The COVID pandemic affected the whole world. At ECMWF, just like our partners, we had to adjust and adapt to new challenges to ensure continuity in the delivery of numerical weather predictions to our users.
This successful adaptation is attributed to three key factors. The infrastructure developed and implemented over the year across our IT processes, together with the sustained support from our Service Desk and analysts, allowed us to seamlessly transition from all staff working in our offices to almost all staff working remotely. The steadfast reaction of our Human Resources section adapting policies, increasing the health care available to staff and demonstrating the highest level of flexibility, supported staff across the dire period. Last but by far not least, staff caring for each other brought some much valued comfort. From the discreet phone calls to those we knew to be more affected, to the Well-Being Network – a staff initiative started just before the COVID pandemic, to increasing opportunities for staff to interact, peer support was present over the whole period.
Here are some key moments that marked life at ECMWF during 2020:
31 January: ECMWF suspends all missions to areas affected by the outbreak, in line with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
ECMWF bans all work-related travel and closes its doors to external visitors and workshop delegates.
An internal event is maintained, our first science and art exhibition. Over 80 pieces created by staff and their families are displayed in the Weather Room. The artworks range from sculptures to paintings and photography, and all convey weather-related topics in their own beautifully unique ways. By combining science and art, we make space for our scientists to express their creativity through work topics they are passionate about and reflect on their scientific field in a very different way from their daily routines.
The artwork will be used to decorate the space we work in and bring science to life.
ECMWF delivers its first-ever virtual training courses. Staff are still on site, whilst students attend remotely.
24 February: Bologna premises close. This will remain the case for most of the year, with presence on site limited to staff required there.
20 March: Reading headquarters close. Access to site is restricted to essential workers only, with all other staff switching to working remotely.
Technical support, troubleshooting and installation of software is carried out remotely. Virtual connection to office workstations is put in place for all staff, existing and new.
25 March: A weekly address by Director-General Florence Rabier starts, allowing all staff an opportunity to gather, albeit virtually!
Weather Room discussions turn to virtual events too, with over 100 members of staff joining every Friday to exchange views on the performance of our forecasting model.
7 April: The Well-Being Network and Staff Committee launch a weekly Virtual Coffee Break for staff.
19 April: The 'International Employee Assistance Programme' and 'Telehealth Programme' provided by our healthcare insurance provider are launched, giving staff access to confidential counselling support and to virtual medical advice.
20 April: Mind and body classes for staff move online, and the Well-Being Network organises the first in a series of webinars to help staff over the period.
The Advisory Committee for Data Policy, Finance Committee, and Policy Advisory Committee meet virtually for the first time since the creation of ECMWF.
28 May: The Service Desk organises a virtual drop-in session covering the tools and options available for remote working (a second session is held on 18 June).
We roll out a plan for a gradual limited and reversible return to site in four phases dependent on the evolution of the pandemic. The first phase (mid-June to September) enables us to reopen the site to staff members whose personal circumstances make it very difficult to work from home.
3 June: First virtual signature of Convention accession agreement sets Estonia on course to become a Member State in December.
22 June: First return to site date.
23 June: First Virtual Council, which amongst other decisions, approves ECMWF Strategy for 2021 to 2030.
13–16 July: In this long series of ‘firsts’, the Staff Committee members are elected electronically.
26 August: With workshops and seminars proving to work extremely well virtually, ECMWF hosts its first virtual group visit: University of Reading (ESiWACE summer school).
4 September: A second ‘Voluntary Return to the Office’ survey aims to gauge staff interest in returning to site. Around 40 staff volunteer to gradually return.
12–14 October: The Scientific Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee of Co‑operating States hold their first virtual sessions.
30 October: In light of the worsening situation in the UK, remote working is extended till 31 March 2021 for staff located in Reading.
5 November: The UK Government announces new lockdown measures, which do not affect the working of ECMWF, still under remote-working policy.
11 December: A virtual staff Christmas party rounds off the year.