There is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end with a mass change to the way you work and the use of new technology to do your job – six months ago this happened almost overnight.
The way our workforce has responded to the impact of Covid 19 is admirable and something we are proud of. When the virus struck, we were fortunate because we had infrastructure and technologies in place that allowed our workforce to work from home immediately.
This was coupled with the need to support with the response to the pandemic which included setting up shielding hubs to facilitate the support to vulnerable people and distribution of food parcels.
At North East Lincolnshire Council our staff were already used to frequently working agile and from home using technology that had been in place for some years. We had also invested in and rolled out Microsoft Teams across the whole organisation however use of this was patchy.
We moved from small-scale use to enterprise-wide adoption almost overnight. Mobilising MS-Teams itself to provide IT support and help to staff using it for the first time – using an ‘all-staff’ Teams channel ‘Homeworking’.
Initial bandwidth capacity issues were overcome by a rapid cloud migration of our MS-Exchange (email, calendars, etc.) and splitting our VPN traffic so that only the traffic that needed to touch our central systems did so, and performance improved dramatically.
The digital-take-up has been incredible and even employees who had been reluctant to work in an agile manner, experienced difficulty using different technologies, or may not have thought they could work from home, were all very quickly up and running doing their job from home.
In just over five months (1st March to 8th August) the organisation has enabled:
- 145,017 calls on Teams
- 42,274 meetings on Teams
- 163,550 chat messages
- 1,170,887 private chat messages
Throughout this journey, staff wellbeing was a priority. Inevitably, the challenging situation presented by COVID-19, home schooling, staff and family members shielding, and lockdown we very much had an eye on the wellbeing of our workforce and worked quickly to support them in the quick transition to a very different way of working. Covid 19 news feeds were instigated on our intranet, Covid 19 e-learning packages were developed to support staff in working in different ways in terms of working safely, track and trace and also a remote working suite of training.
Our health and wellbeing team have been working hard to ensure we support the workforce and wellbeing conversations have recently taken place with all staff.
“The response to changes in working practices has been fantastic, but there are also many other benefits that we have made as an aside. My commute means 500 miles per week less, and because I don’t commute, at the end of the day I am managing to fit in a brisk walk, seeing local lanes and tracks that I haven’t been down to since I was a kid!”
The top findings in terms of the benefits our staff are seeing are:
- Saving time – no commuting
- Saving money – petrol/bus fare
- More flexibility – better time management – better work life balance (these come up separately but maybe tie in together as similar theme)
- Feel more productive
- Feel less stressed
“I’m trying to support small local businesses rather than the large supermarkets, local butcher, fruit and veg, bakery…I’m not usually at home when these are open, so used to use the convenience of the large supermarkets with longer opening hours”
However, we’re very aware that we need to look for the signs of fatigue and burn out and promote strategies to prevent this from happening. We need to be proactive and this study by the University of Hull will help us in our approach to this.
This is why the opportunity to take part in this study came at such a great time both for us as an organisation but also for our staff and we’re excited about the findings and how we can use them to shape the future work design in government and beyond.