Five years

It’s five years since Tilly was born. Sadly that also means it is five years since we said goodbye. 

Five feels like something of a milestone – half a decade. It’s a significant chunk of time. In that time, so many things in our lives have changed. We’ve moved house, we’ve welcomed Oscar into our family, we’ve brought Teddy into it, and both Charlotte and I have changed jobs.

But on 26 May, and the days preceding it, we’re transported back five years. Tilly is rarely far from my thoughts, but around this time, she’s a greater presence. Her image, ingrained in my memory, becomes stronger.

I changed jobs a little under a year ago. This means I am now working with people that didn’t know me when we lost Tilly. Yesterday I explained to some of them why today is special to me, and why I am off work. It was emotional, but I appreciated the opportunity to share our story and to ensure that Tilly’s memory lives on. 

I also appreciated a new colleague and friend sharing his own story. That’s an important reminder that at some point or other, everyone is going through their own challenges. 

However, I was surprised and a little saddened to realise that while I could remember the chapters of our story very clearly, some of the details escaped me. That’s when I thought of my blog and realised how glad I was to have recorded my memories of that strange time.

Charlotte has made a beautiful birthday cake for Tilly’s memory. Teddy was looking at it with excitement yesterday. Charlotte explained that it was for Tilly’s birthday. He knows that’s his big sister and that she’s not here. But yesterday was the first time that she told him that Tilly was dead. We don’t want her to be a mythical presence.

Teddy’s response? “Oh that’s sad, mummy. The cake will make her better and she’ll be able to blow out the candles.” It brought a tear to our eyes and a smile to our faces.

Today we’re going to find a pretty, quiet spot for a picnic and to light a candle on the cake. And either the wind or Teddy will blow the candle out. 

As always, thanks so much to everyone who has shared kind words, birthday cards or even sent gifts. It means so much to know that we’re not the only ones who remember Tilly’s short time with us. 

Goodbye Copeland

At midnight, after 49 years, Copeland Borough Council will cease to exist. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no age. But given a week is a long time in politics, it feels like a lifetime. It is a lifetime.

I started my career at Copeland Borough Council, back in 2003. I was a graduate trainee earning £12,720 per year (of course I remember, it was my first salaried job). My first pay cheque – received a week after starting, felt like an extraordinary amount of money given I’d been there a matter of days. I’d not found the coffee machine by that point – though I could smell the smoking room. 

While I started as a graduate trainee, I quickly received a promotion to become the sole communications officer. This was a stroke of luck really – I sat opposite the incumbent and we shared a phone line. When she wasn’t there, I picked up the phone and as a result media enquiries. 

I’ve always been pleasant yet inquisitive. So that meant some people preferred speaking to me than my phone line partner. So when they left, mid-local government restructuring, I was asked to fill the role temporarily. That temporary role led to a passion for, and career in, communications. During my ten years at Copeland, I moved from temporary communications officer, to communications officer, to interm senior communications officer, to senior communications officer, and finally communications manager – reporting directly to the chief executive.

It was an action-packed decade. I really did learn on the job, and experienced more in those years than many do in a lifetime. We had huge highs and the very lowest of lows. I won’t recount these here. Those who live in the area will know most of them, and those who don’t can Google. But they covered everything from events to crisis management, media relations to employee engagement, marketing to consultation, nuclear to housing, regen to museums. And bins.

What I will say is that those working in local government are, in my mind, heroes. I know lots of people won’t agree, but I saw people giving their all despite huge frustrations, working harder despite the challenges and setbacks. These range from the aforementioned (and endless) restructures to consistent efficiency drives (long before they were trendy). There was out- and in-sourcing, shared services, partnership working and many similarly inventively named initiatives that made job security a laughing matter. 

On top of the lack of job security, local government staff are also subject to the attacks, criticism and politically motivated sniping from elected members. They’re also hard working and committed, but their pay masters are the electorate, and most think that scoring a political point and gaining a handful of votes is worth any negative HR related consequences.

And despite all this, despite the lower wages than the other big employer in the area, despite the political jibes, people stayed and gave their all.

Last week I joined my former colleagues for an evening to remember Copeland Council. Having left nine years ago, I assumed I’d know few people. How wrong I was. There were so many friendly (if battle scarred) faces. I saw colleagues who had risen from entry level roles to lead huge teams dealing with complex issues and friends managing services that were previously the responsibility of two or three people in different times. 

Everyone had a smile on their face, and everyone was proud of their role in Copeland’s story.

No council is perfect. They do get things wrong. I’d suggest that these things are rarely the fault of officers. The policy is certainly never set by officers, but they bear the brunt if it’s unpopular or goes wrong.

So I know some people won’t mourn Copeland’s passing. They’ll smile at the thought that the organisation serving the southern part of West Cumbria is disappearing. I get that, but it was local. The collection of councillors serving the borough all cared about this coastal, rural and isolated patch of land. They wanted the best for its residents.

In the future, the borough will be part of a much larger council, covering the huge geographical area from the Scottish border down to the Duddon. Whatever, your views, it won’t be as local, even if it does save a few quid. 

It’s time to say goodbye to Copeland, and hello, again, to Cumberland.

I’d like to wish all my friends and former colleagues working for any of the departing councils, good luck.

And finally, I’ll end the blog by dedicating it to colleagues we have lost in recent years. I can think of many that played a huge part in Copeland’s story. While you can’t see it, I’ve raised a glass to them all.

To the next 49. 

Dear Teddy

Today is my 41st birthday. When you woke up, you ran through to me in the kitchen with my birthday card. It was a lovely one, featuring a dinosaur.  

You were very excited for me to open it, even though I am not really sure you knew what it was for! You were also excited by the wrapping paper from my presents. I think you wondered why I had made so much mess.

After my presents, and once you were awake, I walked you to nursery. I enjoy doing that. I had to carry you on my shoulders because otherwise we just wouldn’t have made it on time. You like to dawdle. On the way, I pointed out a nursery classmate’s house. This led to you asking me who lived in every other house. I am afraid to say I didn’t always know the answer.

We’ve just had two full weeks together as I took a long Christmas break. I really enjoyed spending time together, and I think you did too. As it was Christmas, there was lots to entertain us, and lots of toys to play with. There was also lots of tidying up to do.  

Teddy, joyous at the Christmas tree.

You spent most of the two weeks asking me for a ‘daddy cuddle’ or if I would come and play with your new toys, or even if I was tidying up. You even tried to help, in your own special way. This usually involved you passing me a piece of kitchen roll or tea towel.  

We had a great time playing with your new toys. These included lots of cars. You also got a garage for emergency vehicles with a little toy radio. You loved speaking into this, announcing an emergency or fire and telling people not to walk on it [the fire]. Once you announced these things, you’d ask me to do the same. You also got a tool set, which you loved because you could use it to fix all your vehicles.  

Spending time with Daddy and Bear Bear

I know you won’t always want to spend this much time with me, so I’ll remember these last few weeks very fondly. I’ve written about them because you might not ever remember them.  

It’s been a while since I last wrote you an email I must try harder. You’ve grown so much over the last 12 months. Your personality really has developed. You are now a very kind, caring and thoughtful child. You are very affectionate and are inquisitive. I also love how much your vocabulary has grown. To me it seems very advanced, but I am sure all parents say that.

That smile

Over the last year, you’ve developed your own language and are now even starting to grow out of that. It’s hard to believe.

Some of the lovely terms I remember are ‘alldaydo’ being your name for a bus, ‘nommies’ while rubbing your stomach for food, you like your night-time milk ‘cooked’, and still call Oscar ‘Eh-he’ even though you can say Oscar.

I like that you get Uncle Karl and Uncle Chris mixed up until you see them. Ella is Ellaboos to everyone now, thanks to your name for her.

We’re off out for a birthday meal this evening. I don’t think this is your favourite thing to do. You’d much rather explore than sit still in a high chair. But you will be happy you’re getting to see Charlie and Ellaboos, so it won’t be too bad.

Meal time

Thanks for my birthday card and for being the most adorable, loving son I could ask for.

Yours, always,  

Daddy x

Little things

Returning to work after Christmas can feel dark – literally and metaphorically.  

If you’re in an office job like mine, you’ve hopefully had an extended break from the office and the routine that goes with it.

The fear, which starts when you realise you can’t remember your network password, what you were doing before the break, or even what you do for a living can be daunting.

At the same time, the Christmas spirit is departing, the decorations are coming down, and spring is a long way away. These can leave you feeling flat.

The start of a dry walk.

For these reasons, I wanted to blog about some of the little things that help boost my mental health. I’ll refer to this list on the darker/wetter days.  


Throughout the year, I try to do some decent exercise each day. This is usually in the form of a walk or bike ride. This stopped at Christmas, when the diary filled with other things that were more important, like eating trifle.

Yesterday, the rain disappeared for long enough to enjoy a good walk with Teddy and Oscar. Getting out of the house into the fresh air and sunshine made the day feel much better. I was more motivated when I got home to complete some of the other chores on my list.  

I’ve now got the exercise bike back out for the new year and look forward to beating some records on it.


I like to use the time I am exercising to listen to music or podcasts. This hour or so a day allows me to escape whatever else has occupied my mind and go somewhere else.  

I’ve missed this at Christmas and am ready to pick up where I left off with my food, travel, comedy and history podcasts. I’ll intersperse these with my favourite Spotify playlists.

Family time

The best thing about Christmas wasn’t the food, drink or presents, but spending time with those family and friends I love.

I got to spend two quality weeks with Teddy for the first time since my paternity leave. We definitely grew closer because of this.  

Teddy having a chill.

While I won’t have that time now I am back at work, I will make sure we have time every evening for cuddles and playing with his new toys. Like we did over the festive break.


I love writing. I love writing for work and I love writing for pleasure. I don’t always find the time to write. So, this year, I’ll be reminding myself how much joy it brings me and finding the time to do more writing.

That will include blogs which are in someway related to communications or the workplace.  

But it’ll also include more of my food blogs and those on lighter subjects. Writing these makes me happy. They immediately lift my mood. If you’ve read them, you’ll see my tongue is often firmly in cheek as I write something preposterously, pompously pretentious about a bowl of soup or slice of pizza.


I read every night before bed, but too often, it’s a few snatched pages when I know I should already be asleep. I am going to try and go to bed just a few minutes earlier, so I can read a few more pages and make a bit more progress.  

Doing this should also mean I can read more books and broaden what I read.

As I do most of my reading on my Kindle/the Kindle app, I should be able to see how successful I am.

A very small Teddy checking out what Daddy was reading.

Everything else

These are just a snapshot of the things I take pleasure from. Others include:

  • Seeing friends
  • Food – both dining out, cooking new things and baking bread
  • Pubs, real ale and craft beer
  • Exploring and traveling  

A caveat

These are the small things that can help me on days I feel flat or don’t have energy. They won’t provide an answer to some of the bigger stresses in our lives. These feel increasingly real as we start 2023.

If you need support, please do seek this. Feel free to contact me for a chat.

What about you?

What boosts your mental health in the darker days? Do you have any tips?  

Dining with a toddler

I am the father of a two year old. This isn’t a surprise to me. I was fully involved in the process and spend every day with my son.

Yet, sometimes, when I go out for meal, I do find myself surprised. I am surprised that I haven’t fully considered Teddy’s needs nor ours, when choosing a location. I am also surprised when places don’t cater to him, or us, as much as I’d expect.

Teddy working up his appetite.

What this means is that what I am looking for in a restaurant or cafe has changed. Somewhat. The realisation might not have been immediate, but it’s crystal clear now.

And what does a good restaurant for a toddler look like?

Well, it’s not rocket science, but it is something some places get right, where others don’t, or can’t.

We need space:

We’ve probably got a pram, we’ll definitely need a high chair, and we’ll also have a bag of nappies and other paraphernalia, as well as a smorgasbord of Teddy’s current favourite toys. This usually includes a car, but can also include an ipad and headphones.

We need patience:

Two year old’s aren’t always quiet. They like attention and don’t like being asked to stay in one place for too long. This means they might remind us they’re there and need entertained. The best venues don’t mind this, and reassure you of this. The worst avoid eye contact so you don’t see their awkward contempt.

We need support:

This can range from bringing an extra plate or colouring books and crayons. It can also mean recognising when Teddy needs an extra drink or a little attention from a passing member of staff. It can also mean knowing that a two year old might not want or need a £9 kids meal, but will be happy with a few scraps from daddy’s plate and a scoop of ice cream to wash it all down.

And that’s about it.

Space and great service on offer at our recent holiday hotel.

The trouble is, that in the current financial climate, where restaurants like each of us, are feeling the pinch, all of these things hit the bottom line. You need more, well trained staff, you need fewer tables and plenty of child seats, and you lose out if you’re not charging each cover enough.

I think there is a pay-off though. A quid-pro-quo, if you will. If you go somewhere that seems unwelcoming, you won’t stay long. You won’t have that extra drink or dessert course. You probably won’t tip as well.

But if you go somewhere great, you’ll do all of the above. You’ll stay longer and spend more. And you’ll return and tell others to do the same. Even in the prosperous times, repeat custom and word of mouth marketing are important, but now they’re absolutely essential.


I’m sat in the sun with a foaming pint of ale in a handled, dimpled glass. And it’s bliss. A dozen or so metres away, people pass by, stepping onto or from the trains that make up our transport network. 

I’m at Lancaster Station on the West Coast Mainline and as I sit and reflect, I’m reminded of the joy of transience. Of passing by. Nipping in. 

Living in West Cumbria, I don’t see much of this. But today, with my pint, I can soak it up. 

It’s lunchtime and it’s a glorious day. This means that I can observe people gliding through the station, as well as those who have taken the time to rest their travel-weary legs in this refreshment room. 

I’ve seen the mix, the full spectrum. From commuters grabbing a half between meetings to the couple – one on a pint, another with a coffee. There’s been noisy stag groups heading for the Morecambe train alongside quiet, reflective ale drinkers. The lycra-clad cyclists are cheek by jowl with crisp crunching, beer bingers. 

And it makes me happy; I feel content. 

Everyone here shares something. They’re all travelling. They’re all passing through on the way to somewhere, something else. 

Me, I’m on the way to catch up with friends in Birmingham before an excursion to Wales. This pint is an hors d’oeuvre before the main event. 

But it’s joyous. 

Soaking up life and seeking out conversations and finding connections – the men at the table in front of me talk of the price of a round on a weekend night out, the two girls who’ve just walked in, greet each other like long lost friends. The man at the table nearest the platform rips a hunk of cheese from a much larger slab. He enjoys it with cider. I enjoy that he’s enjoying that. 

I’ve had a sandwich, with a greedy handful of crisps squeezed inside. The crunch contrasts perfectly against softness of the rolls made many hours ago, many miles away. 

And now I’ve written this post, and finished my pint, I’ll move on. Much like everyone else does. 

If you want to replicate this experience, I urge you to visit the new Tite & Locke bar at Lancaster Station. It’s next to platform 3, and I’m not sure there is a better place to try one of the half dozen or more ales on offer – many of which come from the very decent Lancaster Brewery. There’s another dozen craft beers on side pull taps.

And it’s beautiful. A fantastic use of a former storage space. 

A love affair, pure and simple

Like all love affairs, it must come to an end. 

At 11am on Sunday 27 February 2022, after three and a half years of mostly joy, the end did come. Marcelo Bielsa has been relieved of his duties as Leeds United manager. 

Some, like Adrian Pope at BBC Radio Leeds suggest it should never have ended like this. Phil Hay has said something similar. In truth, I wonder if it was actually always inevitable?

Bielsa is all encompassing. He’s the real deal. There are no half measures. In football and in life. 

To my mind, that meant the end was always going to be abrupt. A plaster being pulled or maybe a limb being torn from your body. 

As soon as the doubts start to niggle and the cracks appear, there’s only one result – however undesirable. 

When the news broke on Saturday evening (from Talk Sport of all places. I mean, come on), it talked of it being “by mutual consent”. That was always unlikely. Marcelo would have left if he felt he couldn’t deliver and would stay if he felt he could. There isn’t really a middle ground. Sunday’s announcement confirmed that. 

Truthfully, after conceding fourteen goals in three games and the bottom of the table inching nearer thanks to the form others have found, the writing couldn’t fail to be painted on the wall. 

I won’t dissect Bielsa’s performance here, suffice to say that his worth is so much greater than the goals conceded column in the table would suggest. 

Losing Marcelo really is a loss. It feels like a bereavement. To fans of any of the other 91 teams in English football, that sounds ridiculous. I know that. I get it. But ask any Leeds fan and they’ll tell you it’s true. 

He didn’t just achieve what so many others failed to do, and get us promoted. He transformed the club. He brought professionalism back. He reminded the players of why they play and why the supporters pay. He transformed the mindset to one in which the greater good means everyone achieves more. 

Look around Leeds and you can see colour, where once the landscape was grey. From Burley Banksy and his transformed telephone cabinets, to the prominent murals of Beilsa and his transformed players, his influence is everywhere to see. 

So it feels very sad to know that is no more. The people of Wetherby are sad he won’t be living there. Fans are sad they won’t chance upon him in Costa or Morrisons, where he always had time for a smile and a selfie. I’m sad for all of the above and I fear the man we quickly came to love will never visit this patch of West Yorkshire again. His work here is done. 

Those days are gone now. But hopefully so much of what he brought will remain. 

They say that when you lose someone, you shouldn’t mourn, but instead remember the good times, and we will do that. 

From that first league game, where the fans were left as shell-shocked as Stoke when they saw something new and un-Leeds-like on display, to the blistering performances that saw promotion not just secured, but grabbed eagerly with both hands. 

We’ll not forget taking on teams like Liverpool on the first day of last season, and bloodying their nose before a narrow loss. Or the win and draw against ultimate title winners Man City. 

This season they both hammered us, scoring six and seven unanswered goals. Bielsa’s approach centres around playing high intensity football that creates chances. Even if we’d been better at converting those this season, we weren’t going to score seven or eight. 

I am sad this day has arrived, but it’s been coming. We might have wished for a dozen more games to give Marcelo Bielsa the send off we all believe he deserved. But if that was a relegation battle we ultimately lost, it wouldn’t quite have worked, would it? 

Instead we say thanks for the memories and hope the season ends as he thought it would. 


A lot more than OK – Oka, Carlisle review

Cumbria is an interesting place for food. It has more Michelin starred places to eat than any other county. It has some fantastic, cosy pubs – whether you fancy pub grub or something more fancy.

But it isn’t necessarily that diverse.

This make’s Oka’s arrival on the scene all the more welcome. It offers street-food-style plates to the dozen or so groups of people lucky enough to grab a table in the tiny restaurant. 

After hearing some very good reports, Charlotte and I managed to bag a table for the Saturday lunchtime before Valentine’s Day. If love wasn’t already in the air, the food would soon have your heart racing.

The menu is a mix of Japanese classics and other perhaps lesser-known Asian options, all put together with intelligence to offer something for all. This means that not only do you get sushi, ramen, and gyozo, but also nduja prawn toast, Vietnamese chicken wings and more. 

We arrived to take the last available table, and were delighted by the warm welcome we received, along with Teddy, who was keen to see where we’d taken him today. Our waitress explained the menu and was very helpful in offering her tips on how and what to order.

We plumped for the day’s special – a bento box filled with treats, supplemented by a main of Korean belly pork and the day’s gyoza special – duck. 

The food was served as it was cooked, and this meant that you were presented with a steady stream of fresh, delicious items. 

A bento box to behold

The bento box might be new to Cumbria, but the concept is increasingly well known. After all  grazing menus, tapas and bar bites are springing up on menus all the way up and down the M6. 

In the Oka take, you get a mix of their tastier menu options. Ours included sashimi and sushi rolls, filled bao, teriyaki beef and sticky rice, seaweed salad and the aforementioned prawn toast, all served in a beautiful, ceramic box.

Each was an explosion on the taste buds, and left you wanting more. The flavours were paired perfectly, and the selection of items in the box meant you took a rewarding, whistlestop Eastern tour. 

Belly pork has rarely tasted better

We were advised that this and a couple of other items would be plenty, and this was sound advice. The belly pork was a perfect addition, and the gyoza really were a highlight as we were advised.

Duck me: amazing gyozo

I considered ordering the ramen, but noticed the bowls were huge, steaming affairs. Our waitress advised otherwise, and I am glad I listened. This just means I’ll need to return soon. And the mizo creme brulee, which also felt a step too far for a lunchtime with a child to entertain, is another reason to come back. 

All of the food tasted fresh and vibrant. None of it felt routine or mundane. It wasn’t Asia-by-numbers. It was clear that everything was prepared to order, and that the team went the extra mile to present Asain food which avoids the stereotypes and pitfalls that chain restaurants can suffer from.

The menu is complemented by an interesting drinks menu, which includes a handful of special cocktails, alongside local and less local beers. The attention to detail was faultless.

The restaurant is in a couple of rooms, with an open kitchen in the larger. We were seated in the smaller room, but had plenty of space in a minimalist room. Splashes of colour from some ropework on the walls and ceilings add to the relaxed vibe, reminiscent of a market in the Far East. I imagine. 

Go for the food. Stay for the cocktails. Soak up. the ambience. You’ll be very content. 

I could have saved myself some trouble with this review and simply repeated what someone said to me – Oka is very good – not Cumbria good, but anywhere good.

That sums it up perfectly. on the webz or Insta to find out more.

The eight things I learned at the IoIC Festival

A week ago, my colleagues and I were frantically planning how I was going to get to the Institute of Internal Communication’s first Festival. The event took place near Nottingham, and perhaps my first piece of learning was that this is not an easy place to get to on public transport from West Cumbria.

After five trains, a couple of Ubers and a banging Indian meal, I arrived at the hotel ready for two days of learning.

This blog summarises some of the things that I and my colleagues learned.

In the room

What’s the collective noun for a group of internal communicators?

I’ve attended lots of communications events and I always enjoy them. This was my first IoIC event. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

At other events it can feel like internal communication is a bolt on – the thing you do if you have time after everything else.

All the internal communicators in the room at Nottingham would tell you just how bad an idea that is – after all, employees are a group of people communicating about your business, day-in, day-out. A group who could be your biggest advocates.

From soaking up suggestions like a sponge, to sharing a coffee with someone who is also trying to engage people, spending time with IC colleagues is a tonic.

Flexible/hybrid/agile is the challenge facing internal communicators

“The next big disrupter”

It will be no surprise to hear that implementing hybrid working and the communications challenges that brings was the big challenge facing internal communicators right now.

We heard from Volkswagen Group Financial Services about how they’ve successfully implemented hybrid, and lots of others in the margins about the challenges they’re facing.

The biggest takeaways? Flexibility, securing buy-in and thinking big but starting small.

Over-communication isn’t a thing

Priya Lakhani gave a passionate keynote speech covering her career, the importance of engagement and being one of the 13%.

It was clear that she saw Covid-19 as both a challenge and an opportunity, and that during this time the best leaders were self-selecting – the people who came forward and reached out to their employees during the pandemic.

These are the people who recognised the importance of communications and took it upon themselves to deliver this. They recognised that there is rarely such a thing as over-communication, especially in a crisis.

Regular blogs and video updates about your ‘north star’ make the difference and help cement the culture of your organisation (more on that later).

The importance of line managers

Anyone who works in internal communication knows the importance of line managers to successful communications, and this was writ large in the Festival.

Want to get buy-in to a change programme? You need line manager support.

Want to reach digitally disconnected workers? It’ll be line managers who can help you.

Want to better understand your audience? Ask line managers about their teams.

But with all of the above, remember that line managers are the layer of the organisation that works flows both up and down to. Some call it the treacle layer, but that’s a disservice to a valuable asset.

Line managers have a limited amount of time and capacity, so do your best to make their lives easier.


I could write reams on culture. However, that would only add to the reams and reams that already exist, and which are likely to be far more eloquent.

I’ll keep it short and simple.

Culture is everything. If you don’t have the culture you want, you won’t get the organisation you want.

Ignore this at your peril, and don’t underestimate the size of the task that changing culture is. But believe me, and all of those who spoke at the Festival, when we say it is the key to success.

Want one tip for how to help achieve this? Find your organisation’s influencers and get to know them and their struggles. Support them. Enable them. Empower them.  

We’re doing alright

Not only was it reassuring to see we’re facing the same challenges as other organisations, it was great to hear we’re on the same page in trying to solve them.

We’d done almost everything that Volkswagen talked about to encourage hybrid working, we’ve identified and engaged with ambassadors across our business, we’ve used business and communication change principles to inform or work, and we’re doing similar work to others on diversity and inclusion – trying to focus on the things that make a difference, shift the needle and avoid tokenism.

It was great to share some of our experience with others.

The main room or zone at the 2021 IoIC Festival

Getting away from it

We all know this, but it deserves to be said – taking some time out of your diary for some learning and development is important.

For that learning and development to be in person is invaluable.

Getting away from the office with some colleagues is fab. But we don’t do it enough.

Call it networking if you like but having a pint and breaking bread with someone you don’t see very often will make your working life better. You understand that person, and their pressures, stresses, interests and drivers so much more by spending time with them.

And finally…

My colleague Chris and I hosted one of the workshop sessions at the Festival, talking about how we moved wellbeing online during the pandemic.

This pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I’m glad it did. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about a topic I am passionate about and loved having the opportunity to answer questions from the engaged audience.

If you want to know more about this, please give me a shout.

If you’re toying with something you’ve not done before, my advice would be to give it a go.

Finding a balance

Agile. Hybrid. Connected. Mixed.

Whatever you call it, we’re all doing it – working from the office and from home.

If you work in a sector like mine, then the move to home working when the pandemic hit might have been sudden and unfamiliar. This, of course, means that the move to agile working is also something new.

I’ve now been working this way for around three months, and by and large the experience has been positive.

Our agile working hub

It is undoubtedly a good thing to be able to catch back up with colleagues, in person. A number of projects and pieces of work have moved forward more quickly because we can work on these together.

I have loved seeing people I’d lost contact with. I relish the news and gossip I’d missed out on – from new babies to new jobs. I soak up conversations about pieces of work that I am interested in but wasn’t aware of.

Lunch from the local café, and sandwiches packed in tin foil have never tasted so good!

But I have to be honest and say that it hasn’t always been an easy ride. There have been lumps and bumps, and I am only now getting to grips with these and trying to smooth them out.

Spending time between two locations means being more organised. It means you need to ensure your diary management and time management are strong. I’ve noticed that on the days I am in the office, I am sucked into a mix of longer meetings, unplanned sessions and catch-up chats with colleagues.

These are all valuable. In fact, they’re essential. They also steal time.

As my team are in the office and a Monday and Tuesday, it means the back end of the week is even busier. I find my email inbox is packed with things I’ve not got near at the start of the week, I have work to pick up from the meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and I have additional meetings, virtually, with those who have avoided booking them at the start of the week.

It can be intense. Only by blocking out time in my diary can I achieve the things I need to.

The home office, in all it’s glory.

This brings me on to what I think is the biggest scourge of agile working – the half-hour meeting.

Back when we were in the office, people didn’t bother with half-hour meetings. They weren’t long enough to be taken seriously – perhaps people wouldn’t get out of their metaphorical beds for them.

At home, it’s different. At home, they’re all the rage. And as you don’t need any traveling time, you can nip from one to another at the stroke of a mouse.

This means things like a trio of back to back meetings – moving from topic to topic, all the while gathering actions on an ever-expanding to-do list, are increasingly common and increasingly problematic.

I think they’re especially challenging for communicators. I tend to find I am invited to half-hour meetings because people want me to do something for them. After all, it’s more than enough time to explain what the ask is, hand over the action, then sign off. It’s rare for a communicator to be the one handing over work, however hard we try. When we see a half hour meeting, we something’s coming our way.

I’d love to say I’ve found a solution to this problem, but in truth I haven’t. At least, not beyond being clear about what you can and can’t do, and how quick you can or can’t do it. And continuing to block out time. Keep doing that.

If you’ve got a solution, I’d love to hear it. In fact, if you’ve noticed the growth of half-hour meetings, let me know. How do you find them?

I always like to end on a positive note – so here we are: at least we don’t have 15 minute meetings.

And we do have canteen lunches again.