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Weeknotes 23-27 March 2020

Laptop on table where I work from home
My work laptop on the table at home where I’ve been doing most of my work. (photo: James Kemp)

I’m back at work, although given that we’re all working from home that seems like a very wrong statement. I’ve literally not gone back anywhere, I’m sitting in my living room, or my bedroom (depending on whether or not it’s my turn to hide and get stuff done, or to make sure that the children aren’t doing something weird). That said I am logged into the work network and reading, responding and talking to people on the phone and by video. My work brain is in gear and doing things, although not the things I was doing before I went off sick on the 10th March.

I’d expected to be doing a different role this week, after all the excitement of political change, and briefing for the No10 stock take and then the EFRA committee (which got cancelled on Tuesday, hours before it was supposed to happen and later re-instated as a conference call).  I was going to help set up a programme to look at Defra’s organisational strategy, and options for implementing changes needed because our context and landscape has changed. However that’s been paused because of the Covid-19, and instead the team set aside to form the nucleus of the change programme is being used as a strategic capability to help co-ordinate responses to the pandemic.

This Week

Things I’ve read

Not an exhaustive list, but a handful of links to interesting articles.

What I’ve done

This week I have mostly:

  • Caught up with email after a couple of weeks out of the office. By Thursday I gave up with catching up and created a folder for before Covid-19 and just filed everything in my inbox before Friday into it and marked it all read. So if you are expecting me to read or respond to an email that I haven’t yet, then you might want to get in touch.
  • I did a lot of reading in to my new role, see above. I also helped the team as a whole think about what we’re being asked to do. This was a group effort, between several of us, and we decided that we’re going to be called the Strategic Co-ordination Unit. While it’s a scratch team most of us worked together on the general election planning, and we’ve all been part of the Strategy Unit until the pivot, so we know each other fairly well.
  • I wrestled for most of the week with some IT problems. The system isn’t set up for us to change passwords when not physically connected by cable to the trusted network. So while I’d changed my (expired) password not every service had got the message. So Outlook kept crashing on me and the web browsers kept popping up security credentials windows for the proxy server. It took a couple of days of trying different things and workarounds before it finally got fixed on Thursday evening.
  • As a sort of side project I’ve grabbed all the data I could find on the coronavirus spread in the UK, most of which is on the Gov.UK website (desktop tracker) and applied my mathematical modelling skills. If the lockdown announced on Tuesday has a good effect we ought to see a peak around 1st April, and then a fall in the number of new cases. It might not peak overall number of cases at that point, and if we introduce more testing then the number of confirmed cases will go up even when the number of new cases is actually going down as we’ll be confirming a higher proportion of total cases (we’re currently only really testing the people that need serious hospital treatment, so about 15%).
  • The team has been looking at how our ALBs are dealing with things, and what changes they’ve made to cope. I’ve been pretty impressed by what they’ve done and how well they have applied the central government guidance to their operations. Lots of easements have been made, and most face to face contact has been stopped. They’ve been all over it, and it’s made a huge change to how they operate.
  • Last, but not least, I’ve found both of the questions for the Project Leadership Programme essays that I need to submit. I did the first one, but it needs some changes, and I need to do the second one. I’m hoping that between all the other things that are going on that I will finally be able to write and submit them both in the next couple of weeks.

Outside Work

The line between in work and outside work is pretty blurred by the glorious self-isolation we’ve been enjoying for the last ten days. My daughter had a fever and a cough, although she’s completely fine now, and so are the rest of us. So we’ve not done anything outside our own home, and even the garden has had a bit of a back seat, although I did tidy out the shed and the garage last weekend. I’m hoping to get out and prep some seeds for planting and dig over the raised beds at the back of the garden so that we can grow some vegetables this year. With us being stuck at home, and our holiday in May cancelled, then we need to make the most of the garden.

Next Week

Who knows what will happen next week. Me and the team are on standby to pick up whatever strategic co-ordination tasks need to happen, and if there aren’t any of those we’ll be worrying about what is likely to develop next. I’ll also be writing essays about projects if it’s quiet enough!

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