By Steve Duncan (CEO of Community Foundation for Calderdale)
Monday 23th March 2020 will be indelibly etched on all our memories for as long as we live on planet Calderdale because it was the day we officially went into lockdown to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus pandemic.
Lockdown has meant a number of things but from a work perspective it meant closing down our offices in Halifax and establishing individual offices at home. In my case this meant
hijacking my wife’s Apple Mac. The corner of our living room, that was once occupied by Alex creating baby wear designs, is now focused on Community Foundation (CFFC) activity because Alex’s work has dried up.
Working from home has its pros and cons, but on balance I love it! I am struggling with a poor internet connection and grappling with using an Apple Mac but not being able to have face to face meetings with the team, our charity donors, trustees and supporters has undoubtably challenged me the most.
My role at the Foundation is very much about relationships, and building connections and trust with people, and this is harder to achieve on the phone, in an email or on a zoom call. To maintain a positive link with the people I work closely with I decided early on to arrange for Lottie Shaws (Brighouse family business) hampers to be sent to donors, Foundation Trustee chairs of committees, and key people in the community. And each member of the team received boxes of goodies from McVities and shortly my team members and their partners will receive an Iranian meal for two delivered to their doors as part of Refugee Week. This display of kindness achieved two things – it showed I/we care and it helps Together we Grow, a local business and a local charity.
Virtual meetings have been invaluable and may prove to be a positive legacy. Before the Coronavirus came along we, the Foundation, managed perfectly fine with the occasional use of Skype. Pre-lockdown we didn’t need virtual meetings because we could meet in person either locally or if the meeting was further afield, we would simply hop on a train. Lockdown forced us to meet virtually to keep in touch with stakeholders, host or attend meetings and conduct charity governance e.g. committees and board meetings etc.
My experiences of using Zoom and Google Teams are mixed. None of us were experts with using this technology when we went into lockdown and the majority of us weren’t used to operating from home so in the first few weeks we employed trial and error principles and provided ad hoc training so eventually we could all participate in key meetings.
The biggest frustrations with the virtual meetings have been internet connection issues, and the clunky nature of sharing documents which have interrupted the flow of meetings
I have also found back to back zoom meetings or lengthy zoom meetings have regularly left me with migraine symptoms, so I now pace myself and opt out of meetings on days full of virtual meetings.
On the plus side daily morning Zoom meetings with the team have helped keep morale high and provided a great opportunity for us to invite special guests to share mutual lockdown experiences. During lockdown our guests have included our two MPs, the Leader of the council, Nicky Chance-Thompson, the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and Chief Super Intendant Dickie Whitehead.
What are the legacies I would like to see coming out of lockdown?
A positive legacy I would like to see come out of lockdown is to replicate the idea of inviting special guests to team meetings but to replace the virtual meetings with face to face meetings. It’s going to be fascinating to see post-lockdown if guests will quickly become far too busy to have the time to commit to things like this.
It’s clear there’s going to be a major financial impact post-lockdown and money will be in short supply so the Foundation will have to look at ways to keep costs down to a minimum. Virtual meetings can save a small fortune on travel and accommodation costs. London meetings, national conferences and international gatherings can be achieved effectively as virtual events. This was highlighted to me recently when I took part in a 3 hour UK wide virtual governance consultation event which included several break-out workshops. No travel needed and three hours of my time as opposed to a full day including travel.
Speaking of travel… my commute to work has improved dramatically during lockdown! My commute pre-lockdown took approximately twenty minutes by car and an hour and a half on foot, and now it takes me all of a minute! And because my home is my workplace and the computer is readily accessible work hours are much more varied, starting between 7.00 am to 7.30 am, having longer at lunch time and working later.
Post-lockdown working from home full time isn’t an option for me because of the nature of my work but I have been working with my team to come up with a balanced approach so that all members of the team can operate from home at least one day a week. My new working week when we return to the office will have me working from home on a Friday.
Working from home has brought with it a wealth of other benefits. These benefits have developed into a greater appreciation of what I have and where I live, and my heart goes out to those in lockdown living by themselves or with small children and people living in apartment blocks with no garden. Their experience of lockdown is in stark contrast with my experience which has meant enjoying a lovely garden, wonderful scenery, less structure, flexible working and quality time with my wife and dogs.
I feel, therefore, that I owe it to myself NOT to fall back into what was normal before lockdown and introduce a few things that will hopefully make a positive difference to others.
We have two cars parked outside that have been used once a week at the most during lockdown, this has to have been good for the environment so to avoid using the cars as much post-lockdown we have taken the decision to purchase an electric bike for my commute to work Monday to Thursday.
I definitely intend to be more philanthropic! I got a tremendous buzz from donating to colleagues and key Foundation people during lockdown and it’s something I intend doing more of in the new-normal.
And finally, an admission that football and in particular Leeds United means more to me and how I am mentally than I thought it did. Being deprived of live football has deprived me of an important release, channelling negative thoughts through a rousing rendition of Marching on Together with 35,000 passionate Leeds fans. I have missed the whole experience. Enjoying quality time with my eldest son Sam, driving to Elland Road predicting the score and who would score, the walk to the stadium, hearing and experiencing the special atmosphere… and being entertained by the men in white with fast flowing Bielsa-ball.
Only time will tell if Leeds finally get themselves promoted to the Premiership but one thing for sure, I am going to appreciate them even more! The same goes for my wife, friends and family, where I live, and the Foundation and the people connected with it. They all combine to give me a purpose and a balance in life and I love and appreciate them all in equal measure.