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Mini Milestones – a year of working from home

I’ve asked the Teams in TDL to tell me about their achievements for the year of working from home – both from a business perspective and if there are any personal achievements that they are proud of. So, here they are to share with you…

When lockdown and working from home started, I think a lot of us thought that it would just be for a few months. So, it’s astonishing to find ourselves, a whole year later, still working from home. We’re all quite used to Zoom calls and the shouts of, “You’re on mute” are definitely being required a little less often, and it now feels very normal to have kids appearing with questions whispered in ears during serious meetings.


The disadvantages of working from home

It’s been a real adjustment for everybody to work in isolation – especially for a company which prides itself on collaboration. The spark of team spirit and off the cuff collaboration that the office environment brings just can’t be replicated over the more stilted Team meetings. But the very real sense of camaraderie that existed in the office has continued online because it was so strong before, and that has helped us all to cope with working while we’re social distancing.

The attitude of TDL management throughout the year has been one of flexibility, communication and support, and this has paved the way for our staff to adapt and embrace a new style of working. This has led to a surprisingly productive and successful year of achievements, which we wanted to highlight – our Mini Milestones from a year of working from home!


The Marketing Team

We’ve had to completely rethink how to “do” DataFest this year, but are really seeing the current restrictions as an amazing opportunity and have adapted the normal 2 week long format into a year-long festival with a series of themed weeks, and hope to be able to offer Data Summit as a hybrid event in November. The overarching theme of #OurData will be explored in each of these themes to spark discussion about how we, as data users and as a community, can use data for good to help solve or ease the world’s problems.

We are looking forward to facilitating engaging conversations, offering the wider data and AI community the chance to hear and learn from our expert speakers throughout the year. The events will include a focus on climate in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Find out more about what we’re planning on the DataFest website.

Gina (Marketing): Having more hours at home has left me fitter and more flexible than I’ve been before as I’ve had lots of time for yoga, online exercise videos and jogging. Working from home with kids isn’t all bad… Will I be able to keep this up when juggling commuting and driving the kids around? We shall hopefully soon see!


Scotland’s AI Strategy

This week we hit a huge milestone… the launch of Scotland’s AI Strategy! The Data Lab has been supporting the Scottish Government in its development since autumn 2019 and when COVID hit, we had to change our entire planned programme of public engagement as well as our working group consultations from in person to online. The schedule for the strategy’s  launch had to be delayed from the Programme for Government in Autumn 2020 to Spring 2021. But, we made it and we are excited to reveal this new strategy with a vision to make Scotland a leader in the development of trustworthy, ethical and inclusive AI.

Steph: And on a more personal note, the first lockdown saw the arrival of my wee baby boy. Maternity leave in lockdown was somewhat different from what I imagined, but I made the most of it with what we could do for a short time when restrictions were eased. Now that I’m back to work and he’s almost 10 months old, I am struck by how he will be growing up in a world that has been entirely changed (for the better I hope!) by the pandemic.


Data Science Team

The Data Science team has brought in 3 new members over lockdown (counting the one who’ll start in April). We’ve also started delivering on our first externally funded projects, which are notable for being bigger and more ambitious than our standard projects (and require us to align with an external project team while working entirely remotely).

Joanna: As for my personal milestone – I now have a 483-day streak in Duolingo learning Scottish Gaelic!


Data for Children Collaborative

The Data for Children Collaborative has had a very productive year. We’ve kicked off 10 projects across themes ranging from Population to Poverty to Mental Health to COVID19 with teams across academic, public sector and private sector. We’ve created a new funding approach, ‘Impact Collaborations’, which has enabled collaborations of project teams from India to California. We’ve also created a structured approach to Youth Engagement and delivered an Ethical Workbook for Scottish Government’s COVID19 Data & Intelligence Network.

Since 23 March 2020, our team of three has spent 229 hrs with the Private Sector, 602 hrs with the Public Sector, 469 hrs with the Third Sector and 608 hrs with Academic Institutions.

Alex H: I’ve done a morning cycle commute (outdoor or turbo in garage) every single working day since lockdown began.

Alex F: I’ve had my “1 year at the TDL” anniversary during lockdown and have done more time out of the office than in it!


Skills Team

We successfully placed 33 students into industry placements that went ahead fully remotely, with some of the students abroad in their home countries. These were a success and, despite the initial challenges, have helped pave the way for us to evidence the success and promote remote placements as an opportunity for organisations this year.

We also delivered 2019/20 MSc Innovation week to 130 students in June 2020; a full week of design thinking for data planned to be delivered face-to-face in a residential format turned around in 2 months to be delivered fully online.  Since then we have delivered a further 5 live online events to the 2020/21 (160 students). Additionally, we have provided pre-recorded skills and employability training including 1-1 CV reviews for every student, alongside live group workshops on communicating, collaborating and presenting in an online world.

Marian: I’ve been doing a yoga session every day since working at home began.


Data Skills for Work

In the last year, Data Skills for Work has:

  • supported 70+ learners to upskill through our Data Skills Credits scheme
  • helped 15 new businesses find the right training to meet their needs
  • recruited 12 training providers onto our Training Register
  • offered free or discounted training places to learners
  • spoken to 50 employers about their data upskilling needs
  • attracted an additional £200k of funding to accelerate and expand our programme across Scotland.


TORCH Business Advisory Service

In March 2020, The Data Lab launched its new Business Advisory Service, TORCH (based on feedback from companies looking to progress their data-driven projects). At precisely the same time, the world was thrown into disarray and the TORCH team were forced to re-evaluate their approach to the service and evolve to the new problems that businesses in Scotland were facing.

12 months down the line, they have on-boarded an entire team online and achieved some incredible results:

  • Signed up 45+ suppliers to the TORCH Supplier Network
  • Engaged with over 60 companies, 58% of which were new to The Data Lab
  • 16 projects across 11 industries(including High Value Spirits, Built Environment, Comms & PR, Pet Food, Travel & Hospitality, Retail, Technology, Health & Wellbeing, Sport & Leisure, Housing, HR Tech), with 4 of the companies having female founders
  • 28 introductions into our Supplier Network
  • 10 organisations TORCH has worked with are taking MSc students


Sarah: I started at TDL a day after lockdown began on 25 March 2020, so I was one of the first people in the country to experience that! I co-wrote a blog about the experience: “Tips for starting a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic”.


The External Funding Team

Our External Funding Service, which aids Scottish companies in accessing available grant funding has, to date, supported more than 65 businesses to secure £21 million in data-related innovation funding. At the start of the pandemic the team provided vital support to Scottish businesses applying for covid related rapid-response funding calls with an 80% success rate. Businesses supported were from a range of sectors, including; Medtech, Construction, Health and EdTech, many of whom had little to no experience in applying for grant funding before.

As lockdown continued, the team focus shifted towards long-term sustainability with grants concentrating on climate change, inclusivity and ensuring the viability and resiliency of business models. We assisted 3 companies in their successful applications to the sustainable innovation fund, again these were spanning a range of sectors.

Despite the constraints we have all been operating under, this has been a very successful year for the External Funding Team. We have enabled Scottish companies to access funding that has been vital for the success of their business during this very challenging period. Why not contact us to find out how we can help your business?


Brian Hills – Deputy CEO

One of the first milestones for me early on was leading the evolution of our team to transition to a service focussed approach. We have a hugely talented team and enabling members to have autonomy and ownership of our services was a key step on our path to scale. It has been amazing to see the team develop over the last year, underpinned by the commitment to supporting each other through what has been one of the most difficult years we have ever experienced. It is with that sense of joint purpose, commitment to values and community, that we’re now looking forward to launching a digital community for data and AI in Scotland this year. Having just completed our first pilot, I am really excited to see what we can achieve collectively as a team (and a community) to benefit the businesses and people of Scotland.

Brian: After I found out I had hypertension I’ve been on a mission to lose weight, and have lost a stone so far!



We rely on our staff so much to help us all do what we need to do at The Data Lab, so it is vital that we recruit the best. Covid (and working) remotely were initially a challenge, however, it was a challenge that we took in our stride. We redesigned our processes, which remained flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions.

We’ve had a lot of new Data Labbers – 4 members of staff are starting this month alone! Onboarding is particularly challenging. Our aim is to ensure that our new employees get the best chance to learn about The Data Lab and integrate. Looking at the numbers of staff over the last year, we have changed almost 1/3 of our staff! Quite extraordinary whilst we worked from home. When it came to making the new employees feel really welcome, we couldn’t have done it without the support of all of our outstanding staff.


Working from home

I’ve really been missing the casual office chat that fills you in on your colleagues’ achievements, frustrations and news. One of the reasons for putting together this blog was to catch up on what all of our Teams have been up to during the last year.

It’s really great to hear so many Mini Milestones and success stories across the company. I think this would be an impressive range of achievements for a normal year, never mind such a difficult year as this has been. And it’s good to know that, as one of Scotland’s Innovation Centres committed to championing the use of data and AI to power scientific progress, economic prosperity and social good, the achievements we make will be supporting Scottish businesses on their journey in post-Covid recovery.


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