How Cancer Research UK’s workforce became fully remote

Cancer Research UK

While many of our researchers have volunteered to return to the front line and support the COVID-19 response, we hear from our Chief Information Officer, Tiffany Hall, about how new technology and shifting to more adaptive, collaborative and flexible ways of working last year have allowed our office-based staff to continue their important work during lockdown

No one could have predicted the unprecedented times we’re currently facing. Not only has the coronavirus outbreak had a huge impact on global health, it’s also having a significant impact on the way people work. 

To enable us to continue in our mission to beat cancer while we’re facing near lockdown, my team in the technology department at Cancer Research UK has been crucial in supporting the charity’s large office-based workforce to move to working remotely in a very short space of time.

As it happens, long before the coronavirus outbreak, we’d had a big push to be more adaptive, collaborative and flexible in terms of the charity’s tools and ways of working through our ‘Future of Work’ programme over the past year. And in the current circumstances, we are realising the benefits. 

Using the charity’s move to Stratford in east London in October 2019 as a catalyst for the change, the programme rolled out new laptops, Office 365 and Skype Enterprise Voice to replace the desk phones to more than 2,000 staff across the UK.  

The next phase explored new ways of working alongside the technology, building a new culture for staff through a test-and-learn method. Staff were encouraged to experiment with informal flexible working, including core office hours and working from home. This made it easier for people to find a work-life balance that works for them and for the charity.

We also spent a lot of time looking at online and face-to-face meeting etiquette to make sure we’re working effectively with those working remotely, including virtual whiteboard tools to enable ‘all-remote’ workshops. Staff embraced these changes, while offering feedback and learning from their experiences. Our tech team blogged about it here about a year ago.

In the run up to the Stratford move, we ran a trial in the technology department with everyone working from home for two days a week and many of our colleagues across the charity did the same. This helped us develop best practices and iron out any glitches, particularly for our software engineers to achieve remote use of the more specialist tech. This gave us confidence when we closed our head office on Friday 20 March because of coronavirus that we would be prepared and able to continue our important work.

People affected by cancer are at the heart of everything we do. Not only does the change to remote working mean we’re able to save money to put into research in the long run, but it also means teams across the charity can continue providing valuable information to those who need our support right now. We’re also continuing to talk to and involve our patient panels remotely to ensure we’re working in the best way for the cancer community.

We’re incredibly fortunate to have had the technology and workplace practices in place before the coronavirus pandemic evolved. It’s meant our staff are equipped and ready to work remotely on continuing our life-saving work with limited interruption. The tech team is providing ongoing support and daily virtual ‘drop-ins’ for staff on issues and updates to make sure everyone can work as effectively as possible to continue our mission to beat cancer, and help those affected by the disease now and in the future.