Weeknotes s1 w1 w/e 29 May 2020

Hurrah its the weekend, and not a moment too soon, despite it only being a four day week this week. The world seems full of Covid19 comment and debate at the moment, some more productive than others, and I don’t want to add to the noise unduly. I also recognise that I’m lucky in my position and social housing, where I work, is much less affected than many sectors. All this is personal stuff, I should add, feel free to agree or disagree. I just want to pick up things I think are interesting at the moment and hope you find it interesting and useful too.

So, I have been toying with the idea of weeknotes for some time (stolen shamefully from awesome colleagues Polly Thompson and Neil Tamplin — in your debt both!). Covid19 and the need to work more out in the open now we are all in our remote locations seems a big thing to me. Virtual working is such a new landscape and it takes some getting used to. Its my job to have a handle on what’s going on, and how do I do that well outside of the playground of the office? I have been particularly conscious of the need to work in the open as much as possible to ensure trust, and am wrestling in my head with how we maintain and build good relationships in this strange new world.

I have thought for some time that this concept of weeknotes is under-explored in the world of finance and governance, and we have much to learn from IT who are further down the track on this and collaborating more generally. If this helps demystify what I do, that would be fabulous, but as my kid has already said I “just sit in meetings all day talking about stuff” I may already be accurately described!

So I thought it would be good to start a short weeknotes each week for a season of 12 weeks as an experiment — see what I learn and whether it helps.

Preamble over. So this week has been much taken up with Committee and Board papers — not surprising given where we are at in the cycle of the year. I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome of that in the end (although I am rather spent for doing much more reviewing tbh!), and we have had some fruitful conversations internally on the differences between moderation and quality assurance and how to draw together disparate information sets together. A work in progress still though I think, it could be much slicker and a little more forward focussed.

One thing I have noticed is how hard it is to do deep work though whilst at home though, both in absolute terms and also compared to less demanding activities (answering quick emails etc). Whilst the demand on routine emails has increased personally its deep work that interests me. I’ve read plenty of times that there is a cost to the brain every time you switch activities and multitasking is pretty poor for the concentration. Rings true to me. Board paper writing and review requires deep immersion and intensive focus for periods of time — a real sense of flow if you like. And also some time to reflect — are we answering the right questions — what do the Board need to know — all that kind of stuff. I am finding that as a combination particularly hard due to the proximity of a young family and feeling the need to be “constantly on” with many communication channels from work and with wider commitments. I’m unable to simply block out huge chunks of the day to solo time and unwilling to wake up at 3am to write or review papers too often, so if anyone has suggestions which work for them love to hear it. Does pomodoro work for example? Really keen to explore this — its not sustainable to be working round the clock.

I’ve also been giving thought to what good governance might look like whilst working remotely. Not so much the virtual Board meeting — which is important but through sheer immersion at the deep end we are getting our heads around. And a virtual AGM beckons! But governance in its wider sense — ie how an organisation is run. I’ve been thinking about what internal approvals and controls are needed and what needs to change in the context of new ways of working, and in my head its raised some interesting questions about what really the risks governance is attempting to manage and what really our priorities are. I think its an area most organisations need to be thinking about . Controls often lag behind businesses’ risks at the best of times and the pace of change occurring both at the front line and back office makes this a key challenge at the moment. And ignoring this it won’t bode well for colleague’s well-being either.

And if anyone has got accurate detailed financial forecasting cracked in the current circumstances I would be very impressed and would love to hear more! We are doing our best on this one.

I’ve been feeling that working from home is surprisingly exhausting (which I suspect down to the attention demand point) so the highlight of the week was the business briefing on Thursday. Great to hear all the amazing things being done in the business, despite all the challenges, and particularly in a week when the novelty of lockdown really seems to have worn off nationally. It was a long list of achievements when all put together. But the real highlight was seeing and connecting in with 40 plus colleagues in one hit. A virtual community is still much better than none at all I find. Hats off in particular to colleagues who are new and presented to colleagues they have never met in person. I think that takes gumption. But also credit to the colleague who was ringing in whilst on a construction site — roving reporter style — which gave it a strangely live and immediate sense of connection.

We are lucky, life goes on and the work goes on.

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Experienced Chief Finance Officer -track record in Welsh social housing and third sector. Chartered Accountant (FCA BFP). Views my own - my space for blogging.

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