By Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO of The Data Lab
This time last week on Wednesday we had three calls through the day which culminated in the decision to cancel the remainder of DataFest20. We realised early on Wednesday morning that the momentum was shifting fast with COVID-19 and we felt it was only right that we give everyone our sponsors, partners, Fringe hosts, speakers and our participants as much notice as possible. We had over 2000 planned to gather across the coming week from Monday 16th at DataTech, DataTalent which gathers all our amazingly talented post grad students and culminating on Thursday and Friday at DataSummit. We were acutely aware we were about to disappoint 500 school children who had been so excited to see and meet Tim Peake at our STEM events especially after all their hard work in submitting videos on handling the climate emergency.
I am not sure at that point we understood the emergency we were about to enter. On Wednesday we spoke to our main sponsors and partners to build our cancellation plan and timings. By Thursday lunchtime we had completed that plan and indeed most of ticket holders’ refunds had been processed. We had some outstanding support and comments from many on social platforms commending us for the decision but now it all seems a bit distant. Many organisers have had to make those same decisions over the last few days.
Working from home – the realities
By Thursday afternoon we decided to implement full working from home from the Friday morning. We felt we would get some time to bed this in before further advice to do just that, even then we thought we would maybe have a couple of weeks working from home. Although many in our team work from home one day a week not everyone does, and some in the team have never worked from home. We had all the tools but the change is very dramatic going from never having to work from home to this now being the norm 5 days a week. There were some things we had to think about such as does everyone have an environment at home they can actually work from? do they have a table or desk, do they have a supportive seat, do they have flatmates, family members or pets who may be disrupted by this new pattern?
Keeping communication going in the team and thinking about mental health
We started gathering useful links that were being posted from last week on ‘How to work from home effectively’, ‘How to lead remote teams’ and ‘Leading Virtual Meetings’ through to useful links to Headspace and other apps which help with mental health. We created new channels on Slack including these links but also others such as recommended recipes to try, recommended boxsets or reading materials and encouraging the team to post pics from their daily commutes which have included lovely views from the team as they walk around their village, or complete a morning cycle, or watch the sun rise over the city streets. We have installed a daily huddle Teams call for people to dial into just before lunchtime (exactly as we did in the office), yesterday’s chat got onto Yoga Apps, Broccoli Salad recipes and we start every one with good news stories. It is critically important we over communicate at this time and we be kind and help others when we can.
Working together, being innovative
One of our good news stories yesterday was shared by the team from The Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF, who are working on a new COVID-19 challenge and getting some of the fantastic support from our academic partners to resource this important project over the coming days. We are evaluating The Data Lab activities and urgently reaching out to our Masters students, our placement partners and collaborative innovation partners to help build as resilient plans as we can for the coming weeks and months. We will not be able to do things the way we always have and as an Innovation Centre – now is the time to Innovate for ourselves and our programmes and to help our partners as well. We look forward to sharing more of that soon.
Looking after our team in this worrying time
As Data people we are attracted to the analysis, reports and models but sometimes these can be worrying too and we are extremely aware of the worrying time this is for us and everyone we work with. We have team members who have symptoms of COVID-19 and are in isolation, we have team members who have family with symptoms who collectively are now in isolation, we have team members who are worried about family and friends who are in the vulnerable category but also who have family members that have jobs or businesses at risk. We have three fabulous team members leaving us this week; Jude, Caterina and Dan who have all done a lot for us over the last years. This is not how they wanted to leave and certainly not how we wanted to send them off. But rest assured a very good leaving party will be arranged when we can. We have some new team members starting next week, again not how we wanted to on-board them but we will make it work and look forward to having them join the team.
A time for Scotland to show real kindness for each other
I called this blog, “a week is a long time” and I am sure many reading this can’t quite believe we are where we are. All I can say is that this team is strong and we will go through some ups and downs in the coming weeks and months. I cannot reiterate strongly enough that there is true kindness in the people who live and work in Scotland, I see it all the time and now is a chance for us to show this in abundance. Many of you will know The Data Lab team are always off the Monday after DataFest, we are still going to do that not just because of all the extra hours, evenings and weekends we had already put in organising and starting DataFest but also because our team will spend some time on Monday doing something in their community be it shopping or running errands, helping neighbours, family or friends in isolation or whatever will help.
We look forward to supporting our team through this but also all our partners, clients, stakeholders and funders. Stay safe and well everyone.
Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO of The Data Lab