#switchtoremote: reflections on the first few weeks of remote working in lockdown.

April 15th, 2020

Like many organisations, Redthread has had to rethink its delivery in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Our eight Youth Violence Intervention Programme teams have switched to remote working, meaning the service looks very different to how it did even a month ago.

Our Director of Programmes, Jacqui Highfield, reflects upon this period of flux, and shares her key questions for charity leaders who also need to #switchtoremote.


1, How has the need changed?

When the UK went into lockdown, we weren’t sure what this would mean for youth violence presentations at hospital. It seemed likely that street violence would go down, at least to begin with, simply because there weren’t as many people out in the street!

But vulnerabilities don’t go away just because you’re cooped up at home. Many young people are more vulnerable than ever, and their safe spaces – schools, youth centres, sports clubs – are closed. Pathways to positive adults have been disrupted, leaving space for negative influences to potentially step in. This is one of the reasons we decided it was essential for Redthread’s services to continue, and we got stuck into thinking about how this might work.

Nearly all services look different in lockdown- and it could be tempting for organisations to change their delivery and expand their referral criteria to those they wouldn’t normally work with. This might work for some organisations, but it’s important to remember what your team are experts in, and where you’d be duplicating other organisation’s work. It’s better to throw your effort into raising awareness about the specific needs your service supports with and generate referrals that way, than to dilute your offering in order to reach high volumes with less specialist support.


2, What are staff used to, how can we keep a sense of normality?

Protecting and supporting staff wellbeing throughout this time is essential to the delivery of a safe and consistent service. Although there are changes that have to happen to working practices and patterns, a sense of routine and normality is vital. Young people’s routines will be changing and we knew ours might need to shift in line with this too.

We knew it was really important to keep some of the core features of the service. This meant maintaining to shift work so young people could still reach us out of hours, and keeping our weekly Case Management meetings fixed in diaries- even when case numbers were initially down. So, despite the chaos, there was a real message of “business as usual” as far as possible. We’ve also taken steps to ensure that working at home doesn’t mean ‘taking work home’ and have check out calls with those on late shifts to help make sure they’re able to switch off afterwards.

As leaders we must decide on what elements of work can change and evolve, as well as what needs to remain consistent for our teams and for the people we support.


3, What are your partners doing?

At Redthread, our main delivery partners are NHS colleagues, who are unbelievably stretched at the moment. While the streets are quieter than ever, we know that our clinical colleagues are overwhelmed with work.

Our priority is always to enhance the service they provide in A&E, and so during this crisis time we made the difficult decision to pull our workers from the hospitals.

We have put a lot of effort into helping our clinicians understand how our service is operating now we don’t have boots on the ground in ED alongside them. Having champions in the hospitals telling teams at briefings and handovers has been incredibly helpful, as well as quickly redrafting our posters and posting updates on hospital intranets.

As an SMT, it is important to look beyond the experience of just your own organisation and at the wider picture. This can help answer vital questions about what you need to change about your delivery to best add value to the new version of the sector.

Keep your multi-agency meetings in the diary, they are vital to make sure we’re not duplicating work with the same people. But working together is about more than that, one positive from this horrible situation has been the generosity and openness across the sector to share resources, best practice and to be honest about what is difficult. No single organisation has all the answers. We helped launch #switchtoremote through the Social Switch Project for that reason – it aims to bring resources into one place and support our colleagues to sift through all the excellent stuff that’s out there.

4, How are you keeping in touch and supporting each other?

In many ways, this lockdown has brought us together. Rather than a monthly trip up to Birmingham or Nottingham to see our midlands staff, face time with the team really is only a click away. While the importance of quality time in person with employees is still precious, switching to remote working has forced to get over our technophobia and embrace the tech that can unite us.

The reliability of Google Hangouts (Redthread’s video conferencing call software of choice) has allowed us to keep group clinical supervisions in the diary. This helps staff to have links with youth workers across services and still have that vital space to decompress. Programme Managers check in and out of shifts with the hospital teams, and we’ve buddied up new starters with established members of the team.

We’ve also earmarked one full day a fortnight for an all staff training and reflection session. We are sharing responsibility for these across the senior team.

Our team is relatively small (about 60 staff currently) but this format is based on something that happens at huge corporations too: Facebook and Google are fans of the all company ‘townhall’. While these cover a range of topics, they are often delivery and frontline practice focused. We’ve found keeping them open to everyone- regardless of whether people work directly with young people – has helped keep all of us motivated and connected to our shared purpose


5, What questions do you need to keep asking as the situation develops?

In short: all of the above. It is becoming more and more apparent that we have entered a temporary ‘new normal’ and we need to be planning for several months to make sure we are not caught out. We’re regularly checking in with teams, and their clinical supervisors, to see how these new ways of working feel for them and to get their insights into how we can improve our delivery.

Keep asking your staff and stakeholders, but don’t forget to ask the young people you support too. Their opinion is the true litmus test of whether a new service structure is working; spend time early on thinking about how you’ll capture their feedback and sense check whether you’re still having impact.

Although all of us have pivoted quickly in order to keep supporting young people, these early decisions constantly need reflecting upon. This situation is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, and you need to give yourself the space to try new things, time to reflect on how they’re working and to accept that not everything you try will play out as you expected.




Lessons that will last beyond crisis time:

One thing is for sure, when this is all over it won’t just be ‘back to normal’ in the exactly the same way. We’ve learned so much about how digital tools can not only facilitate our delivery, but actively enhance it. But the main thing I’ll take away from this is a real sense of pride in how our teams have adapted.

We’ve pushed through changes at lightning speed, made the impossible happen and been more united than ever around our common purpose: to help young people lead healthy, safe and happy lives, no matter what the circumstance is.

  • Interested in reading more about #switchtoremote or The Social Switch Project? Visit the website here

  • More details on changes to our delivery are available here

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