It’s now been over seven weeks since the nation’s lockdown officially began. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that we were to stay home, we shared information about how the National Enabling Programmes may be able to support Forces with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new associated restrictions.
The Civil Emergencies Toolkit, or CET, offers Forces an accelerated delivery of two key solutions; Microsoft Teams, and a Crisis Communications Power App. So far over half of the Forces in England and Wales have reached out to the programme to pursue an accelerated delivery of elements of the CET, with a clear prioritisation of implementing Microsoft Teams to support effective communication and remote working. But how is it actually working?
Whilst many Forces are now looking to fast track their implementation of Microsoft Teams, some early adopters are already beginning to understand the impact the platform has made on their COVID-19 response. We recently caught up with DC Richard Burton to find out more about how Derbyshire Constabulary has made use of the platform, and why they decided to push ahead with their full Force roll out.
“Originally our deadline was August 1st, whereby we were aiming to have everybody in the organisation who are on Windows 10 on Teams [which is the vast majority of people]. Once we began to more fully understand the severity of COVID-19, we brought this deadline forward to May 1st. We are getting towards the point now where every department from Professional Standards all the way to Corporate Comms, as well as COVID-19 Gold and Silver command groups are using Microsoft Teams. Even wider than that, all of our divisions have Teams, so they can easily host their daily management meetings by utilising the platform.”
Clearly COVID-19 has acted as a firm catalyst for Derbyshire’s accelerated deployment of Teams, with the hope of reducing the disruption to core operations. One aspect of this has been the recruitment and training of new PCs and PCSOs.
We’re also using Teams as a function for training our new recruits and PCSOs, which has crucially allowed us to continue with our intake of officers and staff whilst still abiding by all the social distancing rules. We can invite our new recruits into these online lessons, carry out welfare check-ins, and generally start integrating them into the team. Wellbeing is a massive part to this as well. The other day I had a check-in session with my manager, and I was able to stick on my headphones and have a call via the Teams mobile app whilst getting my daily exercise. It sounds simple, but it makes that level of isolation feel minimal which is so important just now.
It’s not just the Police Forces who are valuing the functionality of Teams either. In 2015, Criminal Justice Boards became regional, and so the East Midlands Criminal Justice Board (EMCJB) was born. Sarah Virr, from Lincolnshire Police, has worked as Business Manager for the EMCJB for the last 5 years, and is supporting the accelerated delivery of Microsoft Teams in her home Force as a result of adopting the platform with the EMCJB.
“Video conferencing has been talked about for years, but has never really gotten off the ground. This crisis the nation is currently facing has given us some food for thought; if we are going to continue operating, we’re going to have to change the ways we are working. The ability to work virtually by video has been a priority of the EMCJB and partners for some time. Video conferencing between Police Forces and CJ agencies has been elusive as there hasn’t yet been a joined up approach even between Police Forces [using platforms like Skype and Zoom). With the rolling out of Office 365, it brings acommonality with Teams..”
Since Criminal Justice agencies took on a more regional remit in 2015, groups like the EMCJB have encountered significant challenges from a logistical standpoint. With representatives participating in meetings from sometimes several regions, co-ordinating these meetings in the past has proven to be a challenge.
“On the 21st of April we hosted our most recent EMCJB via Teams. This was my first Teams call and I am a complete convert. The sound quality of the call way surpasses that of a telephone conference call and by and large removes the ability for people to jump in and speak over each other. The picture quality was also very good, and it felt much more interactive and less frustrating as a result.
The other day I was talking to colleagues in Leicestershire, and we’re going to have a new group around ‘Reducing Re-offending’. Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire always have the furthest to travel for these meetings, so my suggestion to the chair of this group was why not carry out the meeting via Teams going forward? Let’s make the most of the video conferencing and save the time we’re spending on unnecessary travel.”
Once lockdown restrictions are eventually lifted, organisations across the UK will be posed some interesting questions about the way they choose to work going forward. A number of those questions will be centred around the need for a physical working space, and if it is actually necessary. Policing in the UK is clearly unique to other organisations, however Forces across the country will also be considering the flexibility and mobility of their teams during this difficult period. Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to share stories from Forces around how elements of Office 365 and Teams has changed the way they work, potentially for the long haul.