How Deliveroo delivered one million meals to frontline NHS teams during COVID-19

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood August 10, 2022
Slack was critical to Deliveroos’ 2019-20 ‘Feed The NHS’ program

Deliveroo delivery rider outside Editions kitchen

Although Deliveroo was already a happy user of workplace messaging platform Slack, the UK online food delivery company says that its contribution as a ‘Digital HQ’ during COVID-19 more than justified the license fee.

Slack contributed to the continued functioning of Deliveroo during the worst of the pandemic lockdowns of 2019 and 2020, but it also underpinned the firm’s ‘Feed the NHS’ programme, which saw an estimated one million free takeout meals delivered to hard-pressed frontline NHS staff during the global health crisis. 

The company also says that the donation programme was only made possible by having a digital native corporate mindset.

Recalling the context of the 12-month campaign, the firm’s Director of Global Enterprise Account Management, Craig Foster, explains: 

I actually joined here two weeks before lockdown, so I spent two weeks in the office and then we were all sent home. We were trying to help our partners as much as we could right from the start, but there was this growing threat of a virus that had affected the whole country, and we wanted to help in some way.

Deliveroo managers put their heads together to try and find some practical way to support the nurses and doctors on the frontline in UK hospitals and Trusts. 

But unlike many organizations, Foster believes Deliveroo’s tech start-up mindset meant that it was able to turn those ambitions into reality. He adds: 

I’d just come over from Amazon, but I was hardly unique at Deliveroo in terms of having a mindset of operating at pace in a very fast, agile environment, and where every day is day one.

So, we were already really execution-focused anyway: here's the goal, how do we get there, and how do we build teams and mobilize people to enable us to do that while also keeping them on-side and motivated?

Delivering for healthcare workers

Fortunately, even before the novel Coronavirus, Deliveroo had a flexible workforce policy, which includes offering staff the option to work from home, as well as hotdesking in the office. That was complemented by the company’s own proprietary tech, which has been architected to help the brand become one of the market’s definitive food delivery companies — from fast food at the doorstep to grocery delivery.

The Deliveroo business process also means building tight partnerships with the restaurants and retailers it represents. Foster says: 

“We’d built up a whole suite of products and services that we leverage with our third party partners, like offering to work with a major brand to do all its deliveries, so the customer shops on its app but you’ll only see our riders, for example.

“But none of this was done with our app; this was all done from scratch, with a lot of Google Sheets!

The final piece in the puzzle was its chosen messaging app for business, Slack. Foster says:

With a tool like this, you have this singular meeting point and hub where you can create channels and host various work groups, so you can access people and stakeholders really quickly.

But when the pandemic hit the tool had to meet a new need: ‘Feed The NHS.’ Foster adds: 

COVID-19 was rampant, and we had, very sadly, many people dying or in hospital, and it looked like hospitals were getting overwhelmed. NHS staff were working ridiculously long hours, without a lot of breaks, including for food, so we wanted to help by leveraging the strength of what we do.

After all, we’re all about delivering food. We could do that, and so I was asked to build a team to do this and deliver 500,000 meals to our health service key workers.

But as Foster was two weeks in post, he hadn’t yet had any opportunity to build up the relationships and internal process knowledge to execute on the plans. Slack was a key enabler on this front. He says: 

I was given a few contact names, so I started reaching out on the platform - and at that initial stage it really was as basic as: ‘Hi, you don't know me, but I'm Craig, I joined a few weeks ago and I'm leading a project called Feed the NHS to feed frontline doctors and nurses - can I have some of your team as volunteers?’

The first few names that were identified as temporarily spare workforce capacity, included roles such as executive assistants, communications and recruitment - all of which were working from home and were available to help.

After first contact, Foster and his new potential helper would set up a call through the system, have a dialogue, and set up possible teams. In practical terms, that means setting up a dedicated ‘Feed The NHS’ channel on Slack. He says: 

Within a particular channel, you can host all manner of materials and dialogue. For instance, in what I would call the pinned channel, which is the main channel of information about what the project was all about, we could put all the information anyone would need - for example, what you need to tell partners, the documents that you need for suppliers, as well as the specifics of how to work with the NHS.

The main Feed The NHS hub was then complemented by separate channels on the supply side, with a number of participants and donor restaurants building as the campaign started to gather momentum. A key channel was sourcing, Foster adds: 

We need to track what offers we’d had, because we would go out to restaurants and say, ‘Look, we're doing this project, we're after donations, are you willing to donate meals or numbers of meals per week?’ 

And so that would be the supply team channel, who’d tell us we need to give Charing Cross Hospital 300 meals every Tuesday for the next five weeks. We had to work out how to get them pizzas one week, burgers the following week, salads on a Saturday, and so on.

Foster contrasts this way of digital cooperation with traditional business email, which he thinks would have not made the project practical. He says: 

When somebody emails a whole group, it can take an hour for someone to reply and it’s on a long thread. Here, it's all immediate, and with the flexibility of creating channels, it’s all far less clunky.”

Another benefit was immediate feedback for achievement. He adds: 

We could show all the photographs of clinicians getting the meals, the thank you letters, the pictures and lovely videos of people saying ‘Thank you for feeding us’ - that was a huge enabler, as on the hub people were able to see the difference that we were making. 

I also like the engagement tools, like emojis and love hearts, celebrations and so on, as they're useful little prompts to get people on side and build a sense of community.

That was important, remember, as we were still all working at home, sitting in bedrooms or opposite blank walls - so the ability to keep morale up was crucial to retaining and keeping everyone happy. 

Engagement also supported reporting, he says. For example, staff being able to say, ‘I've just managed to secure 10,000 pizzas from company X,’ which they could then flag in the channel and colleagues could see it as an alert line.

That gave the project leaders a way to both praise the achievement but also understand how quickly that part of the meal supply chain was growing. 

Given the productivity boost the software provided, Foster’s job soon became one of coordinating stakeholders. Some of this happened outside of the application, such as daily stand up calls, where progress with key suppliers was checked. He adds:

There's natural interaction happening outside of the app, but it enables these things to happen more quickly and it has all the right material in the right place. It just made us go much faster.

Multiple channels for what you need

In terms of targets, Foster’s initial target was 500,000 deliveries.

But from a standing start, after six to seven weeks the team was up to 40,000 meals per week. After eight months, the original target had been beaten by 100%.

So while Feed The NHS has successfully delivered, Deliveroo’s use of the Slack hasn’t. Foster concludes:

If you've got a functional problem with a particular site or our own technology, there are multiple channels where you can post questions on everything from point-of-sale to partner integration - and as channels are essentially little alert bars down the left hand side of your navigation, you can always see when somebody has posted something, and if you’re related to that particular channel, you can go in there and answer that question quickly.

In terms of ability to move really quickly, this is just an absolute multiplier.

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