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Working in the time of COVID-19

Monday 8th June 2020

Working in the time of COVID-19

David Miller and Mark Anderton from NECS Consultancy provide their perspective about transitioning from office to home working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included some trials and tribulations as well as a few unexpected perks.  

After joining NECS Consultancy in the New Year, I was deployed at the end of February to join Mark on an engagement supporting the NECS North team. At the time I was blissfully unaware that within three weeks our traditional way of working was going to be completely revolutionised. By the start of March, with COVID-19 restrictions appearing increasingly likely, our project team realised that we’d have to consider a whole new way of approaching our engagement to allow it to continue successfully.

In those weeks before COVID our days would typically begin around 5:30am in preparation for the rail commute across the Pennines. As many who experience rail services across the Pennines can attest, achieving the holy-trinity of speed, comfort and punctuality is often more challenging than winning the jackpot on the pub fruit machine. So once social distancing restrictions and home working were in place, David and I suddenly found we had additional time to support the project.

We were no longer spending time travelling to and from the rail hub, across the windswept moors, or rushing to or from the station worrying about missing a rail connection. This aspect of the day was replaced by morning walks which made us feel energised for the day. More widely, working from home has also highlighted the possibilities for many NHS workplaces which fit the goals of the Long Term Plan.[1] For example, Mark and I have reduced our NHS carbon footprint and have ‘stress tested’ some of the digital solutions being advocated as key tools for our clients in primary and secondary care. ‘Working in the time of Covid’ has also brought us the added bonus of having our own fridges and coffee makers available to help us through the day, and allowed us a degree of flexibility to fit our home life around work commitments.

There are of course some downsides to not being able to work alongside colleagues. For example Mark lives alone and enjoys the social aspects of being in an office and interacting with fellow colleagues. The usual two minute conversation to sort out a minor problem or query was having to be replaced with delayed phone calls or multiple emails back and forth, placing added time pressure onto the project. However, help was at hand with the introduction of Microsoft Teams which has resolved many of these issues[2]. Daily video calls have allowed us to maintain an element of ‘face-to-face’ contact with our clients and colleagues and has allowed emerging issues or risks to be shared and resolved promptly.

We begin each day with a virtual ‘stand up’ call, which has become a mixture of an informal catch up about what each of us had been doing after work (mostly involving conversations about Netflix, pets and missing Greggs pasties) as well as a status update on each of our ongoing work streams. Over time we have grown more confident to ask each other for help using the online tools, such as sharing draft documents and using the chat and video functions. All of this has undoubtedly helped us to increase our ‘velocity’ week on week[3]. The combination of our daily ‘stand up’ meeting alongside quick video calls and instant messages during the work day has allowed us to develop something close a traditional working environment. We even scheduled some weekly time on Zoom to complete for our weekly virtual quiz trophy, which has become fiercely competitive.

Having moved to full-time remote working has made our entire NECS Consultancy team think differently about how we can collaborate with internal and external stakeholders. We have become increasingly resilient, with projects colleagues initially thought wouldn’t be possible to complete from home now having a significant impact on critical NHS functions.  Somewhat unexpectedly we’re now seeing real positives emerge in healthcare from what has been an exceptionally challenging situation. NHS leaders have now experienced what can be delivered remotely by our NECS Consultancy team members, which signposts an interesting direction for healthcare workplaces in the post-COVID landscape.

NECS Consultancy would like to thank all the Key Workers for the hard work they are undertaking during these testing times.

[1] Rapson, J. ‘Covid sparks boom in digital hospital outpatient appointments’  Health Service Journal [Accessed 11/5/20] https://tinyurl.com/yb6qv697

[2] Microsoft News Centre, ‘ NHS staff can use Microsoft Teams for free amid Coronavirus outbreak’ [19/3/20] https://news.microsoft.com/en-gb/2020/03/19/nhs-staff-can-use-microsoft-teams-for-free-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/

[3] Sutherland, D. Scrum: A revolutionary approach to building teams, beating deadlines and boosting productivity, Random House (2014)