Reflecting on one year of remote working at Co-op Digital

The Co-op Digital team started working from home (WFH) a year ago today. Full lockdown hadn’t been announced at this point but looking back through our Slack archives, we were preparing for it. 

From 17 March – our first day of enforced WFH – our #general Slack channel lit up with small gestures of support. Becky Arrowsmith asked which non-work/ interest-led channels we have. Nate Langley shared a Zoom link “if anyone fancies a chat” (first of many). Mike Ingham suggested donating what we might have spent on lunch at the office to The Trussell Trust, and there are several mental health support sites shared. We also came together to make a list of acceptable behaviour and ways of working to keep in mind ‘over the coming weeks’. 

As we’ve adapted, there have been fewer, less-frequent messages offering support, but the level of kindness has been constant.  

We’ve been reflecting on one whole year of remote working.
Here’s what we’ve learnt. 

Co-op Digital team ❤️


In the past year we’ve learnt the importance of… 

Balance and wellbeing 

All the wellbeing initiatives in the world mean nothing unless they’re accompanied by an adjustment in expectations of what people can actually be expected to do and deliver. It’s important that we all cut each other some slack. 
– Hannah Horton 

Even after a year of not really going anywhere there’s still a perception we have to travel to properly unwind. But I’ve learnt that just taking time off to do the things I like to do – away from screens – is an amazing investment in my own wellbeing and an energy boost. – Rachael Shah  

3 of Rachael’s photos showing her time off. Left: long shadows in nature. Middle: lunch outside. Right: birdwatching

If you’re kind to yourself and others, you can handle more than you thought possible. This year has been hellish but in surviving it, I feel more resilient than ever. – Molly Whitehead-Jones 

A walk in the woods in the sunshine is the best thing I’ve found to boost my mood. – Helen Murray  

Helen walking her dog in the woods

The priorities I had pre-pandemic are no longer a high priority in my life. I think that we have all had to re-evaluate what is most important to us and realise that the most important things in life are family, health and happiness which you cannot put a price on. – Georgie Jacobs  

I’ve learnt to prioritise my own wellbeing. I can’t help and support other people when I’m not in a good place myself.  – Stewart Livingstone 

Acknowledging the situation 

I joined Co-op 5 days before the office closed. I’d been in a remote-only role for the 3 years leading up to this point. I’ve learnt that remote working during a pandemic is not the same as remote working. Like many, I’ve found the added constraints and demands taxing. Remote working after the pandemic will be easier. I’m looking forward to a 2 or 3 day remote/ office mix. – Craig Reay  

I’ve learnt how important it is to keep connected with each other and to talk about how we’re actually feeling. It’s easy to forget that everyone’s in the same boat. – Sundeep Singh 

Speak out when you’re struggling because others are probably feeling the same pain. I brought up video call fatigue with the team and it started the conversation that helped us change how we approach mobbing and helped us reduce the length of meetings. – Joe Fenton  

It’s OK to say this is not OK. Humans, communities and society were never designed to live like this. As a working parent, I’ve found it a comfort to say “this is not OK” (often while simultaneously trying to shush a small child, remove a cat from a houseplant, teach multiplication, manage a constant flow of meals and snacks, and present some semblance of a coherent argument in the middle of a meeting). It doesn’t make it go away, but acknowledging the rubbishness is better than pretending things are fine. – Hannah Horton 

You’re taking video calls in your home so it’s not going to resemble an office environment. There’ll always be someone loading the dishwasher or putting the kettle on. Or, if you’re really lucky, the cat will stick its backside in your face when you’re on camera. It’s nice to get a glimpse into life beyond work. – Victoria Mitchell  

Human connection 

It’s easy on video calls to just get straight down to business, but while we’re not in an office we miss those informal, How are you? The kids? The pets? The house? Those are the things that help us build relationships with one another – the things that help us feel not alone. Set aside time in the agenda for a catch up. We’re not robots. – Gail Lyon  

I’ve learnt I *do* need to be around other people after all. – Graham Thompson  

It’s sad when people leave and you don’t get the chance to give them a hug and buy them a drink. – Helen Murray 

The perception of software development can be that it’s done by typing code furiously alone, so in theory, that would translate fine to remote working. But that’s not the case. We’ve missed talking to each other and to non-engineers, drawing pictures on paper, our serendipitous chats over coffee, and sharing a keyboard. These things don’t translate so easily to remote working, but here’s how we’ve been trying. – Caroline Hatwell  

Seeing some different faces – even on video calls – gives you a boost. Running sessions with different teams and joining catch-ups with people I don’t usually see has been one way of getting out of a lull. – Robyn Golding 

Think back to who you used to chat to in the office and check your direct message history. When was the last time you spoke to them? – Rachael Shah   

Building and protecting boundaries 

“No” is a difficult word to say but it’s also very difficult (often impossible) to do everything people ask of you. I’ve learnt how to say “no, not right now” or “no, I can’t do that at all” and generally, people don’t get offended. They just accept it. – Becca Stocker  

A meeting invite is an invitation for your time. You don’t have to accept it and you’re free to suggest alternative ways of doing meetings. Having a-sync meetings has reduced my need to attend lots of meetings and gives me more flexibility to get things done. – Stewart Livingstone 

While working at home is a godsend in many practical ways, it also lures you into always being in work mode – checking Slack way into the night and putting pressure on yourself to do more. – Rachel Machin  

Celebrating the small stuff 

That sometimes the best way to get through difficult times is one day – even one hour – at a time. – Molly Whitehead-Jones

I’ve got a new appreciation for dry shampoo, elastication, and how small asks of kindness and thoughtfulness can mean so much. – Joanne Schofield  

I realised why I’d avoided following in my parents’ footsteps to become a teacher. But having my 2 boys at home with me has also been an unexpected joy. The amount of ham and cheese toasties and pickled onion Monster Munch we’ve got through is obscene. – Rachel Machin  

One of many ham and cheese toasties and a packet of Monster Munch for Rachel’s son

In the past year of remote working I’ve learnt that: 

  • making pasta is easier than it looks and is really very rewarding.  
  • I can have bongos delivered the next day (without remembering ordering them).  
  • SAD lights do work.  
  • I can still spend all my wages without shops or restaurants being open. 
    Also, that I could not have been more wrong a year ago when I thought this would never affect us. – Helen Lawson  

Showing gratitude helps keep spirits up. I started a ‘Thursday appreciation’ thread where we thank each other and acknowledge even the smallest gestures of help and support. 😊  – Rachael Shah   

A screen shot of a
‘Thursday appreciation thread’ from April 2020

Working as best we can 

Before lockdown, we were all so fixated on having walls and a team space, but we can make it work online. Miro has been brilliant for that. I still feel like a beginner with some of its features, but pondering if we will permanently replace our walls with a living Miro board even when we are back in the office. – Kim Morley  

I now know what it feels like to be peed on whilst delivering a training session. – DaveCunningham 

I miss post-its on walls. Miro boards are OK for remote collaboration but you don’t get those really useful spontaneous conversations around the wall. – Helen Murray  

While everyone is remote, the playing field is level – it’s easier in many ways to collaborate and ensure everyone gets the opportunity to contribute. – Victoria Mitchell  

Working remotely might have made me more confident. Professionally, I’ve had one of my best years ever – I’ve spoken at conferences, recorded talks and led content conferences from my living room. I’ve pushed myself in my work but I’m wondering if that’s because I’ve felt braver being at home. – Helen Lawson  

Borrowing ways of working from the Digital team

I’m a Lead People Partner on the Food People team and I am responsible for Food stores in the north of England. Around 3 years ago, in my last role, I started looking into how we might improve Co-op colleagues’ experiences of our performance process – this led to conversations with the Digital team about how user research can help understand what colleagues really need. It also sparked my curiosity about how Digital teams work.    

Since then I’ve: 

  • spent a week working on Performance for Stores with Digital colleagues James BoardwellHannah Horton and Fiona Linton-Forrest. As a result, the process is now simpler and we removed performance ratings for over 30,000 colleagues.   
  • brought delivery manager Stewart Livingstone in to help us bring different ways of working to parts of the People team.  
  • reconsidered how we communicate with colleagues thanks to regular catch-ups with Hannah Horton.  

Each of these people deliver digital products and services through agile ways of working and this really interested me. It felt like a way to be more inclusive, more democratic and in many ways more efficient. I wondered if the approach could work for some of the teams I am part of.  

Photograph from the week I spent with some of the Digital team. James Boardwell left, Fiona Linton-Forrest on the right

For the last year the Food People team has borrowed and experimented with some of the ways of working we’ve seen in the Digital team. Here are some of the things we’ve tried and the differences we’ve noticed. 

Lean coffees encourage a flatter structure and a more democratic culture  

Lean coffees’ are gatherings that have crowd-sourced agendas. Participants meet and nominate a topic – work-related or otherwise – that they’d like to talk about for a predetermined amount of time. Everyone then votes on what they’d like to hear about next and the facilitator starts the timer. We introduced lean coffee sessions into our team around a year ago and they’ve been a regular hour-long slot ever since. We’ve enjoyed them because they’ve helped us: 

  • improve morale because they give everyone a voice. We’ve heard about concerns and achievements from across the team that we might not have in a more traditional ‘top-down’ meeting  
  • become more concise when communicating – the timer pushes us to say the most important points first and stay on track with our point 
  • create a safe environment which is the first step to better transparency 
  • build and maintain relationships with colleagues (learning about teammate’s lockdown whippet brought much joy) 

We’ve chosen to have the sessions on Fridays because the positivity and the connection with colleagues that we get from them is a nice way to finish the week.  

It’s ok to be uncertain (but it does take a while to feel ok about it) 

During my time with James, Hannah and Annette I learnt about the importance of how we ask someone about something. In short, asking open questions leads us to a more accurate, less biased truth.  

When I started my current role I wanted to find out how me and my team could best support the Operational team. Before I’d spent time with James, I might have made assumptions about the challenges Operations faced, and I might have asked leading questions to elicit responses that would prove that my assumptions were correct. Perhaps that was down to some unspoken expectation of finding a definite answer immediately.   

 But an immediate answer isn’t always accurate so it’s better to sit with your uncertainty. This takes a lot of getting used to if –  like for us –  it’s not your usual way of working.  

Instead, I made sure my questions were open and worded in a way that would give honest, accurate insights. Then, rather than coming up with a plan and a to-do list, I created problem statements. For example:  

  1. How do the Operational team get access to the right people support first time? 
  1. How are we directing our energies on the areas we can impact the most?   

We’re still working on these but they have provided a real anchor for our work. We’ll continue to think about how we ask questions in the future. 
 

Ceremonies are great for visibility 

We’ve also experimented with agile ‘ceremonies’ that the Digital product and services teams  use. They’ve helped keep our teams in the loop – even those who don’t usually work together.  

Some teams have stand-ups 3 times a week which are great for visibility of what we’re all working on as well as being very inclusive. 

We hold regular ‘all hands’ sessions for the wider team too. 

Stewart introduced us to ‘retrospectives’ – dedicated time to reflect, air grievances and talk about how to improve next time. He guided us through various ways to frame the discussions (for example, things we loved, lacked and lost over a certain period of time or piece of work). 
 

Culture isn’t built overnight 

We don’t pretend to have all the answers (and we’re comfortable admitting that now) but by taking what we’ve observed from the Digital team we’ve been moving towards a more inclusive and flexible culture.  

Here we are on a Zoom call. Spot the honorary member of the team…

We’d love to hear about new ways of working you’ve adopted – what’s worked and what has flopped? 

Clare Fogden, Lead People Partner 

Co-op resources we find useful 

Ways of working  

A glossary of terms

2020: there’s a lot to be grateful for

2020 has been quite the year. 

As a Digital team we are proud of the work we’ve done to support our communities, our customers and our colleagues – particularly those on the front line in our Food stores and in Funeralcare.

When the virus took hold back in March, we reprioritised where we could add the most value so we could keep colleagues safe and we could continue to serve communities.

We were in a position which meant we could respond to the pandemic with relative ease.

Our ways of working meant we were set up well – we were used to pivoting and changing direction; we were already collaborating with subject matter experts; and getting value into users’ hands quickly and iterating on feedback has always been what we’ve aimed for. 

Over the years, we’ve also attracted a group of smart, determined and – most importantly – compassionate people who are intent on doing the right thing. 

We are thankful to everyone who has helped transform Co-op so we could respond quickly, and well, to a pandemic. ❤️ 2020 has been awful but there is a lot to be grateful for too. ❤️

Adam Warburton

Head of Digital Products


Co-operate

We started Co-operate in April 2019 to help people come together and do good things in their community. 

When the pandemic hit, people couldn’t physically come together. Groups started meeting online.  

We had been trialing Co-operate in 9 communities before lockdown, and quickly had to cater to a national rather than a regional audience. We wrote about How we launched ‘Co-operate: get or offer support’ in 9 days.  

As part of that work we: 

  • helped organisers move their activities online and made it easier for them to manage their listings 
  • helped people find things to do, see what help groups needed and share listings with others 
  • partnered with national programmes like the Duchess of Cambridge’s ‘Hold Still’ community exhibition 

You can now use Co-operate to find ways to join, or help out: 

  • 3,425 groups 
  • 1,064 activities  

And you can get advice to help you start your own community initiative. 

The Co-operate team before lockdown
The Co-operate team before lockdown

We want to help people come together at a time when community matters more than ever. 

“Great website… thank you for helping our communities.”  

Community organiser

Joanne Schofield, lead content designer


Customer and Membership

The big focus for our teams this year has been evolving and relaunching Co-op’s Membership proposition to maximise its value to members, communities and Co-op.  

New things: 

  • Members can now donate their personal rewards to other like-minded organisations. 70,000 members donated over £500,000 in total from their rewards to the Members Coronavirus Fund
  • Customers can now use Co-op’s digital services without becoming a member through ‘Co-op Account’ (they can upgrade to a Co-op Membership later). 
  • Members can now choose a local cause through the Co-op app or direct from their email without signing in – we saw a record breaking 619,000 people choose a cause in the first 8 weeks.  
  • Members can now scan a digital members ‘card’ on their smartphones in store – no need to remember the plastic card.

We improved and grew stuff too.

  • The Co-op App surpassed the 1m download mark, with a rating of 4.4 stars across both app stores. We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace. 
  • 750,000 members choose 8.1 million offers in 2020, and 4.6 million of those have been used. This saved members over £2 million on their shopping and generated millions in incremental sales for the Food business. 
  • The systems and services that power our product stood up to 10 times our biggest ever day’s traffic, for weeks, thanks to the investment we made in moving to serverless technology. 
screen shot showing We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace.
We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace. 

We also connected up our digital experiences: 

  • Members can now sign in, shop and earn their rewards through Co-op’s ecommerce service. 
  • Groups can sign up to use Co-operate to publicise their activities within their communities. 
  • We implemented a new Membership design, which ties together how Membership looks and feels online with stores, on emails and in our marketing activity.

Joel Godfrey, Head of product


Legal services

This year we took some big steps towards making the law accessible — by creating experiences that allow people to proactively use the law for themselves.  

A user flow for wills — explaining the benefits of our higher-value products
A user flow for wills — explaining the benefits of our higher-value products

Our team grew from a small group working on a conversational tool, to a multidisciplinary agile team working across digital services, website, email and search.  

We started embedding design thinking, marketing and OKRs into our ways of working with multiple business areas. 

And it’s started to have an impact: 

  • our work redesigning user journeys led to all-time high levels of probate enquiries in Q4 
  • our SEO work more than doubled organic traffic in some business areas 
  • one of our wills chatbots had 10,000 visits this year and increased average order value by £75 — because users are better informed about their needs   
  • we created a self-serve digital service that guides people through the probate process — we think it’s the first of its kind in the industry 🙌
     

Pete Kowalczyk, content designer


Digital service community 

Our community fancy dress quiz!

2020 has been the year that we reorganised and went from being the digital service ‘team’ – all sitting together in the Membership team – to digital service ‘community’ embedded across delivery teams. Being present and more visible at all stages of a product or service lifecycle has helped us put integrated processes in place and ensure continuous service delivery. This year we’ve helped our teams deliver 1,600 changes with 99.98% success rate – something we’re really proud of.  

We’ve also improved our post-incident review process, increasing visibility across product teams to prevent reoccurring issues.  

As part of our post-incident review process, we’ve started to share any outstanding actions with product teams which has helped prevent reoccurring problems – it’s all about working in the open! We’ve also created a ‘production readiness’ checklist which has allowed us to provide the best support for new services.  

We’ve created and built support models to ensure a robust service too. 

We’ve helped to:  

A big focus has been on embedding best practices and championing new ways of working – lockdown has felt like the perfect opportunity to do this. Everyone on the team has completed their ITIL 4 training which is making it easier to support our product teams to enable them to continue to do some awesome things! 

Georgie Jacobs, service analyst


Accessibility  

Our mission this year has been to look at how we design and build accessible products by default. 

We delivered accessibility training to over 150 colleagues across many disciplines which has helped us raise awareness about what the term ‘accessibility’ encompasses. It is so much more than screen readers.

screen shot of Training over video call
Training over video call

“It’s great to see so many people within the business mention accessibility across lots of different internal communication channels. It’s great work!”

Lucy Tallon, Head of Design 

The training also gave us the opportunity to make accessibility more relatable. We ran 3 Accessibility Manchester events attracting over 1,000 people with all levels of experience, from both the public and private sector.

Tweet from Cherry Thompson: “Today’s webinar was amazing! Thanks to everyone @a11ymcr and all the incredibly experienced speakers. It felt like a portal into this wealth of history, experience, and expertise!”

We also published our accessibility policy and encouraged customers, members, colleagues to hold us accountable.

“It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.”

from Introducing our accessibility policy for Co-op products and services  post

By October 2021, our product teams will have embedded our accessibility policy fully in their work and, by collaborating with external accessibility experts Fable, we’ll include up to 1,200 people with disabilities into our research, design and testing of products and services in the coming year. 

Dave Cunningham, DesignOps Manager


Digital food customer experience

There are now 760 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk  This time last year, only 32 of our stores were taking part. The pandemic forced us to rethink and reprioritise how our how Co-op Food stores serve their communities. Back in lockdown 1.0 when people were stockpiling, we protected the availability of stock by introducing limits on the number of products each customer could buy on shop.coop.co.uk 

We worked with the Identity team to make sure customers can log in to our service using the same details they use for other Co-op services. An architectural change allowed us to show a customer’s previous order for ease of reordering. Early results show greater engagement from customers interacting with previous orders, higher conversions and larger baskets. 

With a growing team we needed to reorganise ourselves so we could become more efficient. In mid-October we held a team ‘evolution session’ and split into multi-disciplinary work streams to help us to deliver at pace.

Tweet from @TheGrocer announcing our win

To top it all off the Online Delivered Convenience programme won the E-commerce initiative of the Year at The Grocer Gold Awards 2020. 

Stewart Livingstone, delivery manager


One Web team

This year we found that we had too many projects and we were struggling to get things done. To improve our focus, we reorganised our big team into 3 smaller teams 

We’re still learning but so far, the change has helped us to work smarter, not harder. 

We have continued to replatform Co-op websites, for example Legal Services to improve customer experience and reduce costs.    

Making the platform more efficient and secure has been another priority. We have started to move our tenants onto Amazon EKS. This has led to a 30% reduction in deployment times and 95% reduction in failed deployments.  

We have also delivered many features for Co-op websites. For example, we added ‘buy online’ buttons to the store finder pages. This allows customers to go from store finder to shop.coop.co.uk to order online. 

Alex Hall, content designer


Funeralcare

Our digital expertise are spread across 2 teams: the Customer team which looks after the Funeralcare website, and the Colleague team which is responsible for the software used internally. 

Like all other teams, the pandemic has meant we’ve had to pivot from our roadmap, respond quickly, and switch contextual user research to remote research. But, because of the nature of our business, we’ve been busier than ever. 

Here’s some of what we did.

The Customer team

We:

  • wrote guidance on how to arrange funerals during lockdown, updating them as the guidance changed
  • re-designed the website alongside agencies and our digital marketing team  
  • created – and trained writers in – new tone of voice guidelines
  • directed coffin photoshoots (thank you Gail
  • launched an online funeral planner so clients can plan a funeral in their own time and feel more prepared for a conversation with a funeral director 
  • designed and built (not yet released) a function to pay for a funeral online
  • migrated to a new payment service provider in the process of enabling 3D secure for online payments 
  • designed and built (not yet released) a web chat function 
  • replatformed pre-need funeral plans and direct cremation sites from the episerver

The Colleague team

We:

  • added a warning to collection notes if there was suspicion that the deceased has died of the virus and may be – keeping colleagues safe is a priority 
  • allowed families who had lost someone to register their interest in organising a memorial service once lockdown restrictions were lifted 
  • unrelated to the virus, we added a ‘quick notes’ function to allow colleagues to capture information around the context of the deceased’s state. It is added to the collection sheet to help colleagues mentally and physically prepare

Co-op Health

2020 changed the way people think about health services. With government advice to stay at home and ‘protect the NHS’, people needed more convenient access to repeat prescriptions.  

We responded by opening up more ways to use the service. Now, customers can visit coop.co.uk/health and register on our app using a code from their GP. 

To reach more people, we launched a TV advert, promoted the service in stores and our Chief Pharmacist, Neil Stewart, appeared on the radio to discuss worries about visiting the GP. 

As a result, we’ve grown:  

  • into the 11th biggest UK pharmacy (based on the number of customers who choose us as their pharmacy) – we ranked at number 7,116 in 2019 
  • registrations, with 206 new customers every day on average – up from 30 earlier in 2020 
  • order volumes, with a record-breaking 1,610 orders on 30 November 2020 

Our customers rate us ‘Excellent’ on Trustpilot, saying things like, “You have made my life so much easier.”  

Mary Sanigar, content designer 


Co-op Food

The Operational Innovation Store (OIS) team has been working across 4 services that support store colleagues. Each empowers them to spend more time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork.

Clock-in  

Until this year, store colleagues clocked in and out when they started and finished a shift by punching their employee number into a legacy Kronos terminal (at a cost of £1,000 per store). Research told us it was easy to forget to do this and so colleagues would have to ask managers to amend their ‘hours worked’ in order to receive the right pay. 

Alongside the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, we’ve made the process simpler, more transparent and more accurate which has helped make sure our colleagues receive the correct pay for the exact minutes they’ve worked. This has led to a 50% reduction in payroll amendments. 

We started working on the Clock-in app idea in February and we’d rolled it out to every store by July. It can be accessed from till screens, hand-held terminal or tablet and has replaced the Kronos terminal. 

We developed it as an extension of our Visit app and Clock-in times can be accessed from our Shifts app – which most of our colleagues use.  

Raza Rizvi, product manager


Entry and exit 

Colleagues safety is paramount and we did not want to ask them to stand at store entrances to make decisions on whether another customer could enter, or whether the store was at maximum capacity. To make sure social distancing rules are observed in our stores, we looked at how technology could help.  

The Entry and exit solution was developed working with a number of different suppliers – through an iterative test and trial approach across a number of different test sites. The tests included the use of lights, sound and POS to understand what would be required to interrupt the customer journey and start a queue when the store reached its customer capacity. 

You can read about how we chose a solution – it uses a camera sensor inside the entrance to keep track of how many people are inside and how many have left. It is connected to a traffic light system with voice messaging that advises customers that the store is full and to wait, or, to enter the store. 

We launched the solution in the 250 busiest stores during the summer, and set it up in the 50 student-heavy / campus stores in the autumn. 

James Beane, operations lead


Date code   

Our work this year has been around making it more efficient for store colleagues to carry out date checks on both ambient (non-chilled) and fresh (chilled) products. 

We worked closely with stakeholders from the Commercial; Risk, and the Retail loss and costs teams to develop an app that colleagues can access through a hand-held terminal. The app knows when a ‘section’ (small area of the store) will next be checked, and tells colleagues which dates they need to search for. Any items with that date or earlier will be scanned into the app, and colleagues will be prompted to reduce the price of them. Algorithms work out the best time to reduce items and improve the chance of selling them. 

Previously, colleagues checked every fresh item, in every fresh section, every day. 

The new process means colleagues no longer needed to record product checks and details manually or remember when to go back to reduce products and apply the correct reduction using a static reduction matrix. 

Development started in March and we’d rolled out to every Co-op Food store by November.  

We believe this product will save the business around £6m each year.  

Lee Connolly, delivery manager


News and magazines   

The News and mags app was developed in order to simplify a laborious paper-based system that our store colleagues used to manually log newspaper and magazine delivery, claims and returns. The aim is to significantly decrease financial loss caused by waste and leakage, by simplifying and bringing real time visibility into the process. 

We kicked off development in September 2019. The app allows colleagues to scan papers and magazines, identify stocks in store fixtures of the same issue and retains information about previously delivered quantities in the app’s database.

Colleagues can now quickly swap old issues and top up existing stock. It also has an initial stock upload functionality that allows store colleagues to know what stock is currently in store and track what should be returned or if there has been any leakage of stock.

The last 2 months has been focused on the completion of dev and testing to move back into Alpha stores. We have rolled-out into 41 stores and performed stock uploads successfully, while simultaneously reviewing data, analytics and insight. Lockdown has forced us to research remotely but we’ve had remote access to hand-held terminals through Mobi, a smart app that allows us to observe colleagues complete their checks remotely.

Quantitative and qualitative research is ongoing and we’re working towards a full roll-out in August 2021. 

Paul Anumudu, delivery manager


Tips for joining a digital team during lockdown (and how colleagues can help)

When I accepted my new job at Co-op Digital, I started drawing up a list of all the podcasts I’d listen to during my new morning commute. At the time when I accepted the role, ‘c-virus’ wasn’t even a word.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was meeting my team for the first time through a laptop screen.

I’m not the only lockdown newbie at Co-op Digital. I spoke to Ariadna Gonzalez-Lopez (Junior platform engineer), Elisa Pasceri (Lead product designer) and Pippa Peasland (Product manager) and drew on my own experience as Principal product manager to list the things that have been helpful to get us settled remotely. 

If you’re starting a new job remotely:  

1. Don’t wait until post-lockdown to build relationships  

We’ve been checking in with our respective line managers each day to ask questions, double check priorities and find out who to speak to about certain things. It’s helped get working relationships off to a good start which is essential right now but also means we won’t feel like we’ve left it too late when we’re finally face-to-face. Building the relationship now helps avoid that awkwardness.  


2. Plan your intros

Arrange 1-2-1 introduction meetings with the people you’ll be working with. We’ve found that some prep helps get the most out of the meeting. We’ve been asking our teammates about:  

  • their role  
  • their priorities right now  
  • their longer term goals  
  • the challenges they’re facing  
  • what we can do to help make their day-to-day easier 

We’ve been taking notes in a consistent way so we can refer back to them and ask for clarity if we need it.

Work stuff aside, it’s been important to ask our teammates about themselves. The water cooler chat can still happen remotely and it’s important that it does. Each of us felt reassured when we discovered we were working with competent people, but we also took real comfort in the less formal chats we had.  

3. Use quieter times to settle in   

As new starters, we’re eager to get up-to-speed so we can start feeling productive and self-sufficient. Everyone feels more confident when they don’t need to rely on teammates to tell them about stuff like the history of the project, how to request annual leave and the softer (but just as important) things like team etiquette.  

Reading up on these things during quieter times has been useful from a confidence point of view. Between us, we’ve asked for historical week notes and documents to read, as well as asking about suitable training courses and how we can share our experience on the Digital blog.  

 4. Be kind to yourself  

Starting a new role is hard – even in normal times. Most new people come from a place where they knew exactly how processes and people worked. The 4 of us are learning stuff that was so natural to us all over again. As newbies we talked about how anxious we were to make a good impression and how conscious we were about taking up too much of our teammates’ time.

But we realised that it just takes time – being hard on ourselves isn’t helpful.  

If you’ve (remotely) welcomed a newbie to your team:  

1. Show them the Induction Trello board 

Every new starter I spoke to said how useful they found our digital induction Trello board. Check any new starters have got access to it because working through the board will help empower them.  

2. Make sure you’re a face as well as a name  

Navigating the organisational structure is hard work – especially in big teams, and even more so when we’re all remote. Just because someone’s first week isn’t in-person, it doesn’t have to feel impersonal and a way of avoiding that is by helping new people put your face to your name. If you don’t mind turning your camera on for at least part of a meeting, please do that. Also, Slack profile pics – make sure you have one and double check it’s useful, as in, it’s a photo of your face!  

3. Offer to be an ‘induction buddy’  

When you start a new job in an office, there’s always someone nearby to chat to when you get stuck. But it’s harder when we’re remote. It’s been really settling when people on our teams have told us to “just ask if anything crops up that you’re not sure about”. Thank you.  

4. Remember the social side of work  

It takes time to build the kind of relationships where we feel comfortable bouncing around ideas as part of ‘one of the team’. In an office the non-work chit chat just happens and whether you’re contributing to it or just listening in, just being there helps newbies get a feel for team dynamics and humour and settle in.

But when we’re not physically together, relationships can’t happen as naturally, so help them along a bit. Make time for a getting-to-know-you coffee, invite new people to the established social gatherings too, like Thursday pub club.  

You do you  

We can share our experiences and package them nicely as a blog post but really, the most important thing is to find what works for you. We’re all wired differently, have different worries and prefer to interact with teammates in different ways.  

Good luck and thank you to everyone at Co-op Digital who has helped the 4 of us over the past few weeks. 

Holly Donohue  
Principal product manager  

If you’ve recently started at Co-op Digital,  join the #newbies channel on Slack.

It’s OK to do what you need to do

Right now, things are difficult. We’re all working from home and will be for the foreseeable. Last week Co-op Digital compiled a list of acceptable behaviour and ways of working to keep in mind over the coming weeks. It’s particularly important for us to be kind, compassionate and understanding right now so we can carry on as best we can.

We’ve had the GDS ‘It’s OK’ posters up in Federation for as long as Fed has existed. With a huge hat tip to the GDS Creative team (especially Giles and Sonia), we’ve used the same format.

Unprecedented times call for new rules. The list is purposefully long and in parts it’s contradictory. What works for one person may work terribly for another. We’re all experimenting.

The list is a reminder to do what you need to do to get through this.

Co-op Digital team
❤️


We’re in lockdown. We’re working from home. It’s ok to:

  • take time to find your new routine
  • start earlier, start later, finish earlier, finish later, work in short blasts, or longer stints
  • plan your day around food
  • juggle home-working and homeschooling
  • block out ‘caring for kids/elders’ in your calendar
  • feel less productive
  • take a break
  • take annual leave
  • put your home life first
  • prioritise your mental health
  • take another break and s-t-r-e-t-c-h…
  • have days when you enjoy it, and days when you don’t
  • read the news, talk about the news, try to make sense of the news
  • ignore the news completely
  • feel overwhelmed
  • go for a walk
  • cuddle your kids, pet your pets
  • create a new playlist. Share it, blast it
  • take your time to reply
  • pause notifications – hell, turn them off altogether
  • limit yourself to a few Slack channels
  • block out time to concentrate
  • set your boundaries and stick to them
  • say: “I’ll think about it later”
  • say: “I don’t know”
  • say: “NO.”
  • tell people when you’re not ok
  • ask for help
  • have time alone, ignore everyone
  • meditate
  • take calls with your camera off
  • get cross with technology. Also, marvel at technology
  • ditch calls and try something different
  • stay in your comfy clothes, or wear your best threads
  • be business up top and comfort down below
  • make meetings shorter
  • communicate differently – remember to show and not just tell
  • push gently to get stuff done
  • take the water cooler chit-chat online
  • talk home décor, talk plants, talk tea types and top 10 biscuit lists
  • meet online for lunch or a coffee
  • be the Queen of Memes, the King of Gifs, the Slack Jester
  • share moments that made you smile
  • 😊 be kind to yourself, as well as everyone else.

 

Charles Burdett created a site which includes a way you can add what’s been helpful for you and your team during these strange times. itsok.to

Help us make our mental health meet-ups better

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. During last year’s, Tom Walker wrote a post about why and how he set up Co-op Digital’s mental health meet-ups. A year on, Tom’s left but our fortnightly gatherings remain.

Now feels like a good time to kick off a conversation about what we can do to make sure they’re as helpful as they can be.

We’re looking for your suggestions.  

The idea’s still the same

Simon Hurst and I run the meet-ups now. It’s important to make it clear that, like Tom, we’re not doctors either. We’re not qualified to diagnose a mental illness and we’re certainly not qualified to prescribe remedies.

But the meet-ups are a place where colleagues can speak freely, in confidence, and know that they’re among empathetic people. A year on, this stuff is still the same.

Meet-ups are still open to everyone, they’re still informal. There’s still no minutes, no register, no pressure.

But the numbers have dropped

Recently, we’ve noticed that fewer people are coming to meet-ups. Of course, that could be seen as a really good thing – people don’t feel that they need the meet-up anymore because they’re feeling happier and healthier.

As much as we’d love to believe that, we don’t think that’s the case.

Time to make changes

The lunchtime meet-ups did a job. They got people within Co-op talking about mental health, often publicly, often openly. They helped reassure people they didn’t need to feel ashamed and that they weren’t alone.

It’s clear from speaking to people that even though there appears to be less demand for a mental health meet-up every other week, the idea of it existing, the idea of it being there if it’s needed, is comforting.

However, it’s time to adapt to meet people’s needs. We asked people who attend for their thoughts.

We learnt that:

  • some people find getting out of the office, in the fresh air, over lunchtime helps them most and, ironically, the meet-up was messing with that
  • everyone’s busy and taking time out in the middle of the day isn’t always easy

In response to that, here’s what we’re thinking of trying:

  1. Arranging walks – mental health meet-ups where we can walk and talk and take people out of the office.
  2. Drop-in slots – spreading out the times when we could meet up so there’s no set time and support’s there as and when it’s needed.
  3. Changing the day of the meet-ups.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Your feedback matters.

Mental health first aid training

We recently invited Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) into Co-op Digital and a handful of colleagues took part in a mental health ‘first aid’ training course. The idea is that we can look after team mental health and morale better if we have ‘first aiders’ who recognise early on when team members are struggling.  

In theory, agile teams are fairly healthy. Relatively speaking. Agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups and fortnightly retros act as check-ins with the team – they’re places to bring up struggles, blockers and concerns.

But the take-away point from the training was that we all need to learn how to listen. In Digital, our job is to solve problems. Because of this, it’s easy to throw ‘answers’ out to colleagues who are struggling. The training taught us how effective just listening, without proposing solutions, can be.

Help and be helped

Co-op Group offers advice on setting up a mental health support group. There’s also an Employee assistance programme.

And there’s us, in Digital. You can request to join our dedicated and private mental health Slack channel.

We’ll continue to be here, in whatever format works for our colleagues and friends. Your feedback will shape this. We hope to hear from you soon.

Becky Arrowsmith
Engineer

Pressing for progress at Co-op Digital

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Throughout the day we shared stories on Twitter about some of the people at Co-op Digital who help us be our best selves. These people inspire, empower, encourage and elevate those around them. They help level the playing field so we hear a diverse range of voices.

 

Co-op Digital champions diversity full stop. We mention gender diversity specifically in this post because it’s International Women’s Day.

Making the General Data Protection Regulation easier to understand

gdpr-rights-posters (1)

The Co-op Data team has been preparing Co-op Digital for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into law next year. But we’re aware that the rules it sets out can appear complicated.

Too often, data can seem like a complex and distant subject, but it’s part of everything we do and it’s important to us that the whole business can see what we’re doing. GDPR puts consumers’ rights at the centre of data protection. As we work towards a Co-op that’s trusted with data, we believe this is exactly where they should be. And we will continue to focus on that as we build and develop our data programme.

Making GDPR more accessible

To make colleagues in Digital aware that the regulation is coming, we created posters to explain what it means in plain language. We think they’re a good way to make sure everybody knows about the rules and understands what they mean.

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 11.55.22

So far we’ve had a lot of feedback which shows there’s a great deal of interest ahead of GDPR coming in and real appetite to understand it better. The work that Digital has done in this area will help to inform the Co-op’s communications.

We’ve learnt a lot from the comments we received, and wanted to make sure that anyone and everyone can download our GDPR ‘rights’ posters.

It would be great to hear what you think in the comments. Or tell us how you’re making GDPR more accessible to colleagues in your organisation.

Posters: words by Rachel Murray and design by Jack Fletcher

We held a massive retro and this is what we learnt

Holding team retrospectives helps us make sure we keep questioning the value in the things we’re working on and the ways we’re working. Retros give us a chance to reflect and learn.

At the Co-op, the Membership team is made up of 8 smaller teams with separate sets of objectives. Each small team holds regular retros and although they’re beneficial, we wanted to try a really big, joined up retro to see how that could help the wider group.

Photograph of a wall with hundreds of post it notes from the mega retro stuck on it. The big membership retro write up is written in red pen on the wall.

Six discussion points with long-lasting benefits

As a delivery manager, hosting retros falls under my remit. What I love about hosting them is that there’s no right or wrong way of doing them and I have the chance to experiment with different formats each time.

This time, after discussing them with other delivery managers, we chose these 6 giant retro topics:

1. Autonomy – how do you feel about the support, tools, skills you have and how trusted are you to get on with things?
2. Purpose – what’s your understanding of why you come to work and how your work contributes to the bigger picture?
3. Mastery – do you feel you have the opportunity to develop and use your skills?

These 3 ideas come from Daniel H. Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us‘. Of course, we want our teams to feel motivated so talking about things that contribute to feeling that way is important.

We also spoke about:
4. Agility – how agile are we and how could we be better at working in this way?
5. Unity – how well do we work as a team, support our colleagues and feel able to ask for support?
6. Thoughtfulness – how well do we learn from mistakes and take alternative action?

All 6 of these topics are general enough that any digital team could use them in a retro.

The nitty gritty: how we did it

We split into groups of around 8 people – the average size for most of our individual team retros. We chopped our time into six, 20-minute rounds which felt like just enough to explore a topic but not enough time for people to lose interest.

Photograph of some of the membership team standing around a whiteboard talking about the thoughtfulness topic.

Outcomes: reality, aspirations and ideas

People had a lot to say. They had over 500 post it notes-worth of things to say in fact which is great: it means they felt the environment was safe enough to raise their issues. We grouped the post its into 22 themes and worked through each theme to figure out:

  • what our reality is now
  • how we’d like things to be
  • how we could make that change happen

We dot-voted on each theme to help us prioritise our actions.

The team came up with hundreds of ideas for how we can improve but one popped up again and again: dismantling and redistributing our central test team and giving crews more responsibilities for testing, quality and releasing. So that’s how we’re working now.

Try this at work

The general consensus for us was that holding a massive retro was useful. We found it’s worth keeping these points in mind though.

  1. Organisers will need to commit to a couple of days preparation and evaluation before and after the event.
  2. There’ll always be sceptics. Don’t let them stop you giving it a go. If it’s not valuable for your team, you don’t have to do it again.
  3. Be prepared to act on feedback quickly. If you don’t, there’s no point doing the retro.
  4. Don’t try and fix everything at once. Prioritise a couple of things and let the team know you’ll be addressing those things first.

If you’ve tried a retro on this kind of scale we’d be interested in finding out how it went and what effect it had on team morale. Let us know in the comments.

Rob Wadsworth
Delivery manager

Life as a software engineer in Co-op Digital

Software Engineer Nancy Richardson shares her thoughts about working in the Digital team.

(Transcript) Nancy Richardson: What I love about working here at Co-op Digital is I feel that at the end of the day that I’m making a difference. The products that we have are very well thought out and I’m also excited about the future as I’ve heard of some of the things that Co-op could be working on in say five years from now. Also I enjoy the diversity of the people I work with, we’re all different ages, different backgrounds.

I was attracted to the role because of its full stack and polyglot approach. This makes the work very varied, you could be working in the front end, back end, or on DevOps, and every sprint could be focusing on a different area of the stack, so this makes it very interesting. And I come from a Ruby background but now i’m learning Java which is really different from ruby but I feel very supported.

I’m learning from my colleagues on the job and there are also code show and tells. There’s even dedicated learning time. I think now is a really good time to join the Co-op because Co-op Digital is starting to expand so you have more influence in helping develop our standards, our ways of working, our teams stack and our practices.

Nancy Richardson
Software Engineer (Membership)

We’re looking for engineers at the moment. If you’re interested take a look at our Work with us page.