2020 really has been one of the most challenging years that I can remember, with three things in particular taking their toll on me personally and those around me.

Ongoing Brexit shenanigans carried us into the year with tremendous uncertainty, the killing of George Floyd brought societal inequity and division into sharp focus, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us all to the edge of our collective and individual resilience.

The overwhelming sentiment seems to be “good riddance 2020” but it’s important to reflect and acknowledge the many positive aspects of the year.

From an Unboxed perspective, we’ve worked on some great projects, with some great people, and it feels like we’re staying true to our vision:

“Unboxed is a place where people feel fulfilled, challenged and valued, working on digital products and services that solve complex problems and have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

The values that underpin this vision have served us well, especially those that emphasise; openness and transparency in our communication and actions, healthy and trusting relationships, and the care and attention we invest in our people and our work.


Our team

Unboxed’s people are our greatest asset and we work hard to create a culture in which everyone can thrive.

Unboxed team in 2020

We’re also committed to diversifying the team and we’ve been iteratively improving our recruitment process to ensure we attract and retain people who will enhance our supportive culture.

Michelle joined as a design, delivery, and product unicorn in January with developer and author Rhian soon after. And since closing the physical office doors in March, we’ve had three new developers (Melissa, Flo, and Anastasia) and four new designers (Claudia, Sarah, Ali, and Yasmeen) join, all of whom have already made significant contributions to our success, despite the challenges of remote working in a new team.

I’d like to thank everyone at Unboxed for making them feel so welcome and helping them bring their whole selves to work. We’re sad to have said goodbye to Pudim and also of course Boris, who finally managed to take up his new position in Melbourne after much COVID induced delay.

We would like to really thank every single member of the team for their continued commitment to the cause this year. The quality of work has been higher than ever, and the level of care we’ve shown for each other has been truly amazing. Unboxed remains a group I’m so proud to be a part of. Thank you everyone!


Wellbeing

Supporting and nurturing wellbeing is an integral part of our strategy at Unboxed, and we’ve been working hard on this for some time now.

Wellbeing at Unboxed in 2020

We have been blogging regularly about wellbeing during COVID-19, including how we’re adjusting to new ways of working, ways of reducing remote communication fatigue, and how we’ve experienced working in a pandemic.

We’ve also recently invested in a resilience training programme (with Get Thriving) to improve our understanding of the effects of stress from a neurological perspective, and help us to thrive and adapt to challenging circumstances at pace, both individually and as a team.


Project highlights

We’re very grateful to have been able to work on a wide range of different projects this year, all aligned with our vision of making a positive impact on people’s lives.

We’ve continued our work with Southwark Council, MHCLG and partner authorities on the Back-office Planning System (BoPS) Local Digital Fund project, delivering a beta phase for permitted development planning applications. Our private beta will go live with three councils in January and work will continue to broaden the scope of the product well into 2021.

We’ve continued to develop and support UK Government and Parliament Petitions with GDS (Government Digital Service), and reused the open source codebase to release Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament Petitions with Welsh Parliament.

Our team has been building on our long-term relationship with Buckinghamshire Council to release the website for the new Buckinghamshire unitary authority, and jobs and careers website. We’ve also created a great working relationship with two partner agencies, Torchbox and Scroll, who’d we’d like to thank for all their efforts during the year.

We’ve also maintained a great working relationship with the HackIT team at Hackney Council, extending the ‘Repairs Hub’ service to support additional user groups to improve the raising and tracking of social housing repairs.

This work ties in nicely with our collaboration with City of Lincoln Council, MHCLG, Royal Borough of Greenwich, South Kesteven District Council and Southwark Council to explore the technical feasibility of a common service pattern for raising housing repairs online — another Local Digital Fund project.

We have continued our work with Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust to further develop a remote monitoring digital service for rheumatology patients, which has recently rolled out to five additional South London NHS Trusts. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to give a talk at the UX Healthcare 2020 online conference about the project with Melanie Martin, our Product Owner.

We have also continued working with SH:24, Public Health England, The Honeycomb Works, and others, and further projects with GDS and Southwark Council, as well as worked with some newer customers including Connected Places Catapult, and Huntingdonshire District Council, amongst others.

"Working with the Unboxed team throughout 2020, as well as over the last two years, has demonstrated how local government can and should be thinking about and creating services in the 2020s.

I've been made to feel a part of the team, as a Product Owner from the local government side, and have been taught the art and science of service design and digital product development. It's been a real learning experience which has brought added value to the council as an organisation, engendering change throughout." — Jack Ricketts, Southwark Council.

We’d like to thank all of our customers for the ongoing trust and confidence you’ve shown in the Unboxed team and your incredible adaptability as we all work together to navigate the complex issues we’ve faced this year.


Unboxed ventures

A core part of the Unboxed vision is to not only create user-centred digital products and services with our customers, but also to create, incubate and develop product ideas of our own.

Since 2016, we’ve been working on Char.gy — an electric vehicle lamppost charging solution. Char.gy was born out of an idea by our founder, Richard, to solve the problem of people living in flats and terraced houses not having anywhere to charge an electric vehicle (EV), creating a barrier to EV uptake.

Char.gy has been going from strength-to-strength over the last few years and is now installed on over 300+ lampposts and locations around the UK, as well as featuring in a number of publications (including a recent top five of the most exciting electric vehicle charging companies).

Char.gy

Earlier this year, we decided to focus on our next potential venture.

Promenade is an online service for recording Patient Reported Outcome Measures (or PROMs) and giving them meaning for both patients and clinicians over time. The service can support a broad range of PROMs and has the potential to provide a far more holistic view of a patient’s overall health.

We hope to use this service to compliment and enhance the Rheumatology Remote Monitoring Service that we've created with Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust as well as making it available to track wellbeing within Unboxed and other organisations.

Promenade

Techqala is a unique business accelerator/bootcamp, established by Unboxed in 2015. Every year, we take a team of employees, associates and customers over to Cape Town to work with local African entrepreneurs on their business ideas.

Over five days, we deliver a series of workshops, presentations, and social activities, designed to give start-up founders and those trying to drive innovation and change in larger organisations, a real sense of purpose and a set of tools to give them the best chance of success in their endeavours.

The global pandemic has put paid to any plans for a trip to South Africa, so in early 2021, Unboxed will be partnering with UKBlackTech to deliver Techqala in the UK.


In summary...

In summary, it’s been an immensely challenging year for everyone but with our focus on the wellbeing of our team, and by continuing to prioritise strong trusting relationships with our customers, old and new, Unboxed is in really good shape going into the new year. But first, a break.

We hope everyone can take this festive season as an opportunity to relax, recharge, reconnect, and get ready for 2021!

Written by Martyn Evans