As we enter our seventh week of lockdown , Health Data Research UK’s Central Team have been working from home since 17 March. When we waved goodbye to our office in the Wellcome Trust that week, we had no idea how long we would be away for and what impact that would have on our workload, strategy and our ways of working.
Communications channels have become a key to our ability to work remotely. Familiar faces we are used to greeting in the morning when we arrive are now greeted on our daily ‘Scrum Meetings’ where the whole Central Team come together to update one another on the array of areas being worked on. We use Slack to communicate both internally and externally and have developed channels specifically for our COVID-19 updates where we share news, thoughts and collaborate between our 31 locations across the UK. These updates are shared more widely than between our own team in our COVID-19 Weekly Updates found on our website and on our bi-monthly webinars, which have become even more important under these new circumstances.
Other forms of communicating with our members, stakeholders, and the public have evolved and developed during our time working from home. Our monthly newsletter, Hive, is getting more packed each month, with dedicated sections on COVID-19 whilst also sharing our latest news, events, opportunities and our open access Publication of the Month, as selected by our Early Career Researchers. Similarly, our social media feeds are abuzz with activity not only relating to COVID-19, with other topics and conversations happening on threads relating to all areas of our work. Teams from across our research priorities have come together in novel ways to work on cross disciplinary projects to tackle COVID-19 and the four nations we work within are working in close partnership to learn from each other, breaking down geographical barriers through our HDR UK research teams.
With a small Central Team of 33 people, we have found it fairly easy to stay in touch with our colleagues and our strong team morale has made supporting each other during these uncertain times easier in some ways. It is, however, pertinent to remain aware that there are always those who will require support in different ways to others, whether that be that they have small children to look after, home-schooling to fit in around a working day, general feelings of isolation from family, friends and activities, or underlying mental health challenges to negotiate from their living room table. We do daily polls and wellbeing check-ins in order to monitor this and friends and colleagues are encouraged to have informal chats as often we need, as well as online quizzes and ‘virtual leaving/welcome get togethers to stay in touch and feel connected.
Our Zoom accounts, as many others’, have never been so well used! As an institute that covers the whole of the UK, we operated in the virtual space pre-lockdown, making sure that many of our meetings were Zoom-enabled since early last year, but we have made a step-change in our use of Zoom. Meetings that were once the preserve of face to face have all been online – from the funding panel convened to make recommendations on the Better Care catalysts and partnerships, to our first Zoom-only Board meeting in March. And they have been incredibly effective, enabling us to work in a relative business as usual way, in a life unusual time!
Being able to move our operations online in a relatively pain-free way has meant that we are able to provide some sense of normality to our teams right across the UK at a time when it is anything but.
This is a challenging time for all, but there is a silver lining, and these are proving to be conditions conducive to using our ingenuity – we will continue to pull together and look out for one another. We do not know what the following weeks and months will hold, but we are adopting ways of working, as well as building and strengthening teams, that will pull us through.
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