Starting our journey
Hull City Council embarked upon an exciting journey in 2018 with the introduction of the WorkSmart Programme. This was a large scale cultural change programme involving significant behavioural changes in the way staff approach and operate in and away from the workplace. The aim was to introduce a more modern way of working by adopting flexible working practices, utilising the benefits of improved technologies and maximising the use of our buildings.
We wanted to positively change the way that staff work and offer an enhanced work-life balance. To sustain and embed the change, it was important to us that our staff were involved in every part of the journey. Not unusual for this scale of transformation, we did encounter challenges and some resistance. We worked with staff by holding events, drop in sessions, manager workshops to support those who would be leading staff more remotely, as well as creating more flexible work spaces to support a choice-based way of working in terms of location.
COVID-19 taking our workforce beyond WorkSmart
The Council’s response to Covid-19 saw a vast number of our employees move to working from home on a scale we could never have anticipated and well beyond any intention that WorkSmart ever have had. Due to the WorkSmart programme, we had already issued over 2,000 laptops over the past two years, which meant we were in a great position for staff to still be able to work away from the office on a massive scale. However, we did issue many more laptops to ensure that critical staff such as our Payroll Team, who had not identified as remote workers previously, could continue to carry out their work.
Clearly it was vital that our staff continued to communicate with managers, colleagues and our customers. So many departments such as ICT & Digital, Corporate Communications and the WorkSmart team rapidly changed the way we do things. For example we accelerated our intended roll-out of Microsoft Teams, delivering virtual training and producing guidance documents at pace. Staff from Children, Young People and Family Services remained connected with families through issuing smart phones and enabling WhatsApp. Staff wellbeing is always our priority, and it was imperative that we kept them updated via newsletters, virtual meetings, online wellness sessions and videos so that they were aware of the support available to them.
Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for some staff to try new ways of working where they may be would have been hesitant otherwise.
Housing Services Officer, Helen Phillips says she’s always been a little bit of a traditionalist in terms of office-based working. Helen said: “I liked coming into the work environment, seeing my colleagues, having that banter and being able to do my work from a comfortable workspace. I suppose you could say I don’t like change!
“The coronavirus pandemic has clearly forced the majority of us into working from home, which for me isn’t ideal. However, I must admit that I’m starting to see the benefits of a more flexible approach to work, so I was only too happy to volunteer to take part in the University of Hull study that’s happening across the council now. I had my session last week and it was really interesting.
“I can now appreciate that working from home five days a week isn’t part of the WorkSmart programme, though having that in place has really helped us through this situation. WorkSmart is ultimately about having that choice about where you work from and I believe that the Hull Uni study will hopefully show how staff opinion has changed and help us create a more modern approach to work.”
Taking us beyond Covid-19
We were really excited when we were asked to be a part of this collaboration project as it came at the perfect time in our journey, the time was right to gain a valuable understanding of the impact of Covid-19 and help inform our long-term strategic direction and future ways of working.
It is important to us that in the long-term, staff retain the benefits of flexible working, but through a choice-based approach rather than in a forced way due to restrictions. We envisage this could naturally be a balance between the office, home and other locations, such as one of our drop in sites, depending on where the staff member is most productive in relation to the task in hand. The evidence gathering as part of this project will provide us with the analysis needed to understand how we can best support staff through further development of our technology, policies, office spaces and approach to health and wellbeing.
Work-life balance, flexibility and modern technology is becoming an important factor in an employee’s hierarchy of needs. Local authorities need to adapt to these fast changing and evolving cultures to sustain their workforce, recruit and retain new talent and respond to the expectations of a more modern working world.
We are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the project and being able to share our learning and tools with other local authorities.