New year, new faces

After the year that felt like it would never end, we've got some new faces to introduce you to that are making us hopeful for 2021.

We talk to Emma, Ert, Laura and Thomas about how they're settling in how they're planning to make a difference this year.

Hey Emma! Tell us about yourself

It’s my fourth month as Lead User Researcher here at Essex County Council and it’s fair to say, a lot has happened. I’ve been exposed to more acronyms than I knew existed, I got myself blocked from Essex County Council software and tech twice and my dog ate a Petit Filous yogurt pot during a call.

Sounds messy, aside from that, how have you found it at Essex?

I’ve had a hugely positive experience starting up with the team.

I was apprehensive about starting a new role remotely, especially as I’m at the opposite end of the country in Bristol. But the Service Transformation team here at Essex County Council have done an amazing job of easing me into my new role and quickly making me feel part of the gang.

What are you going to be working on?

There’s so much brilliant stuff going on at the moment and I can’t wait to start sharing more about our work. Right now, we’re in the middle of rapid research and prototyping to support the roll out of lateral flow testing in Essex.

We’re exploring the future of social care and how we might provide better support for people, in a way that is comfortable and makes sense to them. There’s also a heap of internal stuff going on too. We’re reflecting on our intranet and what employees really need from it.

So it’s going to be a busy year and I’m looking forward to sharing what we get up to.

One more thing, were you in Brazil the other week?

No! But I learned the hard way that using a VPN that was running my stuff through a server in Brazil doesn’t go down well with local gov IT. Understandably, that tripped everything out and flagged a security alert that locked me out of ECC for a day and a bit when I was trying to get myself set up.

Hey Ert! How’ve you found local government so far?

So this is my third month here at ECC, and oh my, have I been thrown at the deep end or what!

My last job was at a digital agency where I was working on one thing and one thing only intensively for a few months. Now, I’m having to dip in and out of a whole range of things every day, and it's been really challenging! During my first week, my brain was like: what, what, what?

I feel that's normal when you're starting a new job, but also councils do a million things! That was actually a big factor in me wanting to get into local government, and it’s fair to say I got what I asked for!

That sounds intense! What will you be focusing on?

First, product focus

As a product person, I’m obsessed with concepts such as outcomes and value, testing assumptions to de-risk future delivery, return of investment, problem-solving, user needs, and digital ways of working. I see it as part of my job description to help the council eat, sleep and breathe these concepts in the medium-long run.

Fast and sweet delivery

This will take time because change is hard, and that's true wherever you are. Showing the value of each of these concepts through actual delivery is my number one priority for the time being. This is why, with the team, I’m currently searching for something that we can take into a short alpha from a discovery stage.

And, websites, websites and websites!

Besides project delivery, there are loads of other ways I'll be trying to add value. I know it’s not everyone’s favourite topic, but I’m very interested in procurement. Buying the right thing, or buying the right delivery partner is something I deeply care about, so that we can provide value for money.

I’m spending a lot of time speaking to different teams in ECC who own a website or would like to create one. In these conversations, I’m trying to help my stakeholders by walking them through the following questions:

  1. Which problem we’re trying to solve and for which user groups or audiences?
  2. Why haven't these problems been solved already?
  3. How do the websites solve that problem? What assumptions might we be making?

Laura! How’s it going?

Hello! Not bad!

Was it weird joining a team in the midst of global pandemic?

Well, I started as a Digital Performance Analyst  on 8 December. It was a memorable day in more ways than one as it happened to coincide with the very first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine being given. For the first time since March, the end was finally in sight!

How did you find working remotely?

I was nervous to meet my new team and anxious I’d feel disconnected, but I decided to be positive and threw myself into meeting as many colleagues as possible.

Thankfully, lots of people had already made the effort to invite me to meetings to say hello and introduce themselves.

As this was before lockdown, I was able to join my immediate team for a socially distanced walk in the park, which gave me the chance to meet everyone in person and get to know them a little better (as well as hang out with some very cute dogs)!

Rather than feeling like I was on a very long, awkward first date (a genuine concern I had!), my initial couple of weeks went by surprisingly quickly and naturally. I settled into new team patterns and familiarised myself with the organisational structure and priorities.

Do you have any tips for new starters in remote teams?

Get to know the tech.

Having worked from home full time since March, working remotely felt ‘normal’ to me but, getting used to new tools was a real pain and slowed me down during workshops in the first couple of weeks.

Because you're not in the office, you can't just turn to a colleague to ask quick questions about how stuff works, so I'd definitely say, give yourself time to get to know the tools you're going to be using.

Also, have random chats!

It's hard to get a real sense of what people are like when you can't just stop for a little chat or mooch down the high street for a coffee.

Something I found really helpful in overcoming this was joining a ‘random chats’ group which puts small groups of 3 or 4 colleagues together for a half an hour chat once a week. The meetings are strictly random chat only - no cringeworthy icebreakers or work agendas - and provide everyone with the chance to get to know their colleagues a little better.

If you’re about to start a new role and find that informal meetings aren’t part of the weekly routine, why not set something up? I’m sure your new colleagues will thank you for it!

Did you find yourself constantly on video calls?

Yes! Video calls are great for a multitude of reasons, but there’s a limit to the amount of calls we can do in one day before productivity takes a nosedive.

They require more focus than conversations in real life, and if you're in them back to back, it's draining and you'll end up with a sore head.

It's especially tough for new starters, because you're eager to  meet people and learn more about what they do, but have to be careful not to overload yourself with calls straight away.

Remember there will be a lot to take in during your first few weeks so it’s a good idea to keep some calendar time free to reflect and make sense of new information.

How do you manage the stress of a new job in lockdown?

I think it's really important to take it one day at a time.

In any new role, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scale of the task in front of you especially if you’re new to the sector.

Through this whole experience I’ve learnt to be patient with myself and build my understanding of the organisation one day at a time, and that's helped keep anxiety at bay.

If you’re about to start a new role don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Accept things will take a little longer remotely and don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem silly, they most likely aren’t!

Hey Thomas, how have you found it?

Hey! Like Laura, I'd been working remotely for a while, so it didn't feel like a massive change.

How do you navigate the awkwardness of being at home and being at work?

I'd definitely say, find yourself comfortable to work. Don't squash yourself in somewhere just because it's got a nicer background. I think this many months into the pandemic, no one's judging!

Can backgrounds be quite good for spontaneous chat too?

Yeah, I think so. Obviously, you'll want your background to look professional but it's also quite a nice way for people to find out more about you. They might see a nice picture on the wall, or a board game on a shelf and it'll spark an impromptu conversation. The kind that you'd probably have all the time in the office, but are missing a bit now that we're all at home.


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