COVID-19 weeks 1 and 2
These notes bring together the last two weeks beginning 16th and 23rd March.
I didn’t do weeknotes last week partly because of the obvious reasons but also because I was in A&E last weekend with a serious infection. I’m on the mend now with some heavy-duty antibiotics, but it’s made adjusting to our new normal especially difficult, and I’ve been doing the minimum possible amount of work.
I haven’t been in a leadership position during a crisis before. I was a researcher and programme manager during the 2008/9 crisis, and although we’ve had some difficult times in the years at Renaisi since, there’s been nothing that can be called a proper crisis. My experience of dealing with the last two weeks: realising that our business continuity plan hadn’t made contingencies for the whole economy trying to work from home, working with colleagues on solutions to that, letting people just get on with it and trusting the team, has been something I don’t think any of us was quite prepared for but which we will all have learnt an incredible amount from.
I've been struck by how if you apply common sense, ask all the questions (then ask some more), keep communicating and trust people to do their best, then you can get through a heck of a lot.
I also realised that as so much of my job is about future business development, I wasn’t needed for a few days. All the teams were doing the hard work of dealing with our new normal, and I was not that important (useful when I had no energy). I’m becoming more useful again (I hope) thinking about communications and what business development looks like now, but the whole experience has underlined a view that small teams can do a lot of their own management and problem solving if they have the right resources and trust.
There are two kinds of adaption going on. Firstly, how to do what we used to do, but from home. And secondly, how to adapt what we used to do, because of the new world we’re in. It’s going to be important to keep thinking about which kind of adaption we’re doing.
The first seems to involve a lot of conference calls. Which is pretty exhausting for all concerned. It’s not going to be sustainable to replace every phone call, meeting, interview or advice session with a call. We’re going to have to think a little differently about how to cut up our days.
The second is seeing our services team provide very different kinds of support, and to think about how we ensure the people who were previously most excluded from the labour market are not left even further behind now. That involves trying to keep people in work, and trying to ensure that the new roles that are being created in retail, warehousing and data entry are available to people we work with if they can safely do them. For those that can’t work, it’s about helping them access DWP support as everything is changing.
In our research & learning team, we’re helping the trusts and foundations we work with to adapt their learning and evaluations to support where the need is most acute in communities across the country.
There are lots of interesting articles kicking around about what the future could, will or should look like after we’re through this. They’re all well-meaning, but I do find that they have a tendency to support the author’s pre-COVID views, and are based on no evidence since this is a unique situation in our lifetime.
The ones I find most compelling, however, are the ones that say that the experience of the virus will help us look differently at things that have been with us for a long time. I find that more convincing than society jumping to a whole new position or understanding. It means we might ask questions about the pay of some health workers. We might see the experience of domestic violence differently after the state has forced women and children to stay at home. And we might ask why charities are forced to hold so little in way of reserves.
I’m looking for the questions that are emerging from our work and the problems we are trying to support others with. I think these questions, and the conversations they start, is where the most practical change might come from.
Reading, listening and watching
Again, reading too much about the virus. I know it is bad for anxiety levels, but I keep doing it anyway.
I’ve also been listening to the Stadio football podcast with Musa Okwonga. I’m finding their episodes when no football is being played joyfully distracting.
And I have started to watch the Mandalorian. It’s just an (enjoyable) Western, isn’t it?