Here is some advice I picked up from a presentation by economist Shamubeel Eaqub and a workshop on collaborating online offered by Business Lab. The first one provided insights on what councils need to do to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and the second one provided an experience of how to genuinely connect and collaborate via Zoom while we are all working from home.

Click on the audio link below if you would prefer to listen rather than read this article.

Shamubeel Eaqub’s webinar on the immediate and long term impact of Covid-19 included a diagram of the economy — with everything clogged up apart from Government activity. The point of the diagram was to show the huge influence of the public sector on our economic wellbeing at the moment.

What councils need to be doing now

Where does local government fit into this picture? Shamubeel’s suggestions on the role of councils at the moment included:

  • keeping essential services going
  • avoiding rates increases (placing a moratorium on these at a time when many people are losing their jobs)
  • getting resource consents completed for a pipeline of ready to go projects during the recovery
  • prioritising infrastructure projects (getting rid of pet projects, and ruthlessly prioritising the work which will most effectively get the economy going)
  • funding economic development services to leverage local networks and provide coordination and communication
  • connecting people with support networks.

He also said councils should review their strategic priorities, which would have been developed prior to Covid-19. Consider whether they are still fit for purpose in a world that looks so different.

Borrowing will be easier now than in 12 months’ time

Financing the priority projects now will be easier than in a year’s time. Shamubeel said with the Government borrowing $70 to $100 billion, it may become more difficult for councils to borrow money in about 12 months’ time.

Coping with mental stress

Finally, Shamubeel said we will need to expect a lot of surprises, and to expect that many of the people we both work with and provide services to will be experiencing a huge amount of mental stress. Key skills in this time will be: communication, empathy and problem solving.

At the moment a lot of really difficult decisions are being made by people sitting by themselves in their home offices taking part in Zoom conferences. Within a council environment this could include people suddenly learning that consultation processes they had been preparing for have been cancelled, or even that their programme of work is no longer a priority. On a less stressful level, there is the ongoing need to collaborate with others in order to deliver projects which are still going ahead.

Connecting via Zoom

How do we improve our communication, empathy and problem solving when we are facing the additional challenge of not being able to meet in person? We can’t wait until we can meet in person, because we’ve been told we’re in this Covid-19 situation for the long haul. Even at Alert Level 2, most people who work for councils are likely to be working from home.

Last week I took part in a Business Lab webinar called ‘Learn How to Collaborate Virtually … Like a Pro’. There was a lot to like about this webinar, including four principles for collaboration and tips on using more of Zoom’s features. However, the biggest takeaway for me was how connected I felt to the five people randomly assigned to a ‘break out’ room partway through the webinar. The first time we were ‘sent’ to this room we each took turns to share:

  • a random thing in the room each person was sitting in (which for one person was a fabulously weird poodle lampstand)
  • something we had learned about virtual collaboration.

Identifying positive outcomes from Covid-19

The second time we broke into our small groups, our task was to come up with a newspaper headline written in 2030, related to a positive outcome from Covid-19. My headline suggestion was ‘NZ meets carbon neutral targets 20 years early’.

It was such an inspiring conversation. I know many people are covering the same terrain on the potential long-term benefits of this disruption for our social, economic and environmental wellbeing. But maybe having shared those random objects and practised talking in a more structured way the first time around meant we were more able to just throw ideas about, while making sure everyone had a say.

Many of the things we talked about related to the benefits of working from home and the potential to continue connecting via videoconference:

  • employees have demonstrated that working from home is possible
  • the public sector could save a lot of money in office rent and reinvest that in services
  • working from home has given people permission to bring their whole self to the workplace
  • geographical distance doesn’t need to be a barrier to collaboration.

Shamubeel Eaqub also suggested that working from home will be a big consideration for many service businesses in future. It is a way to save as much cash as possible.

Improving our approach to collaboration

During the collaboration webinar we were asked to think about something frustrating which was occurring during our real-life collaborative processes, and to think what we would like to change about that situation. And then to put our hands up if that involved the need for someone else to act differently.

The key point here is that the effectiveness of our collaborations will start within our own behaviours — rather than trying to get other people to change first.

You can access my extra notes from Shamubeel Eaqub’s presentation and the Business Lab webinar (including four principles for effective collaboration and tips on using Zoom with large groups) by clicking on the link below.