Angela Bonomy reflects on a year of the pandemic - and how email has been a simple tool for staying connected with others
It all started with a simple sentence: “You’re good at the words Angela, you do it".
A year ago, with lockdown hours away it fell to me to compose the ‘All Staff’ email to our 1,000-strong workforce, reminding them of their key worker status, giving practical instructions for working from home and thanking everyone for their response as Covid-19 suddenly arrived on the doorstep.
Little did I know I’d still be writing ‘the Friday email' week after week. And little did I know that - in an age when there are so many sophisticated platforms available - the humble email would be the best tool in the box. It became a way for me to connect with people, handle my fears and emotions, and reflect on the good things that were happening, giving some balance against the backdrop of a chaotic and unravelling pandemic.
The simplicity of writing to staff every week has done more for our organisation than any photoshopped pic of me next to a ‘View from the top-style blog’ ever could. There’s no corporate nonsense, it’s not jazzed up with graphics or sent to the communications team to polish.
It’s just me, having a conversation, with people who are trying to get through this as best they can. And it’s brought us closer.
I looked back on some of those emails from a year ago and am reminded how raw I felt. The first email was simply a task to impart info and instructions. Reading the second – in which I “had no words” I remember feeling utterly overwhelmed. I’d formally taken on the executive director role just a few weeks previously and navigating our social care organisation through a global pandemic wasn’t what I’d signed up for.
I felt very out of my depth. I wanted to help people, to have the answers and to be in control, but I didn’t have any of that – no one did. What really got me out of that feeling of inadequacy was a determination that I had been trusted and put in charge. I wasn’t going to let anyone down (and I wasn’t going to let myself down). So, I based the next message on the Roosevelt quote “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”, and tried to make people feel valued, respected and cared for.
As the weeks wore on I was able to share things to give staff a boost, highlight the contribution of a particular team or have a dialogue about what was going on.
Almost 50 emails in, it’s always personal, and it always gets a response. “You’ve just described how I’m feeling” or “I had no idea all this was going on across the organisation” or even that confession: “I love Motherwell FC too”.
Sense Scotland already had a good culture, and this is evident in the email traffic. There’s a support worker who always picks up his email on a Sunday and who, without fail, pings me a message. I ping him one back hoping he has a good day.
Normally, I wouldn’t get the chance to talk to this person, and he probably wouldn’t feel comfortable emailing me, but in some way the message has given staff permission to get in touch. People don’t hesitate to click on a reply and say something to me. Even the people I least expect.
The biggest response I’ve had so far was when I shared an article about shock. It described the dip you hit after the adrenalin rush of a crisis and summed up exactly how I and, evidently, many others, had been feeling.
In another I talked about my hopes that the work we do would continue to be as valued as it was in that moment. I still pray for the day when we see social care on a par with healthcare.
Because what our staff do is nothing short of heroic. They sit at hospital bedsides so the person they support doesn’t feel frightened; they learn how to use complex medical equipment to keep someone alive. They even climb hills in the rain because that’s what Irene wants to do that day.
I know my limits. I couldn’t do what our support workers do. My strengths are making sure the organisation is doing what it should be, giving reassurances. And sitting down on a Thursday night and battering out the next day’s email.
Unless they tell me otherwise staff will continue to receive their Friday message, even after this crisis is over. At a time when I can’t say: “My door’s always open” at least I can say: “Do hit reply.”