Weeknote w/c 28 September: finding autumnal purpose

My plan to pick some specific, doable tasks at the weekend to deal with my ‘six months of pandemic’ slump was nearly derailed by uncooperative radiator fittings. But I channeled some HackIT thinking and went for ‘minimum viable central heating’, swapping out valves I didn’t trust with ones I could, so we were able to turn the rest of the heating on again (even though the room in question remains unheated). The result was much rejoicing and it seems to have helped set the week up for a positive frame of mind.

Minimum viable central heating

What do I think has gone well?

In the middle of the week we had a meeting of the Council’s Senior Managers’ Network. This covered a wide range of topics, from an update from Dr Sandra Husbands, our Director of Public Health, on the public health position and COVID-19 through to some really good updates from heads of service about how they’re supporting wellbeing in their teams. I also had the opportunity to deliver an update on the work we’re doing to set up ‘COVID-secure’ working arrangements for our offices and send out kit to support colleagues who are having to work from home.

Our local contact tracing service has now been up and running for a couple of weeks, and it was brilliant to hear this feedback from one of the senior colleagues in Public Health: ‘After one week I think the call team deserve much credit to have halved the failure rate of NHS T&T in Hackney. It is a good position to build from and I am personally very grateful to them.’ This is another example of the brilliant work that our customer services teams are doing helping Hackney tackle COVID-19. 👏

I enjoyed catching up with Matthew and the team from Stance to go through the findings from their review of our telephony strategy. It was good to see the thinking that’s gone into this and hear their ideas about how we can take forward our strategy of loosely coupled modern technology services to (hopefully) save money and help us improve services for our residents.

The Revenues teams are continuing to work really hard to make sure that the Council has the vital funding it needs to deliver our services. At the Senior Managers’ Network event Ian (my guv’nor) gave an update on the overall financial position which showed how important this work is.

And I also did a bit better this week at getting out and about for a some exercise. I managed three early morning 5k runs (if I don’t run first thing I don’t run at all) and on Friday I jumped on my bike to catch up with Henry for an early coffee and walk round Clapham Common. The snooze button on my alarm is very tempting (and I frequently succumb), but I find that the day works out much better if I get some fresh air before the fusillade of video meetings begins. (This is still a relatively new thing – I’ve only been running for 4 years and cycling for 1 – and I’m still quite surprised to find myself doing exercise at all!)

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

I’ve not done the most important of the things that are on my ‘things where I’m holding other people up’ list. I’m annoyed about that but in reality only have myself to blame. Focus. Focus. Focus.

Henry, Philippa and I caught up with Roo from Digi2al to walk through the retro follow up for our major systems outage in August. We’re trying to make sure that this is an honest and reflective exercise, and I think the retro process is helping identify some really useful things we can focus on as we move forward. I’m very pleased with how everyone involved has engaged with this, and while I wish we hadn’t had the problems we experienced through the summer I think we’re going to end up better as a result. (The team working on this have also made some really good progress improving system performance this week, which is testament to their continued hard work.)

I’ve had some good conversations with Cate and Henry this week about the amount of work that the HackIT teams are supporting. The shift from initial COVID crisis to ‘oh my goodness, it’s going to carry on for at least six months and probably more’ has been a bit blurry, but it’s definitely shown the importance of technology and data across the Council’s services. We’re thinking about how we can balance this demand with the team’s capacity and the need to be sensible about how many things we can be working on at one time.

I’m really proud of the work that the team sending out kit for people working from home is doing. It’s a huge task. In the first weeks of lockdown the team issued over 1,000 devices (including a huge number of reconditioned laptops) to help colleagues deliver their services, and not long after that they helped deliver 1,500 laptops provided by the Department for Education for disadvantaged children in Hackney so they can access online learning. But it’s now been six months since lockdown started and unsurprisingly many people are finding it increasingly hard to work effectively with temporary equipment and smaller screens. The team has already delivered equipment to nearly 700 colleagues to help them work from home more easily for a longer period of time, and we’re now starting to deliver kit to all of the remaining services and are hoping to complete that within the next 6-8 weeks. It was really nice to get this message from a manager I’d been speaking with earlier in the week:

‘Just an update, some of my staff are getting their equipment delivered this week, after completing a google form I was sent by a member of IT staff, it will literally be life-changing (not to sound too over dramatic), so please let your devices team know that we are extremely grateful and we can’t thank them enough.’

Something I’m learning

I still have lots to learn about the new services I’m working with as part of the new Customer Services & ICT division. Early in the week I joined Jennifer and colleagues from housing needs, social care, housing and health for a multi-disciplinary team meeting looking at how we work together to support people with complex needs. I was really impressed by how close to the detail of individuals’ situations the people involved were, and it was really good to see smart professionals working together to use their different skills and responsibilities to improve things for people who have huge challenges in their lives.