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Managing the impact of COVID through technology: a look at human and social services

Digital transformation and the Art of the Possible in Social Services




This past year has brought with it an increased awareness of our own physical and mental health and well-being like none other before it. While not everyone had the same experiences or challenges, no one in the UK has been left untouched by the COVID crisis.

According to the Office for National Statistics, people’s happiness has remained well below pre-lockdown levels, with the lowest in January 2021. Anxiety levels have hovered well above pre-COVID times throughout the pandemic, with the highest reports of anxious feeling recorded in March 2020[1].

[1] Office for National Statistics. 5 February 2021: Coronavirus and the social impacts on behaviours during different lockdown periods, Great Britain: up to February 2021 report.

Building a business case for change

The Art of the Possible is all about building the business case for what technology can achieve. It starts by focusing on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’. Instead of limiting your thinking to a list of functional requirements like tracking donor details, it looks at the mission and values of the organisation as a whole and asks questions like: ‘What are we trying to achieve?’, ‘What is the most important impact we are trying to make?’ and ‘Who benefits from the work we do?’.

Looking beyond basic functions and transactions will allow you to discover how technology can work harder to help your organisation achieve more. Understanding your team’s strengths and limitations, culture and attitudes toward change and governance can help spot gaps in your organisation that technology can fill when it comes to everything from donor engagement to identifying new beneficiaries.

Mapping the results of this work will not only help to clarify the vision and desired impacts of what technology can do for the organisation, but also allow you to set goals and determine the best ways to measure and achieve success. And don’t forget to include your Board of Trustees, whilst they won’t be involved in the day-to-day work, a tech-savvy board member can be a huge asset when it comes to making the case for digital transformation.

Shifting the way you look at technology from a functional cost to that of a strategic investment aligned with your charity’s mission doesn’t happen overnight. It relies on an outcome-focused approach and champions within the organisation to help make the business case and contribute to its success. Exploring the Art of the Possible arms you with the roadmap of information and understanding that you need to invest in the right technology for your organisation. It helps to unlock the value and ability to achieve what you may have never believed possible.


As lockdown eases, you only have to look at the joy on people’s faces as they shiver over outdoor pints just to share an evening at the pub with friends or family to know how much we’ve missed connection and being away from our support systems. This increased awareness and lack of connection has seen charities in the health and social care sectors dealing with unprecedented levels of people reaching out in need of help and support. As a result, organisations providing support services for everything from depression and mental health challenges to drug and alcohol addiction, cancer treatment and heart disease recovery have needed to change how they work to meet this high demand for their services without compromising their mission, values and the support they provide.

This need for change has led to the sector embracing digital technology in ways they never considered previously. Traditionally, charities in this space have viewed technology with scepticism – believing it to be impersonal, inhuman, an administrative headache, and even a barrier to developing the connections and relationships needed for them to provide the best service possible to their beneficiaries.

According to EY’s recent report based on a worldwide survey of health and human services organisations, prior to COVID, only 18% these organisations had embedded digital tools in their working practices. Driven by the need to keep their staff safe and to continue to deliver care, the same report revealed that 62% of these organisations increased their use of digital technologies during the pandemic. Examples of this adoption range from providing laptops for staff to enable remote wor


Reaching out

Mental health charity, Anna Freud Centre transitioned 80% of their direct case work to virtual working at the start of lockdown, providing online therapy and consultations for their existing clients and new cases. They also continued to deliver training to allied mental health professionals virtually over lockdown, including free seminars giving Covid-19 specific support.

Anna Freud Centre was not alone in digitising their services at short notice. The Centre joined 17 other mental health charities including Mind, Mental Health UK, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Young Minds, The Helplines Partnership and Samaritans in March 2020 to support each other in tackling the mental health inequalities magnified by the pandemic.

In the absence of in-person support throughout lockdown, these charities increased their digital and online offerings, using technology to reach out and remain connected to those in need of their support. Digitised services such as:

  • online toolkits, information hubs and bite-sized blogs,
  • virtual safe spaces and discussion groups,
  • text messaging and telephone helpline support, and
  • digital peer support

have allowed them to check in, communicate critical information and provide a mental health lifeline throughout the pandemic, including resources aimed at NHS and frontline workers as well as vulnerable children and families.

Determined to ‘build back better’ this group of charities are calling on the government to provide funding and take action to support a nationwide Mental Health Renewal Plan to establish a ‘New Social Contract’ for a mentally healthier society.


Joining the dots

As we move beyond the immediate threat of COVID, we will be dealing with the after effects of lockdown on our overall health and well-being for years to come. While charities may be able to return to face-to-face check ins and sessions in the near future, it is unlikely that the increased demand for their services will be slowing down anytime soon. Teams will likely continue to be disparate with more home-based and hybrid workers, as well.

It is here where charities can look to workflow, scheduling and data-driven technologies like Salesforce to help balance their caseloads and support as many people as possible without over-working their team members. Using this type of cloud-based technology means incoming requests can be automatically routed to team members based on their availability and areas of expertise, ensuring the right cases are assigned to the right team members, helping the charity to provide a timely response to each request.

A complete record of all interactions with a person or family can also be securely stored in one place in the cloud, providing a ‘single version of the truth’ for each beneficiary they work with. This means that caseworkers and supervisors can safely access up to date information from wherever they are to keep tabs on the progress of each individual or family, ensuring they always have a full view of the people they are helping. Access to this clear picture allows the team to build treatment plans and a way forward based on real insights and to take the right action for each individual, bringing in the right support as and when it is needed.

The successful introduction of digitised services during lockdown has gone a long way to helping charities in health and social services to overcome their reservations about the benefits of technology, but there is more to be done for organisations in this sector to expand their digital footprint beyond what, for some, amounts to an emergency response to a global crisis.

If you would like to learn more about how technology can help your team to manage the ongoing impact of lockdown and COVID, please get in touch with [email protected] or call us on 0207 526 9201


[1] Office for National Statistics. 5 February 2021: Coronavirus and the social impacts on behaviours during different lockdown periods, Great Britain: up to February 2021 report

[1] EY, Embracing digital: is COVID-19 the catalyst for lasting change?. 13 January 2021

[1] Centre for Mental Health: October 2020. How mental health charities are responding to COVID 19: 


Where to begin?

To learn more about The Art of the Possible and how Cirrico can help develop a technology strategy fit for your organisation, please get in touch.