The way we work has been forever changed. Like many other industries, local authority employees, and indeed all public sector workers, have had to pivot to remote working practices whilst maintaining services for the citizens they serve.  But what has been the impact of this on individuals and how can technology help as we navigate the future of work?   

To help us understand the answers to these questions and more, the University of Hull’s Centre for Human Factors is working with four local authorities in the Humber region. The Future Work Design project seeks to provide tangible guidance to council leadership teams on how to navigate the shift to new working practices so that staff can continue to work as effectively and as safely as possible. 

So far, they’ve published research which uncovered that hybrid working is the future. However, a robust hybrid working strategy is critical to success and employee wellbeing. 

Recently, Microsoft joined the Centre for Human Factor’s project for their next phase, which focusses on how we can empower individuals with insights and tools to assist with employee wellbeing…and we of course said yes! 

With us on board they approached Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and a funding bid was approved. 

Getting involved in looking at the future of work 

In the last 18 months, as we’ve seen an increase in workplace modernisation and changing working practices, we’ve seen an increase in statistics and reports about the long-term impact. Even our reports have found that over 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options. However, the public sector is uniquely placed to use its experiences to learn and determine what it means for the future of work. Without the resilience, resourcefulness and passion of staff, services would have struggled to deliver what our citizens need. Therefore, we very quickly mobilised our team to support the research project.   

Executive sponsor, Faith La Grange, Director, Local and Regional Government, Microsoft UK said:               

“We are delighted to be supporting the work of this project. The way we work has forever changed, and Microsoft’s research shows employee wellbeing and resilience in the new hybrid workplace, is a priority for both organisational development and the use of technology. This is a key area of investment for Microsoft in the development of our own solutions, and it is fantastic to have the opportunity to support both academic research and our Local Authority customers in this important work.” 

Supporting your people in the future of work 

Our global 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report highlights the challenges and opportunities that face organisations in the hybrid workplace. Remote working helped people embrace flexible working practices that are here to stay in the future of work. However, at the same time, employees felt increased digital intensity, impeding on their work-life balance and stresses.  

The initial research of the Future Work Design programme also looked at data from people’s experience. They looked not at why the world of work has changed for public sector employees, but how this has impacted them personally. They found five clear stress-risk themes: Work demands, peer relationships, conflict between work and home life, home working environment, and unhealthy behaviours. 

Understanding these risks and developing risk control and mitigation strategies will be critical in developing a positive future hybrid workplace. 

Create a top-down strategy to build a people-first culture 

Empowering employees and helping them to prioritise wellbeing must come from the top. Leaders must address digital exhaustion by looking at ways to ease workloads, embrace collaboration, and build a culture where breaks are encouraged and respected. 

Many of the project’s research participants feel they’ve proven they can and will do their job effectively from anywhere. The future of work will be hybrid. Key to the effectiveness of your hybrid workplace strategy is empathetic and supportive leaders who promote a flexible and trusting culture. 

Also, by empowering the individual with skills and insights to enable them to take control and share what would really make a difference for them will help build a people-focussed future of work.  

As part of the major shift to remote working, the project built a Stress Risk Assessment Tool. This aims to help local authorities understand the pressures employees are facing. This ended up being widely adopted both here in the UK and other European countries. 

Technology’s place in the future of work 

Technology will help in developing the future of work. It will help support employees as organisations shift to more hybrid, agile styles of working. Some organisations saw three years of transformation happen in as little as three months. In the public sector, we saw an increase in digital documents, collaboration apps, and automating processes. These have all helped improve decision making, speed up workflows, and have allowed employees to better serve citizens with fewer errors and more personalised support. 

Technology can support the changes in hybrid working, creating collaborative offices used for connecting and creativity. For example, building accessible meeting rooms for both remote and in-person participants. Technology can help support employees by giving them access to what they need, when they need it such as equipping frontline staff with secure and connected devices to work from anywhere. Data and insights can empower employees to better balance their work-home lives and gives managers and senior leaders anonymised insights into employee wellbeing. These insights can then be turned into action to build effective wellbeing strategies and shape the future of work. 

Future Work Design next steps 

As part of the project, we’re working across four local authorities: East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Hull City Council, North Lincolnshire Council, North East Lincolnshire Council and the University of Hull. Together, we’ve been looking at the wellbeing tools and technology that is most widely available and how we can help the public sector gain most benefit from these technologies. This also helps the research to be more widely applied across public sector. 

Watch this space 

The research will span across the next phases of the UK government’s easing of restrictions, which is a very interesting time for programme participants as they reconcile the demands of transitioning to hybrid working. 

The target date for the research to be published is October 2021 and will be published on the University of Hull’s Centre for Human Factors. 

Please contact me or your Microsoft Account Manager if you would like to know more. 

Find out more 

Future Work Design project 

Microsoft Work Trend Index 

Create an agile workforce 

About the author 

Michelle Mulder
Local Government Account Director – Future Work Design Program Lead

Michelle is passionate about how technology can support local authorities, fire services, housing associations in the north of England in inclusive and sustainable service provision. She helps them discover the opportunities available from digital skills to economic growth, embracing smart place technology through to understanding data to improve service delivery and automation designed to help increase capacity in these challenging times. 


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