My new normal: Elizabeth Tweedale

As told to Frances Hedges
·4-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Tweedale
Photo credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Tweedale

From Harper's BAZAAR

In normal circumstances, my job involves… going to work at Cypher. Pre-lockdown, my average day involved being in the office with my team from 9am to 6pm; we would have meetings once a week and lots of impromptu chats. I visited schools daily to discuss how we could support their teaching, and talked to children about how coding is used in different careers and how important it will be in their future. More generally, as the CEO and founder, I oversee the growth of Cypher, recruitment, finances and anything else.

In the past few months, the biggest change to my day-to-day work has been… having three kids and a large dog around my west-London flat all the time! I’ve been home-schooling the older children and simultaneously dealing with a one-and-a-half-year-old toddler – trying to keep them all engaged has been a challenge. I’ve also learnt how to cook: my speciality dish is ‘Hello Fresh’ – which definitely still counts.

I’m adapting to working remotely by… creating more opportunities for my children to use technology productively, broken up into various activities. In terms of managing the business, that has been a rollercoaster. A lot of my team moved away at the start of lockdown – both out of London and abroad – and they’ve been really happy working from home; however, I’ve tried hard to ensure they take time away from the computer, by using Slack’s ‘Away’ function and taking regular breaks.

I’m keeping my team motivated by… using a little programme I built to randomise coffee dates with team members: a video goes out and a little cat tells you who you’re going for a virtual coffee meeting with. I built it using Scratch, a coding language we teach our students at Cypher, because one of the things people found they were missing the most was the friendly interaction between team members.

The recent innovation I’m most proud of is… pivoting our entire business operations from physical to virtual in just 48 hours. Before everything hit, we specialised in hosting in-person camps across the UK, a model that we had to change almost overnight. Within two days, we had created a new way to deliver our content and were already taking bookings from across the globe.

The most significant challenge has been… understanding the new booking patterns of our parents. With Covid, things have changed so quickly. We had a huge influx of reservations for our virtual camps when we launched them, but the uncertainty that continued throughout the summer created a lot of unknowns for parents, and therefore our camps. Many families took to home-schooling, but then quickly realised where they needed specialist support and where we could help.

For me, leadership during a crisis means… inspiring as much optimism as is humanly possible. I try to be one of the most cheerful people in the room, and keeping that going during lockdown was definitely a challenge.

My role model for crisis management is… my grandmother. She raised five children while volunteering for women’s-rights organisations and taking college classes. She always had a lot on her plate, but carried out her tasks with such grace. I believe that by remaining calm and collected, you can help to inspire those around you.

The three most important values that will see my business through adversity are… teamwork, optimism and the unified goal to prepare children for the future.

The biggest change I hope we’ll see in my industry post-crisis is… the next generation viewing and using technology with a greater understanding and purpose, making the world a better place. Learning how to code and using computational thinking is one of the most important skills for children today.

The one thing I can’t wait to do when all this is over is… arrange get-togethers with my team, my friends, and our amazing advisors and investors. Most of all, I can’t wait to get the children together again – both my kids with their friends and our students at Cypher camps and clubs.

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