Rotamap's response to COVID-19

Introduction

Rotamap currently provides online doctor rostering to over 24,000 clinicians worldwide. We have clients in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and most of our users are departments in NHS trusts in the UK. The use of our services has often started through the introduction of CLWRota in anaesthetics, and we also provide Medirota to a wide range of clinical, surgical, medical and ward based departments. Our aim as a company is to help clinical groups to collaborate and communicate more effectively.

This article details our response to COVID-19 and how we’ve continued to support our users.

Rapid changes

We work directly with clinical groups, and provide support as part of our service, to help solve problems as they arise. As a result we've been acutely aware of the dramatic changes to the activity of many departments. For example many anaesthetic, medicine and critical care departments have been affected, as planned elective activity has been rapidly reworked to meet the operational demands of the COVID-19 crisis. Many departments have had to cancel upcoming leave en masse, and junior doctors have had their rotations postponed indefinitely. Clinicians and administrative staff have also been absent from work on sick leave due to COVID-19. The scale of some of these changes for anaesthetic departments is set out in our data article here.

We reacted to the evolving COVID-19 situation by adapting to working remotely from home, from farmsteads in Yorkshire to balconies in Bologna, and working extended hours to accommodate the needs of rota teams under considerable operational pressure. During four weeks of rapid change we successfully:

  • added six major new features to our services
    we developed new features for both CLWRota and Medirota in direct response to conversations with our users. These features mainly focus on the mass management of planned activity for staff. See here for more details.
  • provided no-charge COVID-19 rotas
    we set up a new contract and reworked our implementation process to provide our services at no-charge to departments and clinical groups not already using CLWRota or Medirota. Since 19 March over 40 departments have taken up this offer, many of whom were able to start implementing within a few hours of contacting us.
  • adapted to a fully remote working arrangement
    we trialled and implemented a new open-source VPN server in conjunction with softphone apps to allow us to securely provide the same level of telephone support via our personal mobiles.
  • upgraded our infrastructure
    we upgraded our core database infrastructure to powerful new server hardware to deal with unprecedented service load.

A video introduction to our COVID-19 rota offer

Organisational Structure

We’ve been able to respond quickly because of our non-hierarchical company structure which allows distributed decision-making. Our teams are small and self-managed, made up of people with a mix of skills and abilities. This model allows us to propose and develop our own ideas in response to the specific needs of a client, with in-team discussions and collaborative working helping us to realise these ideas quickly and efficiently.

The idea of providing rotas at no-charge was similarly discussed across the company. The enthusiastic response from both our current and new users helped support the initiative and we agreed to suspend time usually spent on ongoing projects to concentrate on streamlining the process of getting COVID-19 rotas setup and running.

Through in-depth technical knowledge of each area, flexibility, and copious amounts of coffee, individual members of the team were able to respond swiftly to the large spike in activity and technical changes demanded by the new features required in our rota systems, the rapid implementation process, phone system reworking and major database server migration.

Rotamap is an employee-owned company with strong organisational principles which we balance with the ability to adjust quickly to the needs of clients. Our natural way of working has been bolstered by our recent transition to employee ownership — allowing everyone in the company to share in our success and continued growth. These initiatives have helped strengthen the Rotamap culture despite us all working remotely.

From our office handbook

An extract from our office handbook

Buurtzorg and conclusion

Our working practices have been influenced by the Dutch home-care nursing provider, Buurtzorg, who place a similar importance on small, self-managed teams and dedication to their core values. Jos de Blok, their down-to-earth but inspirational CEO came to speak at our 2019 event, and you can read more about how their flexible, non-hierarchical approach is helping them to respond effectively in the crisis here.

Jos says that

"Buurtzorg has responded in a way that has been typical of its values and approach: by learning what is needed from the frontline professionals themselves and creating innovative solutions".

At Rotamap we also recognise the importance of communicating and working directly with clinical groups, valuing such an approach from before COVID-19, which has allowed us to continue working effectively, together.

While the context of COVID-19 is unprecedented and the work we've done in response to it is both new and unexpected, the ideas behind our approach remain unchanged. Our organisational structure is built on strong principles integrated with dynamic flexibility, supported by distributed decision making. It is this approach and structure that has allowed us to respond to the COVID-19 challenges rapidly and effectively.