The sudden shift to remote working brought about by the pandemic caused many councils to rethink the very concept of work. Rather than being a central place to which staff travel each day, it is now seen as an activity undertaken from wherever people happen to be.
For many councils, a return to pre-COVID working patterns may never happen. The lockdowns have brought the realisation that a number of previously office-based roles can be successfully completed remotely. Back-office processing and contact centre roles can just as readily be completed by staff working from home offices.
The 2021 workplace
While these changes will doubtless have a lasting impact on council offices, their importance as a component of daily working life will remain. Although staff are unlikely to travel to the office every day, they will continue to be a useful location for face-to-face meetings and group collaboration. Offices will essentially become part of a wider hybrid work environment in which in-office activity will be blended with remote working.
These new types of environments will also become an important differentiator for local governments looking to source and retain talent. Staff will be attracted to those that can offer a compelling mix of remote and office-based work.
To achieve a successful hybrid environment, local councils will need to make a number of changes to existing offices and their supporting infrastructure. These changes include:
- Creating a safe workplace:
With the virus likely to remain part of life for an extended period, councils need to reduce the chance of it spreading in the workplace. Consider deploying technologies such as touchless control panels and wireless screen sharing in meeting rooms.
Digital displays can be installed that indicate the capacity of each meeting room and when it was last cleaned. Voice-activation capabilities can also be added to items such as computer terminals and projectors to allow them to be controlled without needing to touch any buttons or screens.
- Improving conferencing capabilities:
Most existing tele- and video-conferencing systems were designed to have the majority of participants in an office environment and a small number in remote locations. These proportions have now been reversed.
Evaluate the equipment currently installed in meeting rooms and ensure it can deliver high-quality video and audio streams for large numbers of remote participants. Also, ensure remote staff have been equipped with high-quality cameras and headsets that allow them to be clearly seen and heard from the office.
- Bridge conferencing systems:
Traditionally, many larger councils have relied on business-grade, meeting room-based conferencing systems to communicate between different locations. However, during the COVID lockdowns, many staff have become familiar with alternative platforms such as Zoom and Teams.
It will be necessary to deploy bridging technology that will allow Webex, Zoom and Teams users to connect with those using systems provided by companies such as Cisco and Polycom. This will allow participants to concentrate on their meeting rather than having to configure and manage multiple platforms.
- A shift in organisational culture:
Within many local government organisations, the traditional management philosophy has been one that staff should work from the office as that is how they can maximise productivity. This mindset will need to permanently change to embrace a future where the majority of staff are likely to be working from home most of the time.
Everything from management and reporting structures to workflows and approval channels will need to be evaluated and, where required, altered to suit this new working environment.
Through making these changes, councils can ensure they are well placed to operate and thrive in a post-pandemic world. After evaluating the tools and processes already in place, new technologies can be adopted that will ensure staff can be as productive as possible regardless of their location.
The office of 2021 will be a very different place however, by embracing the concept of the hybrid workplace, local government will be we placed to function effectively in the months and years ahead.