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‘Social distancing – let’s keep it personal’ Richard Oakley recommends tools and behaviours to maintain a healthy workforce and healthy projects

By Richard Oakley24 March 20204 min read

We are very fortunate as a company to be able to send all of our colleagues home to work, modern technology means that the Tech Consultancy & Data Science wizardry we trade in can be done as well and almost as efficiently remotely. It’s fair to say that gathering user requirements and technical meetings are a slightly different affair but everything remains possible.

Our healthcare heritage means we have friends and partners across the NHS who don’t have the luxury of choosing to go to work or stay at home. Our epidemiological and statistical understanding means we appreciate the power of physical distancing (different to social isolation!) to mitigate spread and mean the NHS has a better chance to cope with what is coming over the following weeks.

It is great to be in a position where the use of technology allows us to continue doing what we do. We’re not the sort of company that springs to mind dealing with the practical realities of something like COVID-19, our stock in trade is strategy, prediction and avoidance but if there is anything we can do with regards to developing technology solutions or analytical capability to help others through this, we will certainly do so and have made offers to a range of organisations to provide free support where they require it. With that in mind, the best we can do right now is to share some of our ways of working from distance, hopefully you may be able to adapt them to your areas of work and if they help businesses keep running even 10% longer then they have to be worthwhile.




    • Get yourselves a chat app like Teams or Slack and get everyone using it, a lot. Don’t stress too much about people chatting about non-work things on it, they can’t do that at work right now and it’s important and healthy
    • Cut down on email – impersonal communications at a time of isolation are a negative, make comms more personal by picking up the phone or video call/chat app
    • Use shared working spaces online such as MS Whiteboard or Miro to share ideas, there is a bit of a learning curve but right now, this is your reality and actually, you probably won’t go back to a time before them
    • Push everyone towards online shared documents storage, speed up your roll-out if needed, it is the only way people will be able to work effectively through this
    • Up the comms from leadership, people want to know where they stand – it’s obvious but actually this means even team leaders and people in technical roles
    • ‘Video on’ calls, we might all dislike video cameras in our faces at times but seeing people is very important, some people working who live alone might otherwise really not see anyone so suck it up and do it for them
    • Think about introducing some agile practices into group calls, concise updates, problem and solution orientated approaches and no calls of more than 3 without a chair
    • Have a QA/Feedback policy or procedure – no-one wants a document splattered with comments from 5 people which they then have to unpick, create a systematic approach that works, it will save vast swathes of time long term
    • Be flexible, obvious advice but everything is changing and a flexible approach to working with your colleagues is essential



Requirements gathering / User research 

    • Surveys – you’re going to need a lot more surveys to go along with your shared working spaces, it’s one of the few ways of achieving consensus outside of the workshop environment, there are loads of free tools out there and paid tiers as well for those larger pieces. Don’t forget to work very hard on your questions, get someone who understands bias to help you if it’s not something you usually do in UR
    • Presentations – online presentations can be hard to deliver well but learning how to do them, rehearsing and making them engaging is something the internet has a wealth of content on, it is far harder to convey your ideas without being there in person so up your game!
    • Tools like Mentimeter, Slido & Google Slides have features that allow you to present and get instant feedback on questions asked, these are easily the best tools to overcome the no physical workshops problem.
    • Consider employing techniques like the Delphi method or similar to evaluate and gain consensus, these techniques lend themselves well to remote approaches



Data Science / Devops

    • Think about creating some cloud infrastructure for people to do experimental projects in, the entry bar is low, you can sandbox and only pay for the months you use. If your staff can’t work on what they are supposed to, see what they can come up with
    • Learn new tech stacks, again if there is downtime then horizon scanning is a great use of time and you never know what will come out of it
    • Optimise – if you have a big monthly cloud infrastructure bill then time spent on optimisation could turn into useful money quickly, if not it will still save you trouble later on
    • Refactor – if your product development cycle is stalled, it might be time to think about tackling the big one
    • Internal projects & improvements – all the things that people have wanted to do for ages but never had the time? Maybe just turbo charging your approach you already use but get them under some leadership and move them up that priority list
    • Video share coding in pairs and QA – the screen lag can be a little annoying sometimes but this is a solid solution to an otherwise tricky problem



This is what we’re doing and what we will continue to improve on. We will continue to embrace technology solutions and develop working practices that can see us function through this but fundamentally we are focusing on our people, they will get us through this because it is their work that this is built on.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact me on richard.oakley@methods.co.uk