Morag Anderson examines how things have changed over the past six months
As for all charities in Scotland, a lot has changed for Health in Mind in the last few months. We have had to adapt our ways of working at all levels and move with the times – that’s included our Board of Directors.
We have had to review how we communicate, meet and make decisions as a Board and have had to make plans around what this will look like going forward.
In late February as Covid-19 took hold of the world, I was in America with plans of going to Palm Springs to attend a tennis tournament. I was in Santa Fe when the tournament was cancelled and found myself trying to get home to Edinburgh with a sense of urgency as news was coming in from Europe of border closures.
When I returned to Edinburgh, things felt unsettled across the city. Health in Mind had started to plan working from home and we were grateful for our Business Continuity Plan.
Suddenly change was forced upon all of us. Those who were perhaps less enthusiastic about online working agreed that it was essential. We agreed to close our offices and move the whole organisation to home working from 18 March.
As a board we usually meet six times a year but with things shifting and changing daily we made the decision to meet more often.
Clear and consistent communication is vital at times of change and we wanted to ensure that our senior leadership team at Health in Mind felt supported. They had the tough task of looking after our staff and adapting our services quickly and efficiently. We knew the support we provide as a mental health charity would be #NeverMoreNeeded than it was during lockdown – and beyond as we now shift to the ‘new normal’ and finding ways of living with Covid-19.
One silver lining of Covid-19 is that it has brought new technology and tools into my life. I have now encountered Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Zoom – all of which have been helpful during this time. They have meant we have been able to stay connected as a Board and although it’s not the same as meeting face-to-face, it’s the next best thing.
Technology is brilliant when it works and when we know how to use it. However, some of our board directors didn’t have access to a computer or phone, some prefer paper copies for meetings but didn’t have access to a printer, and some had computer rustiness as they are retired and are not using digital technology in their daily lives.
With time, we overcame the challenges – prepaid cell phone cards were particularly useful!
We had also recently recruited new board members and although the interviews had been held face to face their first board meeting was held online. We had previously been concerned about everyone fitting around our board table, but that was no longer an issue.
Being virtual doesn’t allow much opportunity for casual conversation after a meeting and to be honest most Board members want to be off Zoom as quickly as possible. So post-meeting virtual drinks was not an option so instead we are instigating an informal WhatsApp group to offer Board members an opportunity to maintain casual contact. We feel that it’s important to keep connected and get to know each other in order to be effective as a board.
We continue to meet virtually as a board and will continue to do so until it is safe for us to meet face to face again.
Meeting virtually has allowed for board members to participate from a place of their choosing (which is great, although I was a bit disconcerted when one joined us from their car – they were not driving!). Post Covid-19 we will continue with enabling Board members to attend virtually when we return to in person meetings and have revised our Articles of Association to enable this to happen.
Lastly, for those of you who are on boards of charities, I want to acknowledge that it’s been a difficult time and many of us have had to make tough decisions. The charity sector in Scotland is vibrant, creative and very much needed.
The people working in the third sector have always shown dedication and commitment and this has been tested in the last few months. It’s important that we come together and help one another navigate our way through the coming months.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who make up Health in Mind’s community and hello to those who have just found us or who are looking for support.
Morag Anderson is chair of Health in Mind