Weeknote w/c 22 June: Yes, a weeknote!

My first actual weeknote since early March! I was determined to post it before this week finished and have resisted the temptation to wait until tomorrow and add a second week in too (because that’s the start of the road back to month-or-more-notes…).

What do I think has gone well?

The work to plan for a phased reopening of the Council’s offices and to offer additional support for people working at home has continued to develop well. Last week we pulled together some important threads from this so that we could present them to the senior management team / Gold group this week and ask for their sign off. This includes:

  • Our risk assessment tool designed to help identify staff who are at greater risk from Covid-19 and support them and their managers in taking steps to reduce the risk
  • Reviewing the feedback from the people who’ve been testing the new office layout in the Town Hall so we can move ahead with plans to open the space for colleagues with greatest need
  • Confirming what kit we will provide to people who need things like chairs and screens for home based working

These will provide a clear direction for the work we’ll be doing in July and will allow us to update colleagues across the Council so that they know what to expect.

I’m pleased to see how well livestreams are now being used to share updates and make our leadership more visible. On Wednesday we had the first post-Covid Senior Managers’ Network, which brought together senior managers from across the Council to update on our response to Covid and reflect on what will be needed from us all as we move ahead with the second phase. As part of this David shared an overview of the work that the Revenues teams have been doing during the crisis, explaining how important the team’s work is to helping residents and businesses manage the financial impacts of Covid.

I was also impressed that over 900 people joined to watch the livestream from the Mayor and Chief Exec on Thursday (a record number). For me a highlight of that was the Mayor pointing out that all of the Council’s teams have played a ‘frontline’ role during the Covid response. I often worry that people create a false distinction between ‘frontline’ and ‘back office’ teams, with the implication that ‘back office’ roles are somehow less important. It was good to see the Mayor explaining how important the response of every team has been to our ability to protect and support our residents through this incredibly challenging time.

It’s also really positive to see how our services are adapting to the gradual easing of the lockdown restrictions. This isn’t just a simple case of starting services up again. There’s a lot of work needed to understand how Covid has changed our residents’ needs, to plan for phased recovery and manage any backlogs of work that have developed during lockdown, and to design different ways for people to access services (including social distancing measures). One example of this is the Registrars service, who are now pushing ahead with a well thought out plan to restart their services which were paused when lockdown started. The visible evidence of this is the regular stream of families with young babies visiting the HSC to register their birth (the law still requires that birth registrations are made in-person).

What am I worried about, and what am I going to do about it?

As we move beyond the initial emergency response to Covid-19, some of the changes we need to make to return to ‘normal’ are especially challenging. Two examples which are high on the agenda are making sure that we are maximising our income collection (which is a key source of the funding needed to deliver the Council’s services) while also being sensitive to financial hardship, and the ‘move on’ support for rough sleepers who have been provided with emergency accommodation. Both of these are complex and involve working with partners across the Council and beyond, and will also be heavily influenced by national policy decisions. We’re fortunate to have great leaders like David and Jennifer who can guide the Council’s response to these challenges.

As I’m spending more time with the Customer Services teams (which includes the Revenues and Benefits & Housing Needs services) I’m learning more about how their work intersects with other areas of policy and delivery across the Council, where decisions and actions made in one area can have more complex implications for other services. This has many similarities with the work that the ICT teams do supporting change and transformation, and I’m conscious of how important it is to understand how difficult choices are managed with so that teams are able to work well together and make good progress. One of the key things I have on my mind is understanding how these linkages are currently working and looking for ways that we can make sure there is a clear, shared direction and common purpose across services.

Digital inclusion is also continuing to be an area for focus (see last week’s note). The team working to deliver the DfE technology scheme for disadvantaged children have made great progress and the arrangements have been made for the devices to arrive this week and then be delivered out to schools within a matter of days – this is a really brilliant example of team work that will be hugely valuable for a large group of children in the borough. There’s more that we need to do if we are to meet all the need, but this is a positive next step. And alongside this, Henry’s work to develop our social value ‘ask’ from connectivity providers (which has included extensive engagement with colleagues and residents) is also looking really good. I’m hopeful that we will soon be able to complete that stage of the connectivity work and then see rapid progress towards expanded connectivity across the borough, including widening access to people in greatest need.

Something I’m learning

I’ve been banging on about the importance of taking a break from work for quite a while now. I think it’s really important and while I’m pleased to see that quite a few people are arranging to take some time off I’ll keep on pushing this point.

But I’m also realising the importance of finding time for a break in work too. What I mean by this is clearing time to step away from successive video meetings, calls and emails to focus on the things that I need to get done. I used to schedule one day a week working from home for this, but that’s not the same now that home is also the office and I’m finding that I’m ending too many days without having made any headway due to back to back meetings and without feeling that I’ve got a clear grip on what’s come in during the day.

I’m going to be more strict about keeping time clear for the things I need to try to prioritise, and am also going to try to be clearer about what I put on my priority list.