When the Covid-19 outbreak hit the UK, I was given the opportunity to work within the South East Incident Coordination Centre (SE ICC). I arrived at the beginning of the second week of opening while we were still in the calm. The ICC started slowly, a team of 10 of us working together to set up the daily rhythm, contact lists, define processes, but it quickly picked up. What started as a 0900-1700, Monday-Friday which soon changed to 0800-2000, Monday-Sunday, as we began receiving up to 600 emails per day.
Initially my role was vast: as Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for the SE ICC mailbox, I triaged emails as they flooded in; as Task Manager, I actioned every email that required it; as Sitrep Manager, I made templates for sitreps and returns, collating and chasing information when necessary; and finally as a member of the death reporting team, recording and validating deaths and updating our Comms Teams daily. We worked as a tightknit unit, sharing our learning, and keeping up morale.
When lockdown hit, our work from home process was still a work in progress, so I continued to commute to the office in central London. The tubes in the morning were a strange and eerie change from the usual hustle and bustle, while the tube home again was still full of people trying to leave work behind. In all honesty, I’m not sure which journey felt stranger: a whole carriage to myself or a tube filled with people during lockdown. Waterloo was a ghost town, arrivals boards reading cancelled from all over the country as I walked through, alone. Streets were quiet, no more crowds to navigate or shoulders to dodge.
Social distancing in the office was a new way of working. Once all seated in one Incident Coordination room, we spread into the wider office to enable a safe 2m distance between team members, only possible due to the significant reduction in staff in the building. Hand sanitiser was placed around the office and antibacterial wipes around contact points. People were still smiling but giving a wide berth when talking or passing each other in the halls.
As soon as our work from home process was signed off, I settled quickly into the new rhythm. Since Clarity is a work from home company, I was no stranger to the new ways of working. To promote robustness and reduce risk of burn out, new members of the team were set up within the same week and so I set about my new role: Team Trainer.
Training the team brought on a whole new set of challenges. There weren’t enough of us to train separately, so we had to do it on the job, and since we were social distancing, we had to be innovative in how to teach. Using Teams, I would share my screen so that they could shadow me as I went about SPOC or TM duties. To support newcomers, I created the Query Handling Guidance with one of my colleagues, a document that contains all the BAU emails and how to handle them from SPOC to Incident Coordinator. We included a Returns tab where we could track BAU returns as well as ad hoc returns, ensuring team members knew where the request came from, the deadline, who to pass the information to and who to link with were there any queries.
Not long after the newer team members were working independently, a new role was created: ICC Support. They were to support both SPOCs and TMs when required, to answer queries and to provide additional capacity. This also enabled those in the support role to complete wider work, such as processes and SOPs. For myself, I was able to keep the Query Handling Guidance up to date and it also provided me capacity to create the Onboarding Pack for the entire SE ICC. To do this I have linked in with the different working cells (Sitrep Managers, Content Managers, Incident Directors, Managers and Coordinators) to ensure onboarding processes are captured for each role. This will then form the basis for the onboarding pack for the EU Exit Team.
To date, the project has been a living, breathing creature and, as such, I have had to adapt, each new role bringing new challenges along the way, with more to come as we mould into an ICC that will cover Covid-19, EU Exit and Winter.