PHE’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Strengthening Project team are used to being dispersed, with colleagues spread over seven countries – UK, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia and Sierra Leone, while undertaking business as usual.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the team were already well-versed in virtual meetings and remote working but wanted to find new ways of staying connected and checking in with one another during this difficult time.

The team made it a priority to identify ways of keeping in touch and successfully integrated these into their team culture.

One More Thing

The IHR project team have introduced a standing agenda item at the end of each weekly team meeting named ‘One More Thing’ which is assigned to a different team member each week. Colleagues use this time to share a bit about themselves and add lightness to the weekly meetings with games, videos, photos and stories. It has been a great success in learning more about one another, encouraging laughter and discovering secret individual talents including artistry, modelling and dancing.

Development week

This year, the IHR project successfully ran its first virtual development week using Microsoft Teams, with over 60 participants from IHR project countries and workstreams.

The week began with a session focused on working remotely, and tips and strategies for virtual facilitation. Throughout the week, sessions ranged from games and team bonding activities to in-depth reflection, feedback sessions and a career development panel.

The team also created a ‘story map’ using Maphub.net, with each colleague adding a marker to a world map on a location they would like to share a story about. Colleagues were encouraged to use the map during the week to reach out to someone they hadn’t spoken to before. To end the week, all the stories were shared in a wrap up session and the team participated in a ‘fireside chat’ hosted by David Heymann, Chair of the PHE Advisory Board.

The feedback from the sessions was very positive and plans have begun for the next series of sessions due to popular demand by attendees.


Prior to COVID-19 the IHR team would meet on Wednesdays in the office kitchen for a non-work-related chat, participating in the Swedish cultural tradition of ‘Fika’ – roughly translating to ‘coffee and a cake break with friends and colleagues’. Fika is an important part of everyday life in Sweden, emphasising the importance of spending quality time with others to chat and build relationships.

In the move to working from home, this concept has been adapted into ‘eFika’ , a twice-weekly Microsoft Teams call where IHR colleagues join from all over the globe to have a quick catch up and break from work.

Throughout the year as constant uncertainties played on moods and motivation, eFika has also been used for quizzes, birthday celebrations and games to lift spirits in the team.