Weeknotes #89 — Dizzy spells

A week where I seemed very busy but ended up without any big achievements at the end of it. The three days that I took off the week before only served to give me a taste of pottering around the house reading, playing board games and generally not doing too much. I wasn’t quite ready to get back to the keyboard on Monday.

Our eldest boy, who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, finished his 10-day isolation period and went back to school on Tuesday, but my wife and younger son were at home all week while we continued to isolate. On Wednesday I started to feel light-headed, spaced-out and tired, and this gradually got worse through Friday afternoon, where I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate as the week came to an end. I went up to bed straight after dinner and got myself a solid night’s rest. This helped, but I still felt weird on Saturday. Another early night followed, and by Sunday I was starting to feel myself again. Of course, I was concerned that it was COVID-19, particularly as I have had no exposure to anyone and it is the only confirmed illness that we have had in the house. But I had none of the symptoms that are prerequisites to getting a test — no temperature, no coughing, no loss of taste or smell. Hopefully whatever it was is behind me now and I can get back to feeling normal again.

We’re out of our own personal lockdown and find ourselves emerging into the broader second lockdown for England. I suspect that this will be far less effective than the first as there is still so much activity going on with children attending school etc., as well as less of an acceptance by people to stay at home.

A week in which I:

  • Felt pleased at how the team had managed without me in my few days off. I had been tempted to jump into Teams chat threads a few times but held back, and I’m glad I did.
  • Marvelled at reports of how ‘normal’ life is for my colleagues in Beijing, particularly outside of the office.
  • Decided on a plan of action to improve the Wi-Fi in two of our locations, to be followed up quickly next week.
  • Was grateful for a colleague stepping in to cover early morning while we work on a more permanent support solution for our Asia time zone.
  • Seemed to quickly move from sleep credit to sleep deficit. Sunday night we had 50mph wind gusts keeping us awake, Monday night I had one my very occasional ‘oh my, what has happened to the world’ moments and Tuesday night I had a bizarre nightmare where I was climbing up a very tall aluminium ladder for no good reason and suddenly realised how high I was. It still makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
  • Attended a small internal seminar on mental wellbeing with Colinda Linde. The session had a specific slant on looking out for your team as a manager. It’s definitely a lot more difficult to do this when you aren’t seeing them on a regular basis, and need to be deliberate about scheduling face-to-face time.
  • Went to a short internal training course with Stuart Mann for a refresher on programme-level agile. He’s an excellent instructor and an even better writer. I need to try and spend some time with him to help focus on our specific concept, as our team is a weird shape and doesn’t quite fit the mould.
  • Gave a short demo of LeanKit to some internal staff, who are now interested in looking at it for their own purposes.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague from our Dubai office. I can’t believe it has been over a year since we were there putting the new IT infrastructure in place.
  • Was sad to see grassroots football cancelled with the second lockdown. Given how close everyone is to each other at the matches — the spectators to each other, the children playing the game, the managers and the linesmen — it felt inevitable.
  • Was pinned to CNN and Twitter during the aftermath of the US Election, seemingly like everyone else. The result is fascinating — just enough of a narrative for Trump to capitalise on, and nowhere near the complete rejection of the right-wing narcissistic fascism that he represents. Sadly people aren’t savvy enough, or interested enough, to understand how the vote changed as the postal ballots were counted. Perhaps it would be better not to report the totals in real-time at all?
  • Continued my journey through Steinbeck’s works by starting on Sea of Cortez. I read the ‘log’ portion as a teenager and found it a little boring, but coming back to it now as an adult it feels much more relatable. Stories of setting off on a quest, of the relation of tide pools to the universe, and of the boat crew to each other as they journey around Baja California is just the thing for a person who hasn’t left the house in weeks.
  • Treated myself to a few books written by people whose work I follow and enjoy on the Internet. Ian Dunt, Nina Schick and Katherine May. Kindle where it makes sense, and physical copies from Bookshop.org I want to pass them on.
  • Settled in and watched another paid gig from the comfort of my lounge, this time the Smoke Fairies live from De La Warr Pavilion. The gig wasn’t truly live, having been recorded a few weeks before in an empty venue. But it felt like a good compromise to avoid all of the potential Internet connection and quality problems that being truly live might bring. The sound and vision were superb. The band joined everyone watching in the YouTube comments as we watched along, which was a lovely touch. They really are a special band.

  • Stumbled across Hope Griffin playing a live set at a vineyard. After the election was called for Joe Biden on Saturday evening, I browsed around Periscope to find some unfiltered ‘on the ground’ reaction. An acoustic gig was much more relaxing than what I had been seeking. I’ve found a few live musicians on the platform, and it’s magical when you stumble across someone that’s really good.
  • Had a scheduled ‘active recovery’ week on the turbo trainer, filled with low-intensity workouts. I’m doing a ramp test for the first time in quite a while on Tuesday and am interested in where Trainerroad thinks I’m at.

Next week: Hoping to have my energy back to attack the long list of things I need to get done. Many, many meetings at work and some important school governor duties to fulfil. Watching Marika Hackman live on Friday evening will be a great way to start the weekend.

Weeknotes #88 — Red cross on the door

This week was half term here in our part of the UK, which means that my wife and both of our children had the week off at home. Having taken barely any time off myself since Christmas, I booked Wednesday to Friday as holiday so that we could go out and do some things together as a family. Unfortunately, on Friday night our eldest boy started feeling ill with a slight temperature. We booked him in for a COVID-19 test on Saturday morning and then eagerly awaited the results. He was over his illness by the time the positive result came through on Tuesday afternoon, but it meant that the other three of us have to isolate until 6 November. Fortunately, none of us have shown any signs of getting ill. I still took the days off but spent them pottering around the house, which I was quite happy to do. I’m back to work again next week but my wife and youngest son will be at home with me, whilst our ‘patient zero’ heads back to school on Tuesday. I’m very thankful that it wasn’t more serious for him, and we seem to have escaped any ill-effects for now.

A week in which I:

  • Put together a small plan for how we can try and improve Wi-Fi at one of our sites that recently went live with new infrastructure. The plan was put into action while I was away for the rest of the week.
  • Spent a couple of hours with a team member going through the project work that follows-on from our ‘minimum viable office’ setup, building out the rest of the infrastructure.
  • Took part in the preparation for our annual formal risk assessment, and discussed how we can further embed risk management into what we do on an ongoing basis.
  • Had a random coffee with another colleague that I rarely spoke to in the office. Setting up a random coffee system for our part of the organisation is one of the best things I’ve done this year, and possibly ever.
  • Attended a ‘mini-masterclass’ webinar on Ulysses, the text editor I use for blogging. The session was hosted by Shawn Blanc of The Sweet Setup. Ulysses is a wonderful application in that the complexity is mostly hidden from view, so it was great to be reminded of some of the things it can do and to learn how Shawn organises all of his writing. I was so impressed with the software used for the class, and the coordination by the admin staff behind the scenes. The webinar is available online. They run a paid Learn Ulysses course which I would love to take if I could dedicate the time to it.
  • Met with the founders of Readwise, Daniel Doyon and Tristan Homsi, to talk about their product, and the Readmill-shaped hole in my life. I’d made notes beforehand and rattled through as much feedback as I could think of. Readwise has revealed itself to me slowly, and continues to delight me as I find out about more of its features. My main fear is that I commit time and effort to the platform and it goes away. I’m not yet as emotionally attached to it as I was to Readmill, but I am now committed to making it the centre of my ‘external long-term memory’ for the things I read.
  • Spent some time during my days off collating my book highlights that I made during the years between Readmill closing and going all-in on Kindle, and then uploaded them to Readwise. This took a few hours to get the data unformatted from the various notes and into a CSV file. For most of this period I used Marvin, a lovely iOS app which mainly suffers from not being part of the Kindle ecosystem — I stopped using it when I bought a Kindle device. I’ve now got nearly 6,000 book and article highlights into Readwise.

  • Binge-watched The Haunting of Hill House with my wife. It seemed like the natural thing to do after finishing the brilliant Haunting of Bly Manor. Watching TV in the daytime during my time off felt extremely indulgent — we never do it, other than for the Formula One. I think I enjoyed Hill House a little more, but both are excellent — just the right mix of horror and drama.
  • Started on the Buster Keaton boxed set that I bought a few weeks ago, which contains restored versions of all of his short films. So far I’ve made my way through The Butcher Boy (1917) and The Rough House (1917), both of which see Keaton playing a supporting role to Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. Neither of them were life-changing, but there’s something amazing in watching films that are over 100 years old, and thinking about the context in which they were made. The films are public domain and available on YouTube, but these restorations on Blu-Ray are exquisite.

  • Caught up with a lot of sleep. I seem to naturally shut down around 1am and then wake up just before 9am, and it felt great to get a full eight hours for a few nights in a row.

Next week: Back to work. Planning to try and get my head up out of the detail to think more about how we can move from our Kanban ‘flow’ way of working towards a more structured, committed delivery plan. And moving out of isolation just as the country moves into a second version of a full lockdown.

Weeknotes #86–87 — It’s always Friday

Life goes by so fast right now. It has become a running joke in the team that it is “always Friday”. This is good in the sense that the weekend keeps turning up quickly but bad in the sense that you always wonder what just happened and how you didn’t get the things done that you wanted to.

A couple of weeks in which I:

  • Was up at 3:45am again for a day of working with the team in our Beijing office. We had a good result in that we have increased our capacity for wired devices, improved redundancy in our Internet/WAN connections and have re-established videoconferencing in some of our meeting rooms.
  • Met with the CEO of one of our International offices to discuss some of the networking problems they have been having. It’s a human trait to just work around problems without fuss, so our main focus was on emphasising reporting them so that we can investigate further.
  • Decided to take a few days off over the coming week while the boys are off school. I feel like I’ve hit a productivity wall and need a bit of rest, having only taken the odd day off here and there since January. I am not sure how much three days away from the keyboard will help, but it’s better than nothing.
  • Agreed a draft role spec for an IT support team member in Beijing. Will now need a crash course in Chinese employment law to see if hiring a temp is the same as it is in our other offices.
  • Got pulled into helping out with a flagship annual event run out of our São Paulo office, which like so many other events this year has gone virtual.
  • Continued to scratch my head at a large company-wide transformation initiative. I keep attending meetings where everyone seems to be running forward, and I feel like I’m the only one where I don’t understand what the destination is yet. People are willing to talk and share their views, and I am gaining knowledge with every interaction, but I am a few iterations away from truly understanding it.
  • Continued interviews for the role of Head of Infrastructure and Operations in our team. I am hopeful that we’ll have the right person in the team soon who can make a big difference for all of us.
  • Struggled to get to emails again. But people are learning that it is definitely not the best way to get hold of me.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with an intern in our São Paulo office. There’s nothing like meeting someone literally half your age to make you feel old.
  • Attended my first Microsoft 365 UK user group meeting. Really impressed by the quality of the speakers and the materials. I’ve been reading Joanne C Klein’s blog for a while so it was great to hear her talk. The topic was Protecting Your Teamwork Across Microsoft 365, and gave an excellent overview of the tools available in the platform. The whole session is available on YouTube. I’ll be joining the next one.

  • Set up and ran our school Pay Committee meeting. Virtual Governor meetings seem to be so efficient compared to when they are face-to-face. Once things are ‘back to normal’ we need to look at why.
  • Attended my youngest son’s football match where for the first time this season I didn’t have a job to do. I think I have been the only mask-wearer at all of the events so far this year, and can’t believe how close the parents from all teams stand to each other.
  • Finished reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. A good book, but I wish I had read it before seeing the TV adaptation, as the two were virtually identical.
  • Had my running judder to a halt after pulling a calf muscle on a Monday morning run. It’s so strange how you can be doing nothing different to any other day, on a route you have run lots of times, and suddenly have a problem. I was limping for a couple of days but still managed to get on the bike as it seems that I only use that muscle for running and not riding.
  • Joined 100 other people for Helena Deland’s debut album launch party. Online gigs don’t come anywhere close to being there in real life, particularly in terms of sound quality, but it was nice to give some support and feel like part of a little community.

  • Finished watching The Haunting of Bly Manor with my wife. Properly scary in places with characters that you really get to know. Great series.
  • Continued our family movie ‘round robin’ with my choice of The General (1926), which to my surprise everyone seemed to really enjoy. Taking it in turns between the four of us to pick movies has been great; we get some forced family time where we’re sharing things and not just all off consuming media on our own every night. I’ve watched so many films that I wouldn’t have picked myself, and for the most part they’ve all been enjoyable.
  • Loved watching the F1 race at Portimao in Portugal over the past weekend.

Next week: A couple of days’ work and then a few days off. Trying to get our networks up to scratch in our two most remote offices, and hoping that things go well for our conference in Brazil. Trying to balance the myriad of items on the backlog with the need to get my head up and look at the bigger picture.

Weeknotes #85 — Breathe

For the first time in over three years it felt like a quiet week at work. I was grateful to have the space to breathe.

A week in which I:

  • Finally, FINALLY caught up with my emails. I had over 5,000 to get through, and the concern that there was something important in there had been hanging over me for a while. It took me a couple of days but I am now down to less than 250. The bad news is that each of these 250 need some kind of action.
  • Leveraged the wonderful WB-40 podcast WhatsApp group in the hunt for our next Head of Infrastructure and Operations. I’ve had so much value from the group over the years; there’s a lot of banter but people are so quick to go out of their way to help.
  • Took part in a couple of vendor meetings relating to key parts of our infrastructure that are underperforming. We have good relationships and agreed a plan between us that we have already started executing.
  • Met another vendor to get a technical overview of their cloud-enabled printing solution.
  • Spent some time with a newly-recruited peer to show them how we use LeanKit.
  • Had a half-hour ‘random coffee’ with someone from our office that I had never previously spoken to. We covered some interesting topics in our chat such as Social, Economic and Environmental business and how this will be balanced against other more traditional work in the future.
  • Attended the first school Full Governing Board meeting of the new academic year. I was voted in as Vice Chair again. It’s an honour to serve in the role, but I do need to spend some time this year on succession planning.
  • Took part in Herts for Learning’s Chair’s Strategic Information Briefing. The quality of support, insight and training that we get from HfL is superb, and I feel lucky that we have had a long and fruitful partnership with them. There was a massive amount of information passed on during the update which will take some time to digest. Managing Director Andrew de Csilléry presented HfL’s very strong anti-racism stance in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and quickly responded to comments in the meeting chat relating to everyone already having equality.
  • Took the younger boy to his football match on Sunday and ran the line. As the months get colder, it’s always better to have a job at a match than to just stand around with the spectators. We lost 10-1 against a team of giants, but the boys played well and the autumn sun was lovely.
  • Finally finished Imagine John Yoko, the big hardback coffee-table book that was released with the 50th anniversary Imagine album reissues. I grew up in Ascot, not far from the Tittenhurst Park property where the album was recorded and which features so heavily in the photos in the book. It’s a beautiful thing, with lots of detail on that little slice of time in John and Yoko’s life.
  • Loved the F1 Eifel GP. I’m not sure if it’s lockdown getting to me, but this year I seem to find myself paying attention to F1 practice sessions as well as qualifying and the race. The cars only being able to run for an hour on Saturday morning presented an interesting challenge and added to anticipation of the race.

Next week: Planning for a management offsite, thinking about the key deliveries for the remainder of the year, interviewing and a school governor Pay Committee meeting.

Monthnotes #84 — Milestones

Hectic. The past month has been busy and stressful, but also one that has made me stop and reflect. At the end of September, the IT infrastructure programme that I have been running for just over three years hit its final deadline. We cancelled the SLAs with our previous infrastructure supplier in both São Paulo and Beijing, and we are now running our own stack in the five cities that we operate. We have changed literally everything. When we started out I had no idea how we would approach the seemingly impossible work, let alone get to the finish. But we did it.

For the first time since March, I finally started missing being in an office. Not necessarily being in my regular office in London, but in our São Paulo and Beijing offices as we cut over to the new infrastructure. Partially, it was the early mornings and late nights. The physical work was carried out by local contractors, and multiple times over the past couple of weeks I have had to be up and at my laptop by 4am to coincide with their time on-site in Beijing, sometimes rolling into a long afternoon with the equivalent team in São Paulo. But mostly, I missed being present in those offices for the little things. When you’re making a major IT change it’s great to be in and amongst the staff, spotting where they are having trouble using the new equipment or giving hints and direction as to how to get the best out of the tools. At one point we were about to pull the plug on the old infrastructure and then found that three people were in the office still using it, something that would have been obvious to us if we were there.

The programme is still a long way from being done, but our ‘minimum viable office’ is now up and running everywhere and gives us a solid foundation to build upon. The metaphor I keep returning to is that the restaurant looks great and we’re serving fine meals, but there is a lot of work to be done behind the scenes in the kitchen. Nothing is on fire, and the sprinkler system isn’t drowning us, so we have time to catch our breath, take stock and decide what our next priorities are.

Over the past month, I:

  • Found myself at home alone, with everyone back at school.
  • Participated in a lot of school governor events: Full Governing Board and Finance Committee meetings, safeguarding and exclusions training courses, and a Herts for Learning Chairs’ Briefing.
  • Was elected as Vice-Chair again for the coming year. It’s a pleasure and an honour to serve in this role, but we do somehow need to get a solid succession plan in place.
  • Resumed our monthly IT Steering Committee. We are trying to pivot away from status updates and into more of a forward-looking strategic debate, but it hasn’t found its feet yet. I’ll keep trying.
  • Asked a member of my team to step up and take on a leadership role for our strategic data programme. I need to try and get my head up and look across our whole portfolio, which means the team taking on a bit more of the project and programme management. It felt like a weight off to be a participant in the steering committee meeting that I usually chair.
  • Delighted in seeing our São Paulo office be the first to move to a cloud-based Teams telephony platform. Given how prevalent Teams is in our day-to-day work, it is the natural place to put the ‘office’ phone lines, and they will now be available wherever our staff run the app.
  • Set up an informal, optional meeting twice a week for my peers and our CIO to check in with each other. A management team ‘water cooler’ where we can connect. It seems good so far, but we’ll need a few weeks to really understand if it is something that will stick.
  • Wrestled with our global support model, and specifically how we will cover one of our offices in a totally different time zone. We’re too small to justify having an ‘IT person’ either on-site or available every day, but having someone who just dips in and out is unlikely to work.
  • Sat through a vendor meeting where they just spoke at us for over an hour, not once asking for what we are looking for or seeking to understand our business. A complete masterclass in how not to do it, and an hour of my life that I will never get back.
  • Became a Salesforce Ranger, joining the ranks of literally thousands of people that have achieved this over the past month in our wider organisation.

  • Finished reading the annotated book of John Steinbeck’s diary that he kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.
  • I also listened to the audiobook of If I Could Tell You Just One Thing by Richard Reed, a founder of Innocent Drinks. He sourced the material for the book by asking lots of famous people for one piece of advice that they would like to pass on. Someone on Goodreads has posted an excellent review which summarises it well; in the chapter where he is asking Margaret Atwood for her words of advice she shreds the concept of the book by asking for more specifics on who the advice is for, and makes an excellent case as to why this matters.
  • After finishing the rather dry Platform Revolution I’ve been making my way through the much more enjoyable The Business of Platforms. The latter book has plenty of great examples of the success and failure of platform businesses, and is a very approachable take on the subject.
  • Got my bike back from our local bike shop and got back on the turbo trainer again. Running and cycling seem to utilise completely different leg muscles, so although I have maintained fitness I have still found my first few rides quite difficult. I’m going to try and maintain both running and cycling as winter draws in.
  • Saw our house extension finally get completed with new patio doors, an outdoor render and some outdoor motion-activated lights being installed. It’s all taken much longer than we had expected, but it’s great that we’re finally done.
  • Watched The World’s Toughest Race with the family across a few evenings. I had expected something as entertaining as the wonderful Race Across The World, but I found the whole thing strangely unsatisfying, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Too much Bear Grylls, too little emotional attachment between the viewer and the teams, and far too many participants to keep track of. In the last episode we started seeing teams that hadn’t been mentioned in any of the previous programmes. Bizarre.

Next week: With deadlines behind us, fighting the desire to relax with the reality of the work that still needs to be organised and delivered this year. (I feel like I need a holiday, but I also don’t want to waste any days I have on just being at home.) Keeping up-to-date with governor work, and continuing to recruit for the one key remaining management role in our team.

Weeknotes #83 — Network upgrade

As the the calendar turned to September it seemed as though Autumn arrived right on schedule. Temperatures have dropped, shades of gold and brown have started to creep into the leaves on the trees, and I have suddenly noticed how early sunset arrives.

Monday was spent enjoying our last public holiday in the UK before Christmas, so I had a four-day week ‘in the office’. My week off hadn’t felt like much of a break, probably because the two nights we had away were spent slightly on edge. It’s hard to relax during a global pandemic. Still, this squirrel came to check up on me on a regular basis throughout the week, which helped.

A week in which I…

  • Slotted back into work on Tuesday a little bleary-eyed, but didn’t take long to get going again. My first day was full to the brim with meetings so I had little chance to catch up with all of my emails and Teams messages, and this persisted for most of the week.
  • Got involved in a deep-dive for an issue with our sole on-premises shared drive that we are in the process of moving away from. Lots of our staff suddenly found themselves with errors when trying to access the server. We have a few leads but have not yet got to the root of the problem.
  • Prepped the materials and ran the project Steering Committee meeting for moving off of the shared drive. We’re on track to report that we have hit our first and most significant milestone on Monday, which is an amazing team effort.
  • Had an engineer come to my house to run some Cat6 Ethernet cable out the front of the building, up over the roof, down the rear and then up the garden to my office. Where I was previously getting around 10Mbps download speeds I am now getting 210Mbps. It took two hours and has already been transformative — I should have done it sooner.
  • Met with a company to discuss supporting our various telephony installations across our five global offices.
  • Stepped in to run our Change Approval Board meeting.
  • Tried to spend time in Salesforce Trailhead each day. Our company is pushing for as many staff to become ‘Rangers’ as possible. I need 50,000 points and 100 badges, and I’m currently on 6,575 and 26 respectively.
  • Arranged dates for our Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meetings for the coming school year. It’s difficult to get dates that fit everyone given the parameters of not being too close to other meetings, and taking place soon after the monthly finance admin visits.
  • Enjoyed a fun end-of-week team meeting where we were given a ‘little-known fact’ and then had to guess who in the team it applied to. It’s great to throw these things into the meetings occasionally to let off a bit of steam.
  • Arranged a visit from the company that built our garden decking and got them to re-fasten some of the boards that had expanded and bowed over the summer.
  • Saw our youngest boy start secondary school. He seemed to take it all in his stride. He’s with two or three of his best friends in his form group, so was very pleased on Friday evening.
  • Started a new kids’ football season with a short friendly match at the local Astro pitch. I ran the line, and had to re-acquaint myself with the offside rule. It was great to get back to some kind of normalcy, although I am pessimistic about how long it will last; there were three or four matches going on and I was the only person wearing a mask, with social distancing between the spectators being very limited. Come on people, make mask-wearing just something that you do now.
  • Watched a thrilling Italian Grand Prix and was overjoyed at Pierre Gasly’s win. He’s been through so much over the past year. To win in Italy with an Italian team is really something, despite the tifosi being absent.
  • Finished reading Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary. As a long-time reader and listener of Stratechery it didn’t give me any massive new insights, but I do like the way they organised their information and reasoning on platforms today. I have another couple of books lined up on the same topic which I’ll be starting soon.
  • Watched a couple of classic 80s films with the kids. They loved Coming To America (1988) (which is one of my favourites), but thought that Big Trouble In Little China (1986) was just ok. I had great memories of watching the latter film with my brothers when we were kids and finding it a wild adventure, but it now just seems full of plot holes, terrible acting and poor one-liners.

Next week: In the house on my own for the first time since March, with everyone else back at work and school. Focusing on trying to get as much of our Beijing IT infrastructure set up as possible, so expecting a few early morning meetings, starting with one on Monday. At least the commute is short right now.

Weeknotes #82 — Mathon

I spent Monday ‘at work’ to hand over the various in-progress technical projects to our CTO for the coming week, and then took the rest of the week off. I hadn’t had a break since Christmas and it was good to have a few days to think about other things. While I was away, the team worked with our on-site partner in São Paulo to establish our ‘minimum viable office’ of SD-WAN sockets, a server, a switch and some wireless access points. If staff return to the office they will now be able to seamlessly connect and get things done.

A week in which I…

  • Took some time to catch up with a few school governance items. The government guidance for the full opening of schools in September took around 90 minutes to read, but it was good to go through this ahead of reviewing our own school’s risk assessment for reopening. The staff continue to do amazing work. Things will be very different when children go back, but it will be good to have some degree of normality again. I really hope it lasts.
  • Spent two nights away at a rented house in Mathon, near Malvern in Herefordshire. We were there with my wife’s parents and one of her brothers to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. My wife had picked the house as there was enough space inside for us to keep physically apart, with different lounges, kitchens and toilets to go with the many bedrooms. It was lovely to see and spend time with everyone, but I still found being inside very uncomfortable — mask on, sitting away from everyone. The first night was great as we all sat outside and ate home-made pizzas cooked in our new oven, but it rained for most of the second day which really limited what we could do.

  • Took a wander up British Camp in the rain for a couple of hours and marvelled at the views. It always amazes me how little vertical distance you need to cover in order for the climate to change. As we started our walk down, a strange fog covered the area which muffled the sounds we were making.

  • Carried on with running in place of being on my bike. Unfortunately I forgot to take my heart rate monitor away with me, so my efforts don’t show up in my training log on Strava. Only three or four weeks before I get my bike fixed so that I can start training on the turbo again.
  • Missed out on Album Club #114 as we were away, but I caught up with Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows in my own time. I used to read about the band in NME back in the day, but never listened to them, so this was a new experience for me.
  • Caught up with my personal and governor emails, getting my backlog down from around 1,000 to about 50 in a few hours. I now need to do the work contained in those remaining 50.
  • Swept out the gutter on our garden studio and set up a GutterGrid system which will hopefully mean that I don’t need to do it again.

Next week: Back to the race against our deadline to get our Beijing ‘minimum viable office’ up and running, and completing the first phase of our unstructured data migration project. Plus the first day of secondary school for our youngest boy.

Weeknotes #81 — Rangers

A week of trying to ‘dig in’ and getting things moved along and prepped as much as I can for when I will be ‘out of the office’ for a few days next week.

A week in which I…

  • Got a contract in place with our local IT support vendor in São Paulo, ready to rack and build our new ‘minimum viable office’ setup next week.
  • Agreed that the same vendor will also be in to get our new desktop equipment — monitors, webcams, and wireless keyboards and mice — onto staff desks in the same week. We’re not anticipating that anyone will be back there soon but it will be great to be ready for them.
  • Agreed in principle the ‘minimum viable office’ work for our Beijing office with our local IT support vendor there. Spent some time drawing up the ‘after’ version of our rack diagrams for the implementation document.
  • Had a visit from a third company to get a quote for hard-wiring my garden office back to my router. Looking forward to getting this in place in the next couple of weeks so my Teams calls no longer have to have Wi-Fi battles with Xbox game updates.
  • Met with the CEOs of our Dubai and São Paulo offices to go through the current IT status and plan for the next couple of months.
  • Reviewed a presentation by one of our team members on how they will be pushing Salesforce Trailhead over the next few months. The whole company is making a big push to upskill as many of our ~55,000 employees as possible and a significant number of our most senior leaders in the firm are already ‘Rangers’ with 50,000 points each.
  • Continued to support teams and individuals with the work to move 5TB of data from a shared drive up to Teams/SharePoint Online. We only have a week to go and things are going well with surprisingly few issues.
  • Ran a Steering Committee meeting for the migration project where the sponsor reiterated their commitment to a hard end date. I now need to spell out what the impact will be to the wider team so that there are no surprises for anyone when we close down access to the old drive.
  • Reviewed another batch of CVs for a senior technical leadership position that we are recruiting for. Barely any of them were suitable — we’re after a person who can lead and inspire a small geographically-dispersed team, who can argue a point with our CIO and CTO, credibly present to our business leaders, and also roll their sleeves up and do the work themselves when necessary.
  • Attended a presentation on the firm’s interim results. The company continues to do well but you can’t escape the clouds on the horizon related to the pandemic.
  • Attended a webinar on options for integration LeanKit with JIRA. LeanKit is really embedded in our team but the business unit/company dashboards all use JIRA so we need to find a way to keep them in sync.
  • Started to use WhatsApp on my desktop to get in contact with some old friends and colleagues. I’ve been reconnecting with a different person each day. Sometimes a conversation sparks and sometimes it doesn’t, but I feel that I’m scratching a long-neglected ‘keeping in touch’ itch.
  • Continued my journey through John Steinbeck’s bibliography by devouring the second half of The Grapes of Wrath, including a blissful 90 minutes of reading outside at our local cricket club while my youngest son attended practice. Sitting outside reading a book is sublime, and I need to do it more.
  • Continued our round robin of family movies with The Last Samurai (2003) and Titanic (1997). I’d forgotten the Samurai film — it’s fine, but doesn’t linger for very long in my memory. I don’t think I’d seen Titanic since it was released in the cinema and it was great to revisit it, the boys loved it. It was interesting to see it so soon after The Abyss (1989) as so many of the early ‘exploring the wreck’ scenes could have come from either film.

Next week: A day ‘in the office’ for a handover to our CTO, and then a few days off for the first time this year.

Weeknotes #80 — Monthnotes, again…

I’ve found it difficult to put the time aside over the past four weeks to write up any weeknotes. The days and weeks whizz by one after the other and are filled with stuff. Sunday night rolls around and it’s very hard to settle down to write while my eyes are falling out of my head and a sweet song of sleep drifts down the stairs from my bed to my ears.

Big events from the past month are where I…

  • Gave into the fact that we had to buy a new car. Being offered £50 for part-exchange of our old one at the dealership proved the point. It’s been lovely owning an old jalopy that we cared little about for the past few years. It meant that we could offer an “Oh, don’t worry about it” when a neighbour admitted to reversing into our car door. The whole process of buying a replacement filled me with dread — it’s a classic paradox of choice, where too many options made it almost impossible to get started. We were fortunate to have a friend to guide us in the right direction and now have something that we need to give a little more respect to.
  • Visited my wife’s parents for her dad’s 80th birthday. I wasn’t happy to stay anywhere local so we spent five hours in the car there and back, but had a lovely time in their garden. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas, and it was great to be with them all again.
  • Continued to push forward with all of the key projects within my team, covering:
    • New telephone systems in New York, São Paulo and Beijing, including decisions on whether we’ll need physical handsets in the future
    • A ‘minimum viable office’ LAN/WLAN/SD-WAN network setup and desktop equipment in two of these offices
    • Agreeing a support model and vendor for Asia
    • Coordinating a massive data migration from an on-premises shared drive to Teams/SharePoint Online, including training all of our staff in how to work with the new tools
  • …as well as many smaller initiatives that we are running. We are up against some hard deadlines for some of this work, and every day I am cycling through the list, looking to see if there is anything else we can be doing to inch them forward.
  • Interviewed a number of people for two key roles in our team where I will be a peer of the successful candidates. Interviewing over video calls really loses something compared to meeting candidates in person, but we’re getting used to it.
  • Ran a number of Steering Committee meetings for our function and my projects, all of which went well. I asked the question of one of the committees whether the meetings were useful and giving us what we needed, which prompted a very rich discussion. As a result, we’ll be changing the format for the next one in September.
  • Attended a splendid virtual summer ‘Picnic on the Green’ organised by our wonderful Marketing and Communications colleagues. Staff around the globe were sent beautiful food hampers that corresponded to their dietary preferences and time of day of the event in their country. We even had treats for our pets! We all met up on Teams, had an interesting talk from a brilliant presenter while we ate, took part in a magic show, and then heard some great music to finish things off. There was so much thought and love that went into this, and it really showed.

  • Glowed with pride as our CTO presented the details of our IT platform to the wider firm, with over 500 IT colleagues joining the live session. The building blocks of our setup are simple, and hide a lot of thought that was put into how we would make it great.
  • Embarked on Salesforce Trailhead training along with thousands of other people across our firm. The gamification of learning really seems to be working, particularly when the push is being encouraged from the top of the company.
  • Picked up some books on platform businesses, as this seems to be the buzzphrase of the moment. I’ve been grateful for my Stratechery subscription and have been digging through old posts on the topic, as well as watching his excellent talk from 2018 on platforms vs aggregators.
  • Continued to exercise regularly, but have now incorporated the odd day off when I feel that I need it. I’ve tried to add running back into my schedule alongside the cycling on the turbo trainer and I think this is doing me some good. If I run after too much time off I end up walking around like Clint Eastwood for days afterwards, so I’m keep to keep it up. I’ve also worked out how to set up a cycling plan in TrainerRoad where there is no particular goal in mind, and now have sessions mapped out for the next twelve months. I can’t believe I used to regularly unsubscribe from TrainerRoad due to under-use; keeping fit is definitely a massive upside to the lockdown.
  • Had fun with Cameo, bringing a surprise birthday message to a friend via James Buckley, a special ‘Hooooo!’ to my twin brothers via ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, and a message of congratulations to our department head from Jody Watley. All of their faces lit up in every case, and they were well worth it.
  • Smiled as I watched my eldest boy take up a newspaper round. It has brought back so many memories for me. Getting himself up to work every day at 6:30am is good discipline, and the money will soon add up.
  • Had a couple of visits at home from networking firms, looking for a solution to get a better network signal out to my home office. The first proposal suggested point-to-point Wi-Fi and the second is for an Ethernet cable that would run around the perimeter of my house. I’m waiting to get a third opinion and quote from another company in the next week or so.

Next week: My last full week before a few days off. With a technical colleague away, I’m on my own in trying to close out some quotes for installations in São Paulo and Beijing so that we keep our momentum.

Weeknotes #78–79 — Light and shade

A fortnight of light and shade. My downbeat, frustrated mood from a couple of weeks back carried on to the following week and I just couldn’t shake it. Work weighed me down, I seemed feel miserable and couldn’t find much joy in anything. But for no obvious reason, everything felt so light and breezy during this past week. I am not sure which one of the two ‘modes of being’ is more accurate — should I be stressing about my many impending deadlines or should I be assuming that it will all just work out ok?

The only thing I can think of that contributes to my mood is that I struggle with the weeks where I am in back-to-back meetings for a number of days in a row, feeling that my time is not my own. The pressure and frustration seems to crank up with each meeting. To combat this, on Monday mornings I now religiously block out whatever free time I have that week with some ‘keep free’ appointments, minimising the number of late-breaking meetings that go into the diary.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Saw our team start and finish a rollout of new laptops to all of our staff in China. It was an incredible job, taking staff through the Autopilot/Intune processes and then giving them the ‘white glove’ setup treatment despite language and time zone barriers. An incredible achievement to get it done in just over a week.
  • Was grateful that our Beijing office allowed external contractors to enter once again. We’ve now got our new-spec monitors on each of the desks, and the local contractor has carried out a server room audit for us.
  • Also managed to complete the server room audit in our São Paulo office. It’s now back with us to check that we understand the findings, and to plan the deployment of our new equipment.
  • Made a decision to go with a local vendor for a new telephone system in São Paulo. The implementation cost difference between the local solution and an alternative is too good to pass up. The beauty of it all being cloud-based is that if things don’t work out, we can easily change it.
  • Completed a review of our proposed new telephone system in Beijing. Of the five countries on our rollout, no two telephony setups are the same from a technology perspective, and the Beijing one is in some ways the most complex. We’re not quite there yet in terms of signing off on the work but I am hoping we can get it done early in the coming week.
  • Road tested a training course that we plan to roll out to most of our staff. Half of it is on functionality within Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online, and the remainder is on how we intend to use the tools in our specific setting. I’m very impressed by the trainer and am hopeful it will give people what they need for the upcoming data migration project that we plan to involve them in.
  • Relieved some pressure on myself by moving a couple of our upcoming Steering Committee meetings around. Sometimes I forget about the amount of control I have over events.
  • Attended a few more town-hall style work events. We have a brilliant colleague who gave everyone a brief masterclass on how to present yourself well on videoconferences. Updates from the revenue-generating side of the business were also very good; the idea to do them has come as a result of the pandemic but we should have started them years ago.
  • Spent time thinking about the structure of the team, and looking at the key roles that we will be hiring for over the coming weeks.
  • Heard the sad news that a colleague I worked with briefly many years ago had passed away.
  • Attended our final school Governing Board meeting of the year. The pandemic has made it feel like the end of term has come around even more quickly than usual.
  • Continued with the bike training, although I am incorporating a few more rest days into the schedule now. Abandoned my planned weekend turbo rides in favour of a run with my wife, a bike ride to Savill Garden with my 13-year-old son and a ride home on my own, all in the same day. I ended up with that lovely feeling of being a bit physically broken at the end of it, hoovering up food and looking forward to climbing into bed. It was really interesting to see on Strava the difference in ‘effort’ (and presumably therefore, benefits) between time on the turbo and time out on the road.

  • Saw our youngest boy turn 11 the day after he left primary school. It’s a strange feeling to know that they have both left primary school behind them now and we’ll soon be a house full of GCSEs and A-Levels before we know it. It was such a shame that the end of term was curtailed for him — yes, no SATS, but also no residential trip or social events. I hope he has enough fun experiences in his life ahead of him to make up for it.

  • Watched the Dacorum Sports Network awards for local schools. Our youngest son and his friends won a few different categories and it was lovely to see their football coach, one of the dads from school, get recognised for his contribution. Sadly the Zoom call was set up in such a way that it let people draw on the presentation; I am guessing that parents wandered off during the call and their young children ended up doodling on what they were watching.
  • Delivered a couple of special presents for friends, via James Buckley and Jody Watley.
  • Have been loving the return of the F1 to the TV. It’s so lovely to have the qualifying and the race to look forward to. I’m part of a random ‘F1 Geeks’ WhatsApp group and someone has added a friend to the channel who used to be a senior member of an F1 team. It’s been amazing to get their take on a whole bunch of different things.
  • Met up with friends on a couple of different occasions for a socially-distanced chat. I’m still pretty terrified of catching the bug, and it feels like it takes a lot of mental strength to get together right now. I definitely have FOGO, and think I am an outlier amongst my social groups.
  • Finished reading John Steinbeck’s The Long Valley. Definitely not my favourite of his books so far, and the short story collection format almost felt like a step backwards, with the clear exception of The Red Pony.
  • Continued reading Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans. I started years ago and put the book down for some reason. There are a lot of tips and advice to take in, but some of it seems to be sticking. Reading books in an alternating fiction/non-fiction way seems to be a good balance for now.

Next week: Another Steering Committee meeting, planning our next steps in Sao Paulo and Beijing in order to beat our deadline, and the first week of the school holidays.

Weeknotes #77 — Worn out

A really tough week where I felt completely drained right from the start, and this time it didn’t improve as the days went on. My emotions were sapped. Partially it felt like I had caught some kind of bug but I also wondered whether I had just been overdoing it with all of the bike training and was just generally worn out. I had a completely exercise-free day on Friday and felt much better for it afterwards. I had so many meetings that it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I felt that my time was my own again.

A week in which I…

  • Took part in a technical workshop for our new phone system setup in New York. It’s good to finally get this one properly underway and to have some next actions written down.
  • Met with our on-the-ground IT partner in Dubai to review a long list of changes and ‘snagging’ items that we need to tackle.
  • Kicked off the rollout of new laptops to staff in our Beijing office. This is our final site for our rollout, and we’re doing it one year after finishing London, our first site.
  • Received a last minute proposal for a telephony solution in São Paulo that looks too good to be true, so I’m doing all of the things I can to make sure it that it isn’t the case before we dive in.
  • Took part in a number of preliminary discussions with different departments in London on their upcoming move of documents (‘unstructured data’) into a new platform.
  • Reviewed the materials for a new training course on the unstructured data project that we plan to roll out to our London team.
  • Had a catch-up with our key IT partner in London. We hadn’t spoken in a while and it was good to get aligned again.
  • Admired our CTO as he took part in a Computerworld panel discussion on data centre modernisation.
  • Agreed to move some of our key meetings to the afternoons so that our New York team members can participate. I’m really looking forward to them becoming a more integrated part of what we do.
  • Basked in a little bit of internal glory as our team were given an award at the Group-wide IT awards event. I’ve loved working in this team for the past few years and we’ve really achieved some great things to make a big difference to the organisation.
  • Found the ‘build’ phase of TrainerRoad really challenging, although I do realise that this is probably the point. I’m almost halfway through this phase and have a low-intensity ‘recovery week’ next week to look forward to before it ramps up again.- Spent some time at the weekend doing minutes again. I really need to try and work out how to get these done during the week.
  • Attended a National Governance Association webinar on what school governing boards need to start thinking about and doing ahead of the autumn term.
  • Called Virgin Media to start a new Sky Sports subscription ahead of the F1 season. Managed to negotiate an 18-month contract at a reduced rate with a new ‘V6’ TV box thrown in for free. It’s always better to phone them up. Activating the box was a little bit painful; I had to diagnose that my Pi-Hole was preventing it from reaching a URL that seemed to only be known to the Virgin Media DNS servers. I put the box to good use over the weekend through enjoying the Austrian Grand Prix; it’s so great to have the racing back again.
  • Enjoyed my amazing prize for winning our team quiz night last week. My family and I have made light work of this over the past few days!

  • Finished reading Biko by Donald Woods. I’d had it on my bookshelf for a long time and was drawn to it as the Black Lives Matter protests got some momentum. A big chunk of the book is taken up with what happened at the inquest into Biko’s death, which seemed less important when reading it 42 years after it was published. The old, racist, South African government is now consigned to museums and memory. What I did find interesting was his philosophy of Black Consciousness:

Biko saw white racism in South Africa as the totality of the white power structure. He argued that under apartheid, white people not only participated in the oppression of black people but were also the main voices in opposition to that oppression. He thus argued that in dominating both the apartheid system and the anti-apartheid movement, white people totally controlled the political arena, leaving black people marginalised. He believed white people were able to dominate the anti-apartheid movement because of their access to resources, education, and privilege. He nevertheless thought that white South Africans were poorly suited to this role because they had not personally experienced the oppression that their black counterparts faced.

  • For my sanity and emotional wellbeing I need to intersperse some fiction into my reading. I’m continuing the journey through Steinbeck’s works that I started last year by picking up The Long Valley.

Next week: Trying to focus on those things that will make or break us in terms of hitting our agreed deadlines.

Weeknotes #76 — Unlearned

A really busy week that got more enjoyable and less stressful as it wore on. I seemed to get less tired towards Friday, probably rejuvenated by the falling temperatures from the soaring highs in the middle of the week.

A week in which I…

  • Only remembered that I was due to start the week with an 8:30am meeting when a Teams notification popped up on my phone and I was just out of the shower. I joined the Teams call very carefully, making sure video was turned off. Getting dressed and picking my moment to brush my teeth were a bit of a struggle but my colleagues were sympathetic to me. I felt like I was on the back foot all day after that. I then overslept on Tuesday and could only manage half of my scheduled turbo trainer session, but this bonus period in bed seemed to do me some good.
  • Started to think that the week was against me when we had a couple of micro power blips at home. It turns out that the Pi-hole running as a Docker image on my NAS drive doesn’t auto-restart if the NAS ungracefully shuts down. Whatever cumulative speed-saving the Pi-hole had bought us from sucking away all of the Internet adverts and trackers evaporated in the course of the morning while I diagnosed the problem. I’ve now got the secondary router DNS pointing at something internal, so another power outage won’t take down the whole house.
  • Reviewed and agreed on next steps on some key aspects of our network security architecture.
  • Attended a kick-off of the project to move our New York office over to Teams telephony. We’ve bought the our licences and can’t wait to put them to good use.
  • Was asked to give a brief whole company update on a critical project that I am running. I had a couple of days to prepare. I like to think that one day I will be the ‘slide deck full of nothing but amusing photos or phrases no longer than three words’ guy, but I’m not there yet. I tried my best to make a dry subject a little more engaging, and from the feedback I got I think it went well. (I’m assuming that if it was terrible, nobody would have said anything. At least, not where I could have heard them.)
  • Ran the steering committee meeting for the same project. Things have started to drift a little from our original plan, partially due to our underestimation of the duration of work with a key vendor and partially because we’ve uncovered a lot of complexity that we hadn’t realised was there. We have two months to get the first phase of the work completed which is now looking increasingly difficult.
  • Found that a lot of my 1:1s didn’t focus on the work very much. I think this is ok — I get the feeling that people really do need to heave a big sigh and let off some steam right now.
  • Tweaked my already complex email filters a little bit so I can get to be even more efficient. I’m finally resigned to never ever reaching Inbox Zero again, but I do need to make it easy on myself to not miss anything critical.
  • Attended our first quarterly review with our backup vendor. It was a great start and covered all of the key things as well as giving me some food for thought about the needs of our sites outside of London. We need to re-validate our RPO and RTO against the architecture that we have in place.
  • Took delivery of a new sofa bed for our new family room. We ordered it about six months ago and it got lost/delayed in the pandemic. Finally we can start to make a bit more use of the space.
  • Enjoyed yet another Tuesday evening of F1 2019 with my friends. A decent showing, with a race win and some good placings. I’m also getting much better at calling it quits at a reasonable time so I don’t get to bed too late.
  • Spent an evening online taking part in a quiz which a couple of our team had organised. Even after another long day of video meetings, it was lovely to let our hair down and be a bit silly with everyone. One of my colleagues and I ended up going down to a tie break which I won — I’m not sure what the prize is yet but hopefully it is something we can share.
  • Really enjoyed Album Club #112 even though the host’s choice was an album I already own. It was lovely to have an excuse to sit back, relax, turn the volume up and luxuriate in the beautiful songs.
  • Finished the latest Learned League in the relegation zone. I had the least number of correct answers in the whole league, so I feel lucky that I wasn’t in last place. In the previous league I had spent some time at the top of the table before finishing in the upper half, so I am not sure what went wrong. Maybe this extended period of lockdown is making me less smart.
  • Had a lovely weekend walk with Mat and his dog. We always have so much to talk about, and we rarely take the time out to spend with each other. It’s been over 30 years since we met and given we only live a few doors away we really need to try and see each other more when we can.
  • Saw my parents for the first time in almost half a year, for a barbecue in their back garden. My eldest boy and I rode over there on our bikes, which was his longest ride yet at around 33 miles. He did fantastically well. There were no hugs and kisses at my parents’ house, but it really brought home to me how difficult social distancing is, particularly when sudden downpours forced us indoors on multiple occasions. The boys loved playing with their new table-tennis table and it was fun to do something that felt a little bit normal once more.

Next week: Hoping I can keep my Friday mood all through the coming week. We’re definitely entering an exceptionally busy period at work with three or four major projects all needing to be completed by August/September. I hope we can rise to the challenge.

Weeknotes #75 — Taking on water

An ever-exhausting week, like bailing out a flooding boat where at some point on or around Friday I dropped the bucket and sank. The final few video calls of the week were like an out-of-body experience as Friday evening crept over me. I could feel my mouth moving but I was barely stringing a sentence together.

I cannot shake the feeling that I have less hours for everything than I ever had, despite having cut out almost three hours of daily commuting from my schedule. The weekends don’t feel like an opportunity to recharge, probably because my surroundings are the same, and I really want to get on with the list of various domestic jobs so that I feel like I’m making a contribution.

A week in which I…

  • Was home alone with my 13-year-old for most of it, with both my wife and our 10-year-old being back at their respective schools. He worked in the morning, we met up for lunch and then he’s been socialising with his friends on Xbox for most of the afternoon.
  • Marvelled as LeanKit continued to pay dividends for the time I’ve spent in setting it up. Our all-team meeting on Monday morning was driven completely by walking through the cards on the board.
  • Kept trying to move forward with so many big projects that I’m running in parallel. Of the five cities that we look after, there is only one where we don’t have a major active project on the go that I’m directly accountable for. The team are working really well, with a few short check-ins leading to a lot of work being done that is completely in-line with what we need, and people are picking things up without being asked. Still, I have to keep going through the list and asking myself whether there is anything I can do to move each one forward; I get to the end and then start again from the top.
  • Couldn’t believe that after 20 years in IT, I approached some business training sessions under the mistaken belief that we would be able to have a brief run-through and then skip off into the sunset with everyone being confident and competent in knowing what they had to do. The sessions were on the legal and compliance aspects of Microsoft 365, and I can now see that they are the start of a very long conversation.
  • Agreed a lightweight process with my peers and the CIO for launching new initiatives in the department. Not much science, but enough of a check-in to make sure we are all committing to something before we start it.
  • Took a big sigh when we found out that significant parts of our Beijing project has to be put on hold again due to rising COVID-19 numbers. There are still some tasks we can get on with such as purchasing equipment, but the in-office work is paused. We have to just sit and wait until we’re allowed to proceed again.
  • Was excited to attend a few new events organised at work which bring everyone together in our part of the company. Instead of running them as moderated webinar-style events, they were deliberately much more of an ‘everyone join as equals’ affair and it actually worked really well, despite having just shy of 200 people join. It seems that people have got savvy with the tools after so much remote work during lockdown! The content was very good and it felt like the organisation carried a new level of motivation away with them. I really hope that these events continue when more of us are together in the same place again.
  • Continued the fourth week of our ‘Random Coffees’ initiative. People seem to love it and the feedback has been overwhelming. We now have 70 people signed up for a randomly-paired chat with a colleague each week. My catch-up was with our Head of Risk and it was great to speak to him again after all these weeks. Hearing stories of people in lockdown at home with very young children, or with them going through what should be critical exams that they had been working towards, makes me realise once again how lucky I am that we fall somewhere in the middle.
  • Learned about how Salesforce fits into our business workflow, through a talk given by one of our team members.
  • Should start thinking about personal goals again, to feed the HR system. I don’t know anyone who loves, or even enjoys, this process. When I get some time to think I really want to work out how I can nudge the system towards OKRs instead of individual goals.
  • Had to spend time at the weekend writing up minutes for one of my steering committees. During the hectic week it never feels like the next most important thing to do, so I end up saving it for the weekend. I need to get out of this habit.
  • Reviewed the revised risk assessment for the re-opening of school. I continue to be awed by our amazing staff, who have put an incredible effort in to get everything working. Having seen the impact on my 10-year-old, I’m in no doubt that opening up school to more children is the right thing to do, even though it means that the ones who were previously back get less days in.
  • Spent some time with colleagues talking about Black Lives Matter and what their experiences and viewpoints are. I am very fortunate to work with such a diverse range of people, many of whom have had such a different experience to me. I wonder how long it will be before boards are asked to report on pay gaps from an ethnicity perspective in the same way that they have had to do between women and men?
  • Started reading Donald Woods’ Biko. I’ve had a second-hand copy of the book for ages, and now seemed a good a moment as any to get started. It was published just a couple of years after I was born and it is amazing to look at the transformation that has happened in South Africa during that time.
  • Started work on a presentation on Ride 999, which took place just over five years ago. I want to turn it into a short talk that I can give in our weekly team meeting at work. There are so many photos and so many memories; it’s going to be all about the editing.
  • Glowed with pride on Tuesday when a ramp test showed that my FTP had made a decent jump. Great news in that the training has been paying off, but bad news in that future rides will be tougher. The rest of the week was fine until I got to Saturday, where I just couldn’t handle the terrifyingly-named Spanish Needle -3. My legs flooded, my heart rate jumped through the roof, and I couldn’t go on. I made up for it by attempting (and also aborting) another ride before going out on the road for the first time since December, with my son.

  • Had a couple of house upgrades with blinds being installed in the new rooms, and a modern NAS drive to replace my almost out-of-support model.

Next week: Dreading the hectic week ahead. Another project steering committee to prepare for and host, rolling out laptops in China, kicking off our telephony project in New York, Album Club, an office quiz night, a presentation to everyone in our part of the company across six cities, and trying to keep all of the wheels on a myriad of wagons.

Weeknotes #74 — Monthnotes

The weeks have turned into a month. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a quarter of a year since I went into the office. Life is so different now. The country seems to have moved into a weird phase where nobody seems to quite know what they should and shouldn’t be doing. I’m still keeping myself at home as much as I can — I have taken the car out for two short drives in three months, and haven’t been inside a single shop in that time — but my wife has gone back to work at her school and our youngest boy just finished his first week back. TV, newspapers and social media are filled with images of people in groups, whether out socialising or at the many Black Lives Matter protests, which seems to normalise being together again. The whole ridiculous Dominic Cummings affair seemed to be the turning point. I am guessing that a combination of the government messaging falling apart in order to save him, plus the length of time that people have been told to stay at home, has meant that the pressure in the system is now being let out. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that there’s still a pandemic out there, with infections and deaths still occurring. I’ve bought some face masks in order to give me some protection when I do go out, and also to do my bit in trying to normalise wearing them. I hope we don’t see a resurgence of coronavirus cases in a couple of weeks’ time, but I get the feeling that people are resigned to it.

Work has been very intense over the past month. The adjustment to everyone working from home meant that our technology rollouts in São Paulo and Beijing have been delayed and are now taking place in parallel, with us driving the work remotely instead of being there in person. Added to that we have picked up more urgent projects to complete. I spend so much of my week in meetings that I find myself ‘defensive-diarying’ each Monday morning, blocking out any free time in the coming week so people think twice before adding more meetings in. I think it’s always been like this, but I used to give myself focus time by staying late in the office until seven, eight or sometimes even ten o’clock in order to get stuff done. We all get together as a family for dinner at six-thirty now, so that time has gone. I love being able to eat with the family every day, but I do struggle to carve out that time for ‘deep work’.

I spent a good couple of weeks getting our portfolio of work in order. We have around 140 ‘projects’, of which we are executing around 25 or so — which is probably too many. The more I use LeanKit the more I love it; the tool seems to let me do 90% of the things I need to in terms of ‘seeing’ and working with our entire portfolio. We now have our day-to-day tasks on one board, the portfolio on another, risks in a matrix in a different board and one more to manage a pipeline of internal talks that we hold each Wednesday. Having got things in order, I’ve been turning my attention back to executing on the things we need to deliver. We have some very hard deadlines coming up, and it’s going to be tough to meet them with everything being implemented in time.

This past week we had a department meeting where our whole team were given the opportunity to reflect on the best and worst things of the past three months. It was interesting to hear everybody talk about things they don’t normally get the opportunity to say. Despite being short of time, which I expect I will continue to feel until my time on this planet is up, I feel extremely lucky in so many ways. We’re all well. We have a wonderful house and we each have space to work and focus away from the rest of the family, and can come together when we want to. I have a job that, for now at least, is not at immediate risk of going away. I can do my job completely from home. I don’t feel as though we don’t deserve to be happy right now, but I also appreciate that there is a lot of luck and circumstance involved in where we find ourselves. We have friends who have been furloughed, others who are going through a redundancy process and one old friend who has been given a horrible medical diagnosis. We really can’t take anything for granted.

I need to get back into the habit of writing these weeknotes, and blog posts, more regularly. I love getting things down but somehow I usually find myself at the end of a Sunday night, with everyone else already up in bed, and the start of the next week is just around the corner. I’ve ready many types of weeknotes, but Ton Zijlstra’s look like the gold standard — a short, sharp summary of what’s been going on and a few highlights to look back on.

Some highlights from the past month:

  • Tuesday night has very firmly become gaming night with a few of my close friends from school. F1 2019 is the game of choice right now and it’s brilliant; even if you crash out of the game early on it’s still fun to watch everyone else compete. I’ve not talked to my friends so often in years, and it has been lovely to reconnect.
  • I’ve never been so fit in my life. Since we locked down in mid-March I’ve been on the turbo trainer or out for a run almost every day. Last month I hit the milestone of having ridden 10,000 miles on my bike and have clocked up 1,025 miles this year alone, all of which have been indoors. It’s how I start every day, and would probably be the biggest thing that I would miss if I had to go back to the office on a regular basis.

  • I’ve not found much time to contribute much as a school governor outside of our scheduled meetings. How I managed to do this while also travelling into London I have no idea, as the time available for it seems to have evaporated. Our headteacher and everyone involved in working or volunteering for the school have been doing an incredible job through the pandemic — it is a thankless task at the best of times — and must be incredibly difficult to juggle the needs and health of everyone concerned, particularly when the country has such a poor government. I have so much admiration for the work they continue to do.
  • I’m determined to finish the jobs around the house that I’ve been putting off for years — completing the scanning of all of our old paperwork, and digitising our DVDs with a cheap optical drive so that we can watch them again. If I don’t do these things now while I am at home all the time, I’ll never do them. Good progress is being made on both fronts.
  • Watched lots of films with the family. We have a good ‘round robin’ system in place with everyone getting a choice. Everyone looks forward to it, particularly when we get one of the many takeaways we’ve been enjoying, on the premise that we’re keeping local businesses going.
  • Worked on closing down my company now that I am a permanent employee again. These things seem to take ages to do, no matter how simple the setup is.
  • Had my second lockdown haircut. There really is no limit to my wife’s talents.

  • Spent a lot of time exploring Bandcamp and finding some wonderful new artists to listen to. I’m much more trigger-happy in buying digital downloads and vinyl than I have been in the past, given how difficult it was for artists to make money even prior to gigs drying up as part of the lockdown.

Next week: Hoping to be back into a writing routine again.

Weeknotes #73 — Language matters

A short working week where all of the meetings were compressed into four days. I’ve been hearing a lot of people on podcasts talking about how exhausting it is to be on video calls all day, and I’ve really been feeling it this week. It’s interesting trying to work out why it seems more draining than usual given that I used to spend hours on video calls before lockdown; I can’t quite put my finger on it, although there are many theories starting to emerge. I managed to attend a couple of video meetups in the early evening, which were both very insightful but added to the length of the video day.

We had Friday off for the delayed early May bank holiday that was paired up with the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Neighbours in our street were planning to have picnics and other celebrations in their front gardens which I initially approached with my typical cynicism. Maybe I’ve just been worn down over recent years, but for me, thoughts of VE Day were wrapped up with this mythology of how brilliant and exceptional we are as a nation. I remember my grandad telling me how he felt terrible to have medals for fighting and didn’t want them; he kept them hidden away and not once got them out to show me. The European Union was partly a response to not wanting to continue the horrendous events that went before. I felt that people who celebrated events such like VE Day the loudest were actually the extreme Brexity types who are the closest to the fascists that were defeated at the time. But as the week wore on, I came to realise that there is a very big difference between Victory in Europe versus Victory over Europe. Language matters. The celebration is actually about the liberation of many countries from fascism and not how one country beat another.

Inspired by Ton Zijlstra, I started to once again keep a ‘day log’ of notes throughout the week. Without knowing it as such, I had kept one for the first couple of years of working independently but somewhere along the way I stopped the habit. As usual, the best way to go about doing something like this is to just dive in. At the moment my notes about the day are mixed up with more detailed meeting notes which may not be the best approach, but it does mean that there is minimal friction for note-taking.

A week in which I…

  • Agreed a strategy for the remnants of our old corporate network beyond the end of the contract in a few months time. Lots of work to make this happen.
  • Started to review quotes for the bill of materials for our Beijing office. We’re still waiting for one more before moving forward with the purchasing.
  • Agreed to go forward with a telephony migration project in New York, and met a supplier who may be able to help us in São Paulo.
  • Reviewed a whole host of domain names that we once used and need to take responsibility for. Lining up a conversation with our Marketing team on domain squatting and typosquatting.
  • Had videoconferences with supplier teams who are in the office in both Beijing and New York. Talking to the Beijing team felt joyous, like going back in time to when people could all gather together, but speaking with people in the New York office just raised my heart rate.
  • Said goodbye to a senior member of our team who is leaving to take up a fantastic new role within the company. It’s sad for us, but great for her. There are big shoes to fill.
  • Continued to do battle with my email. I feel like like I’m at the at the end of a conveyor belt on a building site with only a tin cup and an hour a day to move the dirt hitting me.
  • Met with a vendor about a budgeting tool that they offer to their clients. I’ve been through a similar process before and am very skeptical, as it was hours of effort for data that we couldn’t really compare with other organisations. But at the very least, it will be useful to say that we have actually done some kind of benchmarking.
  • Got incredible quick feedback from our school’s financial consultant on our proposed budget. The support we are getting is excellent.
  • Got on the turbo trainer every day. I completed my programme on TrainerRoad and started another. I’ve not been running for a while now as I’m not keen on navigating around everyone else who is outside of the house.
  • Tried my hand at some DIY, trying to fix our recently-relocated patio doors which are incredibly hard to close. A phone call to my dad and a little bit of YouTube helped. The doors are ever so slightly easier to close now, but we’ll need the builders to have a proper look at it when they are able to return.
  • Attended an Agnostic Agile meetup on how to Inspect and Adapt Your Career with Jeff Gothelf. The content was really good, and reminded me of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud in terms of doing favours for your network and giving things away for free.

  • Participated in an OKR workshop run by Peter Kappus for ‘friends of the WB-40 podcast’. A really interesting session which helped focus my mind for a bit on this topic. I am sure that they will play a role in our future, and need to try to find some time to develop these for our team.
  • Marvelled at my wife’s baking skills. A three-hour online class led to ciabatta, grissini and focaccia, all of which taste amazing. On Sunday my son and I tried to follow along while the same chef made cinnamon rolls but it was waaaay to fast and advanced for us, so we’ve ended up with some giant edible ‘cinnamon splodges’.
All taste as good as they look!

All taste as good as they look!

  • Sadly finished watching Outnumbered. The jumps between seasons and one-off specials were really jarring when all of a sudden the children have sprouted a few years and a few more inches. The whole show was really well written and always made us laugh.
  • Picked a family movie for our latest ‘round robin’ film session. I had fond memories of watching Maverick (1994) with my brothers and thought that it would be a good family choice, but it hasn’t aged well.
  • Managed to pick up the guitar a few times. I’ve tried various apps but none of them seemed to stick. I resorted to picking up my old copy of The Beatles Complete and found that I could kind-of, sort-of, bumble my way through the chords to McCartney’s Another Day, despite me thinking in the past that it was impossibly hard. I love the song so there’s a big incentive to keep at it.

Next week: Not one but two steering committee meetings to prepare for. Choosing a vendor to work with in Beijing, getting the phone project moved on in New York and reviewing quotes for work in the office in São Paulo.

Weeknotes #71–72 — Hurry up, we’re dreaming

So that was April. It’s hard to believe that I’ve not been in the office for seven weeks now; it’s gone by so fast. I know I’m not the only one wondering how I could have been more productive over the past couple of months. I have to remind myself that the time available to me is the same as it ever was, but I just fill it differently. My morning commute has been replaced with daily exercise, and my frequent late evenings in the office have been substituted for a hard stop around 6:30pm for a family dinner and time with our children. Things are different now. I have to keep reminding myself that I am actually living the dream. Aside from being able to socialise in person, attend events, and be able to occasionally meet up with the team in the office, working from home and exercising regularly is actually how I would like it to be.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Continued to be grateful for the days where I had only one or two meetings, and was able to get on with some focused work. This was helped a little by South Africa having a couple of public holidays, meaning that half of our team were out of the office. It’s our turn in the UK during May.
  • Found myself working late for a few evenings, just in order to keep on top of the workload. I’ve been pretty terrible with email for a while now and am trying to get back on top of things, but focusing on my known priorities is still the only route to success that I can see.
  • For the first time in a very long time, got the minutes written up and published for the two Steering Commitees that I run, much closer to when the meeting happened to when the next meeting was due to take place. I’m going to try very hard to keep this discipline, as it is vastly better in so many ways. One of the Committees currently takes place every two weeks so there is little choice but to get the notes out quickly, so that we are ready to start the cycle again.
  • Took a couple of senior business staff through how I am thinking about project portfolio prioritisation using Cost of Delay Divided by Duration, also known as _Weighted Shortest Job First_1. I’ve not received any push-back so far from anyone in the team that I have taken through this approach, and we are attempting to apply it to the 80-or-so projects in our backlog.
  • Reached out to our IT partners in São Paulo and Beijing with the knowledge that we are unlikely to be there in person ourselves any time soon. Getting our infrastructure programme completed remotely will be challenging, but it is doable.
  • Attended the first quarterly business review with one of our videoconferencing vendors, an interesting time to meet given the massively increased demand on their service. They corrected my understanding of their licencing model and we will need to make a decision on what we do when it is time to renew.
  • Took part in a number of internal presentations. The organisation is still going above and beyond in an attempt to ensure that our staff keep connected, and we are focused on the value that we are delivering to our clients. In our own team, I was dazzled by the communication skills of my colleagues as they took people through detailed infrastructure concepts on hardware, software, firmware, drivers and our global wide area networks.
  • Reviewed proposals for new telephony systems across a number of our sites, and weighed up the pros and cons of minimising vendors versus technical simplicity and speed of implementation.
  • Chaired the school Finance Committee meeting with governors and our Headteacher. It’s been said thousands of times how challenging the lockdown has been for everyone, but the school continues to respond to the challenge brilliantly. I am so humbled to be able to work with the team and contribute even just a little bit to the excellent work that they do.
  • Ran a 2k as part of a challenge for my son’s running club. I actually tried running it twice, as my first attempt didn’t take into account just how far 2k is — going off like the clappers was a route to failure. I’ve been retreating from running a little as staying in feels safer than being outside, breathing in the exhaled breath from other runners and cyclists.
  • Came to the end of my first month-long TrainerRoad programme and am looking forward to starting the next one.
  • Heard that an old colleague from 20 years ago had tragically lost both of his parents to COVID-19 in the space of a couple of weeks. I cannot begin to imagine how he and his family must feel. I dropped him a note to say he was in my thoughts.
  • Watched a few films and TV programmes with the family. The Wedding Singer (1998) was still hilarious but rude, Aladdin (2019) was enjoyable but a bit throwaway, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) had the best action sequences I’ve seen for a long time. We’ve also continued to laugh our way through Outnumbered and Deep Space 9.
  • Loved that Tuesday nights seem to have turned into regular gaming nights with my friends. There are now five of us regularly playing Xbox racing games online and it is fun to hang out, do something together and talk nonsense for a bit.
  • Enjoyed another remote Album Club, this time listening to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The music was great but we have definitely lost so much by not being there together in the same room. It’s my turn next at the end of May and I’m currently choosing between about 15 albums.

Next week: More turbo training, a four-day work week trying to focus and cram as much in as possible, an evening online training course on keeping an agile career, and watching the Remainiacs vs Bunker live stream.

  1. Some very useful resources on this topic are the book Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reily, and the Black Swan Farming website from Joshua J. Arnold

Weeknotes #69–70 — It all blends into one

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Enjoyed life as a permanent employee, with my first paid Easter holiday for some time. As a contractor over the past few years I have generally worked through public holidays, but this time I only had a few hours of work to catch up on. Although the long weekend was over quickly, and I wasn’t sure what I’d done with the time, it was a welcome break.
  • Had a meeting with HR to talk about my personal development goals. I’m not yet used to other people taking an interest in me in this way again. The company has been incredible so far, particularly with showing empathy and genuine concern for staff wellbeing during this very difficult time. It’s such a great place to work.
  • Took receipt of the new laptops for our Sao Paulo office and coordinated their setup remotely. Once again, Microsoft’s Autopilot and Intune worked wonders. We now have staff from four out of our five offices up and running with their new computers and we’re working on getting the remainder done as soon as possible.
  • Rebooted the work to get our Beijing office set up with our new IT stack. We had a video call with a potential vendor in China and I am in the process of lining up similar meetings for this week.
  • Ran our monthly IT Steering Committee. We’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment and this was reflected by the meeting being the shortest one yet.
  • Set up and ran our first Steering Committee meeting for a new project to organise and manage our ‘unstructured data’ in London. It was great to have the right people in the room, agree what their roles and responsibilities were and to get them to make some key decisions. This project is going to keep me busy over the next few months.
  • Took part in pilot training sessions for Microsoft Teams. It’s great when you go into training thinking you are an expert user, knowing everything there is to know, and you actually pick up lots of tips and tricks. We’re looking to roll out the training to all of our staff and it was good to give some feedback before we do.
  • Felt as though I am still spending way too much of my work day in meetings. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, but I have the data to back it up. Apparently I’m the 8th biggest user of Teams in the whole company of 50,000 people, with 188 hours of meetings over the past 90 days! It’s a little bit energy-sapping, and does leave me wanting to avoid social video calls over the weekend as they can feel too much like work.
  • Had an hour with a couple of colleagues talking about GTD. I don’t know anyone who follows the methodology to the letter, but it’s a good guide for how to keep focused and productive. There’s no one magic bullet to solve all of the personal productivity problems, but the fact you keep trying to improve is probably half the battle.
  • Drove a car for the first time in a month, in order to pick up a ‘click and collect’ order from the supermarket. I’ve seen pictures of people keeping their distance and heard stories from my wife, but it was still shocking to see a queue to the store stretching all around the car park with people spread out two meters apart from each other. I was grateful not to have to interact with anything except my shopping and the plastic crates that they wheeled out to my car.

  • Took delivery of a couple of boxes of alcohol-free beer from Big Drop and Brewdog. The Brewdog beers have all been incredible, particularly their coffee stout. So much flavour. It’s lovely to have a variety in the house again.
  • Enjoyed the fruits of my 10 year-old’s labour after he signed up to a weekly cooking class. The lessons are via Zoom at the moment and he cooks alongside lots of his friends. So far I’ve enjoyed some incredible chocolate easter cakes as well as cheesy soda bread. Everyone wins!
  • Played some Xbox racing games — Trackmania Turbo (a bargain at around £6.50 in the Xbox store, with hours of split-screen multiplayer fun) with my boys and Forza Motorsport 6 with my mates. My friends and I seem to have fallen into having Tuesday nights scheduled as gaming nights, and I’m feeling like a teenager again. Inspired by the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend, we’re planning on playing F1 2019 ourselves.
  • Watched more TV and films with my family than I have done in a very long time. I introduced them to the wonder of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although I don’t think they were quite as taken by them as I am. We all enjoyed watching The English Game on Netflix about the start of professional football in the late 1800s, as well as the Race Across The World. It’s been really lovely to have a couple of shows that we can share and enjoy together. Recommendations for similar programmes would be welcome!
  • After getting a puncture on my turbo trainer — something that I thought would be a near-impossibility — I have dropped my old cyclocross rubber for a ‘proper’ turbo tyre. The difference it has made to the riding is incredible, with hardly any noise and what feels like much less resistance. Since switching over I’ve upped my FTP setting from 122 to 170 and am still not sure I’ve got it right. I’ll keep tweaking.

  • Felt as though now may be the time to try and learn the guitar. I bought a relatively cheap acoustic from Tanglewood and have started to play a few chords. I think that the key is going to be having the guitar in easy reach to be able to pick up and practice a little bit each day, so I’ll have to think about where best in the house to put it.

Next week: Continuing to push on with all the projects, in all of the countries.

Weeknotes #68 — New job

A week in which I…

  • Felt like I luxuriated at work for the first couple of days of the week. With only a couple of meetings each day I could stretch out and get some focused work done. I managed to get a project definition document moved from draft to ‘version 1.0’ and caught up a little with my gigantic email backlog. Sadly the meetings crept back in as the week progressed. I’ve come to dread that ‘eighth videoconference of the day’ feeling.
  • Along with my family, felt as though we had settled into some new routines. The angst of being together all day every day has passed, and everyone seems to be getting on much better. We’re all having dinner together every day, and finishing off with a family game of UNO or a movie. I’m still struggling with finishing my work day much earlier than I otherwise would, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
  • Celebrated my eldest son’s 13th birthday. The years are short; from baby to teenager has gone by in a flash.
  • Started a permanent role with my client, putting on hold my short career as a contractor. I absolutely love working there and it’s great to properly join the team. My main role is going to be organising how we source, prioritise and deliver change work for our business in five major financial centres. It’s going to be strange — in a nice way — to get back into the mindset that I can take the Easter weekend off and I will still get paid.
  • Kicked off my time as a ‘permanent’ employee by taking the team through a slide deck on how we look at prioritisation using ‘cost of delay divided by duration’ (also known as ‘weighted shortest job first’ or ‘WSJF’). I had good feedback on the material and people have already started using the language in our discussions. I’ve adopted a simple model that I found in this presentation by Kim Harbott, as shown below. I’ve added some guidance on what constitutes a short, medium or long piece of work. My next problem is what orders of magnitude the ‘cost of delay’ side of the matrix should take. I’d be interested if anyone has any good examples of this.
Prioritisation matrix

Prioritisation matrix

  • Closed off a mini-project to get our Beijing staff working while they are out of the office and in lockdown. In the absence of having ordered our proper end-state laptops, we had some of our employees purchase consumer devices from JD.com. Our team were able to walk them through the process of upgrading from Windows 10 Home China edition to Windows 10 Enterprise, extracting the hardware hash so that we could register the laptops as ‘ours’, and then taking them through the Autopilot/Intune build process. The choices we made a couple of years ago are really paying off in just the way that we envisaged.
  • Attended a ‘town hall’ meeting with the rest of the International team. It was excellent to get a business update and understand how the company has been helping our clients, particularly given how troubled the economic waters are.
  • Had a wonderful end to the week where our COO and his daughter broadcast a gig to all of us from his living room using Teams Live Events. It sounded amazing, and was lovely to be a part of something with the rest of the staff around the world as we headed into the weekend.
  • Continued to exercise every day, although my legs have started to complain. I’m planning to take advantage of it being a little rainy on Monday to have a rest day before getting back to it. I just need to make sure that my food consumption also has a bit of a rest.
  • Couldn’t get enough of video calls during the the day, so joined both the Remainiacs vs The Bunker and Smoke Fairies live sessions. None of the live events I’ve attended have been entirely successful, but it felt important to be there and support them. Everyone’s trying!

  • Had a beautiful spring family walk on Saturday across the fields and woods behind our house. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep and I will never take it for granted.

Next week: Trying to fight my diary to get more space to work. And my first paid day off in a quite a few years.

Weeknotes #66–67 — Lockdown

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Spent one anxious day in the office before an email arrived from the Group CEO to say that everyone in the company, globally, should work from home for the foreseeable future. I felt like crying. I knew that I had been extremely uptight at having to travel to work, but felt that I couldn’t unilaterally decide not to go in while we still expected others in the team to be there. I could almost hear the hiss of the pressure being released in my brain during the first day we were at home.
  • Had a daily family debate about whether the children should go to school. I felt another massive wave of relief when the decision was made to close the schools and we could keep them safe at home. I’m sad for my youngest, who is finishing off his final year of primary school, but no amount of celebrating is worth the risk to all of us. It’s been strange to try and get them set up, focused and working while I’m spending most of my days in video meetings. They’re into a rhythm where they make a start around the same time that I do, get their work done by lunchtime, and spend their afternoons with their friends playing games on the Internet. Like most of my time as a parent, I am always full of self-doubt as to whether I’m doing it right.
  • Continued to worry about my wife as she made the journey into school while the three of us stayed at home. I felt so fortunate when they said that they didn’t need her to be there for the next couple of weeks, which takes us up to the Easter holidays.
  • Found that I had less time to myself, as my family now come looking for me at the end of the working day to join them for dinner. It’s amazing that we have this time together, but it has made me realise how much of my job I squeezed into the daily commutes and a few nights a week of being back home a couple of hours later.
  • Counted my blessings for everything I have right now. We’re all healthy. I’m working in a job that I can do from home, without coming into contact with anyone else in person. We have a house which we have recently expanded so that we have space to stretch out while we are all spending so much time under one roof. We live on the edge of town, with farmland and open spaces right behind us to escape into. I hope to never take these things for granted.
  • Thought about what the world will look like out of the other side of this crisis. Poorer, slower, with less privacy, new social conventions and powerful governments. The rate at which the whole world has come to a juddering halt has been staggering. This chart from The Economist showing new jobless claims in the US shocked me, and is an illustration of how crazy things are.

  • Spent the first week of work at home fielding a lot of support issues, lending a hand to our Helpdesk team as our staff got used to the new setup. I seemed to fall further and further behind with my regular work as the days went on, but getting people up and running had to take priority. It’s going to take me a week or two to get properly back on track. We’ve delayed the formal close-out of the main programme work in our final two cities by a few months and will need to see how we get on.
  • Inspired by the suggestion of a friend who works at Google, and Matt Ballantine’s now regular Global Canteen meetups, I set up an internal Microsoft Teams channel called The Water Cooler, where our staff can have some informal and fun interaction. It’s been great — it separates out the non-work chat and gives everybody a space to keep connected. This Friday we decided to all wear hats to our daily team meeting, and after posting some photos we saw everyone joining in across the organisation.

  • Noticed how many interactions with colleagues, vendors and everyone else starts off with a sincere ‘how are you?’ So far the crisis has brought some humanity and mindfulness into situations where previously we were all in a great big hurry.
  • Tried to get my head around LTE wireless routers as a backup solution in case we lost our wired ISP connections in our offices. There are some really interesting products out there.
  • Continued our investigation into automation software, getting demos of a couple of products that we’re considering trying out. Use of these tools is a ‘pull’ from our colleagues outside of IT and we need to make sure that we can help meet the business need, but we don’t yet have much knowledge internally to give considered opinions. We’re going to time-box an investigation and trial of one of them and see how quickly we can get some tangible value from it.
  • Took a new colleague through how we are using LeanKit. I am still in love with this product. Our team is still far from being an amazingly-optimised productivity machine, but LeanKit gives us so much and we’d be lost without it. It’s a solid base to build on. Our new colleague ‘got it’ instantly and has been happily using the advanced features from the get-go.
  • Took part in two virtual school governor meetings, both using Microsoft Teams. Everyone seemed to get the hang of the technology and we had a couple of great meetings — much more efficient than when we meet in person, despite having a lot of additional items to talk about. The people still going to their jobs every day are my heroes right now, including the school staff. I’m in awe of how they have kept focused and kept going during all of this.
  • Have taken advantage of not having a commute by replacing it with exercise. It’s like the Christmas period all over again, with a run or turbo trainer session every day. I still haven’t made it out on my bike on the road this year and don’t plan to change this anytime soon; risking an accident and hospital visit doesn’t seem like a great idea right now.
Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

  • Haven’t been able to look at a TV show or film without noticing how close everyone stands to each other, or how much handshaking goes on. After finishing season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm my wife and I were looking for something to give us a giggle, and Impractical Jokers has filled the void. I’m properly laughing out loud every night.
  • Have been watching lots of films with the family. We even managed to finally spend a whole afternoon watching Ben Hur (1959) over the weekend. We now have a round-robin system in place so that everyone gets to choose. I’m currently pondering whether the wonderful Top Hat (1935) or Swing Time (1936) would go down well; I suspect not, but it’s worth a try.

Next week: We suddenly have our first teenager in the house.

Weeknotes #64–65 — Pandemic

A week in which I…

  • Like everyone else, entered the waking nightmare of the coronavirus spreading all over the globe. If I’m being honest, it’s been tough to cope with even though as yet I don’t personally know anyone with a diagnosis. Even if I decide to ignore the news updates and do something more mentally healthy, I then find myself running or contributing to meetings where it is the number one topic. We were already running daily discussions to try and help those from our Beijing office who have been in lockdown for weeks, and now that continuity planning has spread everywhere. You go to sleep, wake up and then realise that it hasn’t all been a dream. Days are spent watching The Guardian’s Liveblog and the Coronavirus Worldometer, waiting for the UK to report its daily infection and death totals at 2pm. It’s a hideous double-whammy of being concerned about how we could all be contributing to the demise of loved ones whilst knowing that if activity seizes up, we could be in for an economic shock that puts the 2008 financial crisis in the shade. When the first crash happened a week ago I immediately turned to FT’s Alphaville blog, somewhere that I used to hang out all those years ago. My timing was excellent as I found that they had restarted their ‘Markets Live’ chat on Telegram. The Telegram feed is an excellent resource to follow what’s happening in the broad financial world in real time.
  • Went to see Marika Hackman play at the Kentish Town Forum. I’d bought tickets last year and had been looking forward to the gig for ages. She didn’t disappoint, and the friends I had brought along who were less familiar with her work thought she was great too. As we left, glowing, I realised that part of my enjoyment had been that I hadn’t thought about the coronavirus for a couple of hours. We’ll all need some distractions over the coming weeks and months, albeit from home. How quickly will gigs move online?

  • Wrestled with friends and colleagues that think that the UK government is doing a good job and we should just trust what they say. But these are the same awful, lying, incompetent and criminal clowns that were in government two weeks ago. I would like to think that if they were doing a good job I would be able to swallow my pride and say it. But a policy where we all get and share the virus because we would then develop ‘herd immunity’ and we are forced to lose loved ones, I can’t get behind. People didn’t stop getting all of the hideous viral diseases in history because we developed immunity. This article is the best thing I’ve read as a riposte to the government position.
  • Had so many discussions about what to do in response. My client still has staff going to the office and I’m not prepared to start working from home full time until that’s the expectation for everyone in our team. We’ve moved to ‘split working’ for the coming week where there is one team in one week, and another the next, but given the rate of spread of the disease I can’t see this lasting for too long. (UPDATE: It lasted for one day, and we’ll all now be working from home.) The programme I have been running for my client for the past few years has delivered a technology platform that allows staff to work from anywhere. However, I need to temper my enthusiasm for home working for everyone with the understanding that:
    • Not everyone would be happy to work from home — being a geek it’s fine for me, but for others being at home alone and trying to get their IT to work, no matter how good it is, may be a very daunting prospect.
    • Not everyone can work from home. Not everything is completely digital. What do you do about those that still need access to the office?
    • Not everyone has a great home working environment that lets them be productive.
    • There is a mental health tax associated with being at home and not socialising, which could also have serious long-term impacts on people.
  • My concern doesn’t really lie with my family or I getting the disease myself, more that we are contributing to the overall spread of the thing in society. I was meant to have my friends over on Saturday night but cancelled, much to their surprise. I weighed this up and didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I do feel like I’m living a hypocritical life at the moment, as I write this from the train heading into London for a day at the office. We replaced an evening together in person with an evening of them beating me at Forza on the Xbox. Something tells me that will be the first of many evenings spent virtually with friends.
  • Discussed with my children whether they should go to school or not. Yes, it’s up to my wife and I from a legal perspective but it doesn’t sit well with me, particularly with my eldest son who is about to become a teenager. How much control over his life should he have? I can’t dismiss his fears of being irrational, particularly when he tells me he worries about spreading it as opposed to getting it. We’ll take it day by day. As I write this, #Covid19Walkout is trending on Twitter, encouraging pupils to stay home.
  • Managed to get some work done in between all of the coronavirus drama, but still not all of it was planned. I gave a little bit of help to a colleague who was managing the process of a mobile phone refresh, arranging for some additional staffing to help with migrating people from their old iPhones to new ones.
  • Ran our monthly steering committee, where I presented a view of the size and shape of the project portfolio. It was great that the committee could see it and grasp the problem of trying to do too many things at once. The next step is to work out what the priorities are that we will commit to.
  • Celebrated my wife’s birthday with dinner at a local Turkish restaurant. It’s not the typical place we would go; our boys, like me when I was a child, aren’t exactly adventurous. Somehow I ended up offering them a small cash incentive for everything that they tried that they had never tasted before, and it was enough to get them diving in. It ended up being a lovely evening with everyone having been part of the food experience.

  • Finished a couple of graphic novels — Hostage by Guy DeLisle and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Both were very good, but I preferred the style of the DeLisle book. At one point the hostage of the title starts dreaming of ‘normal’ things he could be doing if he was at home, and this image stuck with me: I’d generally like to be doing that too!

Next week: The great working from home marathon begins.