Weeknotes #98 — Hierarchy of needs

Back to work. I felt well-rested and ready to return to the keyboard, and unlike previous years didn’t feel that I hadn’t made the most of my time off. Working for a South African firm, with December and January being peak summer for my colleagues in Johannesburg, means that people tend to trickle back over a period of a couple of weeks. This is great in that the pace isn’t relentless from day one, but it does mean that some people aren’t present for the ‘kick off’ meetings that put a marker down for the year ahead.

The terrible COVID-19 infection, hospitalisation and death numbers as well as the hideous events at the US Capitol building completely overwhelmed any sense of 2021 being a fresh start. Given that COVID-19 has mutated and is running rampant in both the UK and South Africa it was really important to check in with the team on how everyone was coping before we got into the detail of work. Quite a few of us now have friends and family that have been touched by the disease, or are currently ill. The school where I am a governor places great emphasis on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and recognises that the children can’t focus, learn and do their best work if there is something more fundamental that needs to be addressed first. Our company, and our management team in particular, are also very good at ensuring that everyone knows what the priorities are — family comes first, and there is a culture of trust in letting people take time to do what they need to do in order to come back to their desk and be effective.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got aligned with my boss on the work I had completed before Christmas, a draft of a proposed new way of working across our team. It was great to get focused on this again. There’s lots to do, but we’re aligned and have a clear way forward for further work on this next week.
  • Caught up with emails and updates on our LeanKit boards. I am grateful that the organisation runs on a skeleton crew over the holidays so this wasn’t a big task.
  • Picked off a few long-outstanding items that had been hanging around in my email, getting my outstanding mails down to less than 100 for the first time in four years or so.
  • Talked to a few colleagues in Beijing to push forward on a few different initiatives that we had been working on before Christmas. I have a few early morning calls lined up for next week and this may be the status quo for a little while.
  • Helped out a colleague in São Paulo who was looking for a tool (or tools) to manage and present on work across the team.
  • Ran our first IT change approval board of the new year.
  • Met with our HR and recruitment teams about a key IT technical leadership role that we have been trying to fill for some months. Last year we found someone who looked as though they would be great for the role but they took another job that they couldn’t refuse, so we’re back to square one.
  • Checked in with a technology consultancy that I used to work with as a client over a decade ago. We get in touch every year or two and the contacts there are still the same even after all this time, a tribute to how good their firm must be as a place to work.
  • Restarted our ‘random coffee’ sessions after the Christmas break. We now have more participants than ever, with almost 40 pairings happening every week.
  • Met a colleague in our Group IT team who has expertise in physical door access systems, invaluable as we look to replace the technology in a couple of our offices over the next few months.
  • Caught up with an old colleague via an old-fashioned phone call in response to a ‘check-in’ text that I sent her. It was so lovely to talk again. I’m going to try and keep in touch with a few more people than usual this year.
  • Joined my first Meetup of the year on the topic of ‘Essence for Agility’ with Ivar Jacobson and Jeff Sutherland.
  • Met with a fellow governor and the site manager at our primary school to look at a number of things we need to address on the premises over the next few years. We were fully masked and very socially distanced outdoors, and it was a nice experience to actually meet people in person again.
  • Had a Zoom call with a cute nephew for his birthday. His mum is currently in hospital with COVID-19 so we made sure we made a small fuss of him. Hopefully she’ll be back with the family in a few days.
  • Spoke to my Nan who turned 90 this week. It feels like yesterday that we got together for her 80th birthday. She’s keeping safe and well.
  • Took a lovely family walk down to our castle and around the town. The best thing about a freezing cold walk is how much you appreciate a cup of tea when you get back home.

  • Sat down with the family to work out how we will cope with many more weeks of home learning. I know I expect too much of the boys, particularly as I have over 20 years experience of sitting at a desk with a computer, getting work done. They need supervision but I also need to get on with work. Home schooling seems a lot more organised for this lockdown, with many more ‘live lessons’ to give their day more structure.
  • Finished reading Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage by Susan Shillinglaw. It was a superb read, giving a real insight into the people involved (and there were more than two of them) without judging. Shillinglaw did an excellent job, particularly given that Carol didn’t keep much of a diary at any point. Steinbeck’s work up to and including The Grapes of Wrath were influenced and, in his words for this book specifically, “willed” by his wife who even suggested the title. I’ve been working my way through the Steinbeck bibliography and stopped off on my journey to read a few different books that discuss this 1930s period; I think that I’ve completed my ‘reading around’ on this for now and will get back to the main body of work.
  • Tried to keep away from doomscrolling Twitter but struggled this week. It was hard to resist taking a look at what everyone was saying about the terrible news that kept pouring in.

Next week: More refinement of our ‘new ways of working’, my annual appraisal, and hosting Album Club again.

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