Caroline Mayger – Managing an Adult Social Service Remotely: From The Outside In

Hello, my name is Caroline Mayger. I am a Service Manager for Independence and Wellbeing, front line social care services to vulnerable adults living in Enfield and this is my story:

I returned to the UK from India on March 16th, 2020 after 6 months of travelling.

What a return! No smooth entry but a large bump!

The world I found was upside-down chaotic, full of insecurities and fear – an unknown narrative and I realised India was about 3 weeks behind the curve. I went in to self-imposed 7- day isolation, a drift and struggling to make sense – It definitely wasn’t normal and I can remember thinking that if this was the new normal I didn’t like it!

Reflecting now on my return to the UK I can see that it took me time to find some rhythm to my day get up, shower, get dressed, breakfast, emails, Zoom, lunch, day time TV, watch a film, yoga…anything to get me through the day.

Once I managed that I felt a little better and I was reframing my day to day life as information came through. I still felt very unsettled but was becoming adjusted to my new normal.

I returned to work on the 4th April 2020. From the outset I was remotely working – that took some getting used to – no existing workload, no face to face contact and Covid-19 causing chaos, upset and fear. I felt impotent – it was like being in a vacuum.

Lockdown was in place and our frontline staff remained in work looking after vulnerable people – the first cases of Covid were present in services. I remember one early managers’ meeting – I was present but not.  As a remote worker I felt guilty at not being with colleagues in work.

I felt a clear resonance with the time I spent at home – insecurity, the need for routine, searching and shifting for information that ‘felt’ real. We needed a clear pragmatic approach for our staff and managers – to provide reassurance and to navigate the risks. I found myself a new role – coordinating clear information, structure and an evidence-based approach to supporting services, leaving colleagues to focus on the front line, manage the risks, support staff.   

My role was an outside-in view of what was happening and in response to an ever-changing landscape. This was a whole team effort with everyone playing a part to create an environment where we could deliver services.

Gaining staff trust was paramount – it was and is a new environment for us all – If the staff felt like I did – what did we as an organisation need to do to get through this? At the time it was about survival and trying to find a way through, to take staff with us and to reduce the risk and get the job done. 

In terms of leadership, during this time we took a directive approach to provide a structure for people to work within whilst also being very supportive to individual and team needs when required – providing people space to question and communicate with us – our approach has been by being consistent, sharing information – we listened flexed and responded – sometimes hour by hour.

Feedback from staff is that this was appreciated, and our care staff continued to provide services during the biggest challenge we have ever had despite their own anxieties.

My emotional intelligence has been at full stretch – especially as a remote worker – picking up on issues through tone and nuance – checking in with people, offering time to just listen. On a day to day basis and from a distance communication was key – ensuring information was valid and fact based. This was especially difficult in the first two or three weeks when the information was changing, being updated and we had to respond daily to review the guidance and practice – on a personal level I was anxious that we were doing enough – was it correct? Were we creating risk? I had to trust in our approach – open communication, respond when required, be transparent, listen.

We were often reactive to the changing landscape and ensuring these messages were communicated effectively to staff. I think that the one thing that worked for us was that we were very open about not having all the answers, we couldn’t eliminate risk completely but based on best available advice this was the approach we were taking. We did not waiver from that stance and it stood us in good stead.

During this crisis our staff and our managers have stepped up and provided the stability needed to provide safe and responsive services.

I hope that from a distance I have been in some way able to provide the framework for those on the front line to focus on their work and to stay safe.

We are not at the end of this journey yet – We need to continue to provide consistent leadership – to be clear, to listen, to communicate and to be available – this will support our staff in the best way possible and enable them carry on caring. I am very proud to be part of these Teams. Thank you for listening.

Caroline Mayger is an Independence & Well Being Service Manager in Enfield. She shares how it feels to manage an adult social care service remotely by creating stability within care settings from a distance.

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