Local Authorities Working Smarter

Yesterday I attended a one-day conference on Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working organised by Public Sector Forums. The event was held at Edgbaston Cricket ground, which seemed to cause a lot of excitement among the a few of the delegates…it just looked like a big lawn to me!

The delegates were primarily (IT/change/communications etc.) managers working within Local Authority Councils. I have to admit that the local authority public sector community are not one I’ve had a huge amount to do within the past so I did occasionally feel like a fish out of water. That said the day was really useful and I now feel I have a much clearer idea of what is happening within local authorities with regard to remote working. The key driver to all flexible and remote working activity is ‘rationalisation of office space’ in an attempt to cut costs – many councils are closing down their many smaller, unfit-for-purpose offices and replacing them with a small number of purpose built offices. This means centralisation of resources, server virtualisation and relocation of staff. In most cases there are now (or will be) less desk spaces than there are staff – hence the encouragement of remote working.

It’s interesting that remote working is here being led by organisational need rather than employee need, but then such is business. This of course means that there is not so much a requirement to win support among the higher management (hopefully the business case will have already displayed this) but middle management and the employees who will be becoming remote workers may not have been convinced yet.

Jon Watkinson from The Project Network Ltd started off the day with an excellent introduction to the benefits and challenges of remote working. He used some key statistics (such as remote working bringing a consistent 20% improvement in output) and looked at some common hurdles to implementation. Jon chaired the day.

The majority of presentations were case studies looking at how councils had made the move. Kelly MacMillan, Market Specialist, Mitel gave a case study on Malvern Hills District Council’s uptake of Mitel’s intelligent migration VOIP phone system. A technical person from Mittel also introduced SunRay, a stateless thin-client solution (virtual desktop) aimed at corporate environments which has been available for 12 years now. The technology demonstrations showed that there is a need for corporate lock down on many remote working set ups, something that probably wouldn’t work among many HE/FE remote workers.

Flexible Working Conference

Terri Fleming, Performance and Information Manager, Denbighshire County Council gave a more down to earth presentation on their Worksmart initiatives. Some great ideas here including running a training programme for middle management to help them move from assessing by attendance to assessing by outputs. It was a relief to see Jill Scott, Equality and Diversity Adviser, Birmingham City University explore some of the differences and similarities between the issues local authorities and Higher Education face. She recently worked on a project implementing flexible working funded by HEFCE. She explained that HE is not leading the field in this area but there has been a move towards formal policies. Jill said that HE is not suffering building closures so didn’t have to get people off site but I’d have to disagree and say that in HE the increase in student population has meant that their are increasingly space restrictions which has led to more remote working. It may not be long till we are following the Local Authority example.

After Jill I gave probably the only presentation of the day that considered things from the employee’s angle. I tried to explain that although there may be an enthusiasm and appetite for remote working that it would only be a success for all if it was well supported. Retention of staff may be an argument in favour of remote and flexible working but staff could be left isolated and unhappy if not managed effectively. I think my presentation was met with some interest and afterwards a number of people remarked that it covered a lot of things that they’d “not thought about before“. Lets hope that winning hearts and minds of staff continues to be as important as saving pennies for our LAs.

My presentation How to be a Connected Remote Worker in 10 Easy Steps is available from Slideshare.

I also took a video of my talk. Unfortunately the battery on my Flip camera ran out half way through.

If you are interested in viewing it (the first 15 minutes) please do let me know.

My talk was followed by two more case studies. The first by Andrew Hughes, Project Manager on the Worksmart programme at Wakefield Council and the second was by Emel Morris, Head of Communications on The Way We Work programme at Hertfordshire County Council. Both were exemplars case studies:  hot desking, team areas, check in spots around the county, mobile devices, digital pens and great support. The audience seemed very enthusiastic about what could be done.

During the day there were opportunities for round table discussions and it was interesting to hear people’s issues and how they were dealing with them. There was also an exhibition of appropriate remote working systems.

The final conclusions were presented by Jon Watkinson. He also offered two slides – one for managers, one for everyone else – for us to take a final thought from…



All slides will be available from the Public Sector Forums Web site.