and stacking partition legs in sets, unwrapping the clear partitions, assembly and placing the dividers on the tables. My idea was that by breaking down processes like this one into microtasks it is easy to share the workload if someone were to ask, “What do you want me to do?”

This kind of forward thinking was a fun exercise and to my surprise, a tried and true method of setting out tasks for volunteers. When people are donating their most precious resource, their time, you’d better make sure to use it judiciously.  

The other benefit was lots and lots of walking. All told, from leaving my home at 5:45 in the morning to arriving at home around 4 pm, I walked about 20,000 steps. That is more than I walked on a recent trip to Tokyo Disney Sea! Needless to say, when I went to the gym last night, I skipped the leg workout.

All in all, my first day as an Olympic volunteer was an enjoyable and enlightening one. It was great to work in the same physical space as others. This is something I’ve rarely had the chance to do since the first Covid lockdown in April of last year. I am looking forward to my next assignment in a couple of days and the ever changing responsibilities that we will undertake to make the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the best they can possibly be.

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