“Smarter working” is a phrase that’s been around in local government for quite some time. The idea being that as technology evolves and breaks down barriers, local government organisations can provide a more flexible and location-independent approach to work.
From an employee perspective, that means that they can make their role work for them – choose where and when to work so they feel most productive as well as fitting it around their home lives. From a local authority perspective, smarter working prevents an opportunity to save money by repurposing or selling off space.
Ostensibly, the smarter working initiative has been seeing a bit of an acceleration of late. While many local government employees remain key workers who are still needed in the office, or in the field, the need to contain the COVID-19 virus has led many to be asked to work from home. For many organisations, in both the public and private sector, this has meant a rapid adjustment to partial or complete remote working.
A new normal
The long-term impact of this period of disruption and rapid change will remain to be seen – but we would expect to see remote working as a much more prevalent approach in local authorities. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”, and where some councils may have been dragging their heels when it came to adopting remote working policies, they’ve now had no choice but to accelerate into making these practices work.
Many organisations have had to rapidly put in place strategies and policies around remote working – no mean feat when you consider the many data privacy challenges and the need to comply with standards such as PSN and CoCo that government organisations face
Technology is just the enabler
While the sudden shift to remote working might have exposed some areas where local government organisations needed to plug gaps in technology – it might also have opened their eyes to the fact that tech really wasn’t the barrier they were trying to overcome.
As mobile technology has become more accessible, versatile and inexpensive, the hurdles to remote working have been less about technology and more about culture and policy.
In a crisis, you have no choice but to be agile and adaptable – so perhaps this is the eye-opener many organisations needed to adopt a more flexible approach. The technology will catch up – but to be truly productive as a distributed workforce the right culture has to be in place.
Supporting the community
Whether working from home or the office, local authorities obviously have a responsibility to provide the best possible service to their citizens and service users, no matter the circumstances.
This period will no doubt bring about more innovative approaches to how local authorities deliver support and make their services accessible to their communities. To help accelerate innovations like this, the Department of Health and Social Care has made £500,000 of funding available to small businesses, with a grant of up to £25,000 available to each business, if they are able to develop digital solutions for providing remote social care and mental health support.
Issues like this also highlight the need for local government organisations to work more closely with local NHS Trusts and other health organisations – ensuring that citizens follow critical health advice and stay at home to avoid spreading the virus.
There will also be a necessity for local government organisations to evaluate and improve their online services. With customer service centres closed, they need to ensure they can seamlessly and consistently offer key services via their website.