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How COVID-19 has changed ways of working in the East Midlands

How COVID-19 has changed ways of working in the East Midlands

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing organisations to adapt in response to a culture of social distancing and remote working. Bilal Khalifa from the CRN East Midlands Finance team explains how the pandemic has initiated a culture of change...

“The implementation of the national lockdown came as we were approaching the end of the 2019/20 financial year, our busiest period,” Bilal explains. “As a result, we knew that we would have to adapt quickly, which meant developing and implementing new processes and ways of working so that we could continue to provide a high-quality service to our partners.”

One of the key functions of the CRN East Midlands Finance team is to provide funding to partner organisations to employ research staff and enable the delivery of research studies. As a result, added pressure came from the need to ensure that research could continue to receive financial support at a time when research into COVID-19 was at the forefront of the national response to the disease.

Technological and digital developments over recent years made responding to the unique challenge posed by the virus easier, and Bilal is impressed at how quickly people have embraced change. “We were already quite advanced,” he says, “but digital working now forms the backdrop of our engagement with partners, including through virtual meetings, and we have been able to work closely with all of our partners to provide them with the support and guidance they need to ensure that research into COVID-19 continues and grows.”

Embracing change has been key to the Finance teams’ approach, and Bilal cites a particular example from early on into the lockdown period to highlight how innovation has come to the fore. “At the end of each financial year, we have to get confirmation from each partner that money distributed for research purposes has been spent,” he says.

“This process was previously paper based and relied on documents being circulated amongst the relevant people. We quickly determined that this approach was no longer possible, and have instead developed and implemented a process that allows us to collect information and authorisation remotely, with updates automatically circulated to partners as necessary.”

This, he says, is just one example of how the pandemic has acted as an impetus to introduce changes that serve to be more effective for partners. “The pandemic has served to unify people behind the cause of research,” Bilal adds, “and as a result there is a general willingness and determination that we will adapt so that we can get things done.”

Like many people, Bilal has seen the pandemic impact on his family life, with he and his wife shifting their working patterns and plans to enable them to care for their young daughter. He also misses the office environment and the opportunity to interact with his colleagues face-to-face.

“It hasn’t been the easiest time for any of us,” he says. “But I’m proud that we have been able to continue working effectively and making a contribution to the delivery of this vital research, and that in the future I will be able to look back and say proudly that I was part of the research response to COVID-19.”

For more information about COVID-19 research, please visit: https://www.nihr.ac.uk/covid-19/