Has it really been a year since we closed the Renaisi offices for the first time?

an empty train platform with sun rising in the horizon.

A year

I remember very clearly being on the phone with my fellow director, Michael, whilst on the train to a meeting in Kent. We’d had a few challenging conversations in the previous days, working out what the hell we were doing and how to do it all responsibly and transparently. Like everyone, we were developing a plan, a policy and a rationale for our method on the fly.

On that train journey, I remember him pushing me for more clarity on an email I had drafted, and I got upset. My voice caught in my throat in response to Michael’s robust challenge (who is frequently to the point and all the more valuable to me and the business for that), and I realised immediately it wasn’t about the sodding email for either of us. I remember pausing, then pushing back and telling him why. He is almost always right when he pushes me for more clarity, but in that instance, I wanted to leave more of me in the email. I think I was right, but I am really not sure it mattered either way.

I think about thehonesty, challenge, trust and respect in that minute on the train quite often, and also why you need it in work relationships. But until writing this, I hadn’t thought again about just how much we laboured over communications in those early weeks. About how many conversations we had trying to do the right thing by our people, by our work, and by everything.

I am feeling optimistic this week, allowing myself to feel hopeful that the worst of this is nearly behind us. I’m sure there will be a spike of cases in the Autumn and that we will continue to talk of this virus as a present concern for a while to come, but at a national level I feel hopeful.

Good and bad Zooms

There’s a lot to be said about the good and the bad of the last year from a work perspective. But one of the very real benefits is that it has allowed us to do more interviews, more easily for a large group of the types of people we interview for our research and evaluative work. With no travel and people working from home, interviewing staff and politicians all over the country is a lot easier. I have got space in the diaries of leaders and Mayors that would have taken two months, and I also have found that those people with positional authority have been far more open than had they been in a suit, behind their desk in the Town Hall.

The negative that I really noticed this week is how terrible video is for the informal, ‘get to know you’ chats that are the start of partnership building. In recent weeks I’ve had a few conversations with people who lead interesting organisations and collaboratives about nothing in particular. But it’s so odd doing them in this way, and they feel like they should be much more purposeful or transactional. Building relationships should start in coffee shops, involve visits to see each other’s work, maybe a lunch, and then you find the opportunity to work together. It should never be just another video call.

Reading, listening and watching

I did some internal comms about International Women’s Day and the horror of this week for women and society. I find it so depressing, so utterly bleak every time I read the news that I don’t know what to say. I don’t like to compare inequalities – it literally improves nothing – but there is something astonishing about how we just accept misogyny. At a societal level we just seem to be completely comfortable with it, to shrug it off, and so individual or small collective action can feel like they just bounce off that shrug.

I read No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. She’s a phenomenal writer and has a hilarious style that is just the right side of knowing. And there were lots of hugely enjoyable and moving parts to the book. But I really struggled to care about the state of being ‘extremely online’. I am aware that it is a thing worth writing about, and she’s pretty much the same age as me (so I don’t think there is a generational thing going on). But without being *that* online, the premise of the book just didn’t quite work for me. But I would hesitate to not recommend it and I’m glad I read it.

John Hitchin CEO