Can “homeworking” work for local government?

This idea was entered originally in the EU Social Innovation Competition May 2013 and can be seen on: http://socialinnovationcompetition.eu/423/

 

Firstly, a note on word selection: “Homeworking” is a familiar term but it is often associated with flitting from the laptop to the shops, to coffee with friends, to housework, the school run and the gym. Occasionally, you sit down to do some simple data entry. This is different. A room in the home becomes an office. You are not as regimented as 9 to 5 but you are certainly available during office hours. The work can range from administration to any sort of “knowledge transfer”, including management, and is transferred securely via the Cloud. You do go to meetings, chat with fellow workers and talk to the boss – it is just done by email and Skype (or similar). To distinguish the two, I have used “virtual work” rather than “homeworking” (or remote, teleworking etc).

 

The idea is for the Local Authority to include permanent virtual work as part of its employment practice. This can apply in three ways:

  • Current “in-office” jobs and contracts, where appropriate and consensual, are converted to “out-of-office” virtual (or rotate 5 workers, say, around one desk with each having 4 days “out” and 1 day “in”);
  • Vacancies and contract renewals arising from normal turnover, where appropriate, are fulfilled virtually;
  • Research determines which jobs can be “disaggregated” into virtual and physical functions ie the number of virtual jobs can be increased by re-ordering job descriptions.

Direct savings arise from:

  • Reduced office expenses (space, equipment, utilities) - including relocation to smaller, cheaper premises or rental income from freed space, as the proposed sale of Admiralty Arch, and the work of the Government Property Unit, exemplify. (Free space could be rented to emerging enterprises or even converted into a convenient work hub for local virtual workers.) You can get some idea of the savings through the Australian Government’s “telework” initiative on www.telework.gov.au, using the ROI tool.
  • Access to a wider pool of competitive talent (including the disabled/incapacitated and, increasingly, carers for the elderly/infirm, many of whom are new referrals from ATOS to the Work Programme);
  • Salary modification (new staff) to compensate for the absence of commuting costs;

Indirect savings arise from:

  • Reduced carbon emissions in the absence of commuting ;
  • Better job satisfaction and health, resulting in greater productivity.

 

The main issue, for the employer, revolves usually around trust and, for the employee, about isolation. Trust is becoming less of a problem as we are increasingly used to “living online”; in addition, flexi-work, shared services and outsourcing mean that managers are accustomed to more remote supervision of “outcome” rather than “process”. Because the plan involves relocating firstly existing staff (during which time all the “dos and donts” can be compiled on a blog like this one), recruiting new virtual staff might not represent such a large step. (See also “Help Wanted: The future of work in advanced economies”; McKinsey Global Institute March 2012).

The problem of isolation is addressed in “Remote work: An examination of current trends and emerging issues.”  Busch, E., Nash, J., Bell, B. S. 2011 Ithaca, NY: Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University. The conclusion is that communication is key; if the physical office fully integrates the virtual, from the work itself to the “water-cooler” effect, problems diminish. It also helps to become part of a local community of virtual workers (not just from LG).

Please comment on the idea and the issues involved. Does your job have to be “in-office”? Would you be happy to work from home or to manage virtual workers? Is it a major culture change or just part of a process that is already underway? What technological problems do you foresee?

 If there is enough interest and support…..

Security level: Public

63 Comments

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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Thanks to all who have read this. Comments would be much appreciated! Can it work? Some simple research I did into a 1,000+ jobs offered by the Civil Service in Nov 2012 showed that over 50% could - potentially - be done out-of-office. Maybe the same is true of the jobs you do in-office? If the "supply" appears to be true, does the "demand" (or willingness to adapt) also exist?
AE
Anton Edwards 6 Years Ago
My departmental group used occasional homeworking because there was good trust and a long experience of committed working together. But even with that we had the following constraints: you have a dedicated space to work; you are available for phone calls and rapid email response just as if you were in the office; you are working on a specified task that is agreed beforehand and whose successful completion can be monitored and agreed.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Anton, thank you for your thought-provoking comments - just what are needed! I agree you require a dedicated space which is "where you work" and is free from domestic distractions (though it should be noted that offices are frequently full of distractions). Ideally, this will be a study or spare bedroom though (from US research), people also use libraries, special areas provided by coffee shops and virtual work hubs. As to availability, mobile devices mean that we are always connected - and this was not true, in the mainstream, even 2/3 years ago. Finally, though you can use all these indepedently, the likes of Google, MS, HP etc provide "suites" to enable remote working, incorporating all the usual services (phone, email, skype) plus Cloud facilities (with file sharing and even clocking-on options, if you must!). I think these two factors - mobile availability and the Cloud - have changed the landscape to make homeworking much easier to set up and less risky to operate. What do you think?
AJ
alistair jamieson 6 Years Ago
Not exactly the same issue but "Location Neutral" was a buzzword in the Scottish Government a couple of years back, and it very much involves the same issues ("Trust" and "Isolation") as home working. I've been managing a team of 5 others split in to 4 offices stretching over 150 miles from end to end and it has worked well. It does, however, require a bit more effort on the part of the manager and very modest outlays of cash. We had to invest around £30 a head for each of our workstations to be equipped with a camera and headset (we use MS "Lync"), but that paid for itself by not having to travel to so many meetings. What we found was that it was bits of paper that chained us to our desks and once we had put the effort in to encouraging our partners to use email, or scanning all snail mail as it came in to the office, we could use our data management system to work from anywhere. An additional bonus of this system is that the team is virtually business continuity proof as we have nothing that burns and every task can be done by more than one person in more than one office.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Alistair, thank you for your comments and apologies for the delay due to holidays. It is very encouraging that technology enabled the scheme not only to work but led to efficiency gains (and the US Gov is particularly keen on the continuity angle you mantioned). It is also interesting that adapting to a more virtual environment seems to have been relatively easy, particularly as the physical meeting has so long been regarded as an essential part of business culture. I wonder if it is possible to calculate total savings, including set-up costs? Certainly, travel is expensive, both in time and money; in addition, going "paperless" should free up storage space and (potentially) reduce office size. Finally, do you know of any reports published about the scheme?
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Two things. I came across the phrase: "My office is my computer". This is the essence of my idea and I wonder if it applies to you? The second is to draw your attention to Mike Short's blog "The Shock of the New" which describes the current state of innovation within local government.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
I have come across a good, general information page about the issues to consider for homeworking: www.itdonut.co.uk/it/staff-and-it-training/homeworking .
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Below is a vision of virtual work's possible future which, if you are like me, interests and alarms in about equal measure! www.hypergridbusiness.com/2013/08/virtual-reality-and-the-single-office-worker
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Heidi de Wolf's blog (from Workforce Matters), "Understanding the economic benefits of workforce agility", links to a very encouraging report on www.agilefutureforum.co.uk . A large part of this "agility" is flexi-work and its extension, home working. Among the conclusions (perhaps unsurprisingly) are: (that) "the most significant barriers were issues of culture and mind-set - particularly at the more senior levels of companies"; (to) "consider, big strategic changes....Being more ambitious can create bigger benefits - for example, applying home working across a company, rather than just one division, maximises benefits by freeing enough desks to enable relocation to smaller premises." In the examples, Citi describes an interesting model. It divides staff into resident (collaborative work), resident (independent work), agile (collaborative but not site specific) and telecommuters. The residents, in-office due to site-specific needs, used their desks 80% of the time (given holidays, training, illness etc.), the agile 60% and telecommuters, 20%. By reducing desks accordingly through its Alternative Workplace Strategies, Citi saved 20% in real estate costs and recouped the implementation (technology upgrades, training etc.) in 8-18 months.Could this be a template for LG? On the whole, companies emphasised that the better use of technology enabled more flexible and home working; this led to considerable savings in real estate and travel overheads and in CO2 emissions. The new technologies included the Cloud, Virtual Private Networks, remote access, tele/video conferencing, global messaging and "collaboration tools". For example, BT eliminated 1.04 million face-to-face meetings (with averge travel savings of 197 miles), increased conference calls by 45%, cut "physical accommodation needs" by 48% and calculates that each home worker emits 1.4 tonnes of CO2 less per year! Lloyds, traditionally all in-office, now has 5 desks per 6 employees and plans to reduce London desks by a further 1,000. 30% of Addleshaw Goddards work permanently "at home" with a 15-20% increase in productivity, 50% reduction in absenteeism, access to a larger talent pool and much reduced overheads. HM Treasury seems to be a case apart. While it has organised staff into more communicative, interactive and rsponsive groups, there is no mention of flexi/home working, real estate and travel costs or CO2. In fairness, these might form part of another "Agile Strategy" but I wonder......
Heidi De Wolf 6 Years Ago
In my view there is too much office working in the Public Sector and not enough 'working where the work is', which for the Public Sector is working with the public. Technology is a great enabler, however there continue to be cultural blockages which link to the expectations of the different generations in the workplace and a need to let go of some control, which understandably is counter-intuitive for political leaders. Baby Boomers and - to some extend - my generation, Generation X, have become used to an office space we have been able to 'personalise' to our individual needs. With increased access to different technologies, these expectations are changing for the generations that are now sharing our workspaces, following Generation X's demands for more equality, flexibility and work/life balance. To date, Baby Boomers in top positions continue to set the organisational culture, which highly depends on their individual ability and willingness to embrace these generational changes in expectation. Apart from generational expectations, many of the agile working initiatives are driven by economic pressures and often sold that way to the Public Sector workforce. Managing a virtual workforce requires organisations/managers to trust their workforce and embrace the use of technology and social media. This is all part of a wider cultural journey and is a challenge for the Public Sector who are trying to get used to more openness and transparency, meaning a 'loosening of the reins'. Related blog - http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=23073
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Heidi, thank you for your input. I agree that it is about Public Sector culture which is determined, to a large extent, by age! However, the culture will change over time as the "tech-happy" generation matures into management roles. Added to this is the aging population which will increase demands from carers (usually family) for greater work flexibility. My view is that the current economic pressures should act as a catalyst - the "culture shock" - to accelerate these changes. All it needs is for one or two LGs to prototype the idea and develop a set of guidelines; the economic benefits will, I'm sure, speak for themselves (which is not about "profit" but service continuity).
AJ
alistair jamieson 6 Years Ago
Michael, no - costings are not available as the necessity which was the mother of this invention was the Scottish Government's resolve to acheive a 20% staff reduction with no compulsory redundancies in a scattered workforce. There was another side to the "Trust" equation as it took time for staff to establish that this was not some sort of devious plot which would somehow play out to their disadvantage. Coming from a finance background I think that, because of the complexity of the problem, I'm not sure that meaningful financial conclusions could be drawn as the new system required some changes to working practices that would be difficult to quantify. We looked on the work that we did as being a ""Test Flight" to prove the soundness of the theory rather than it's financial effectiveness. The Corporate Research team of the Scottish Government did an evaluation of our location neutral system which is still being considered as a full blown policy, and which may or may not be available for outside consumption at this time. I expect that this work would have concentrated on how well the business was being done rather than the cost of doing the business but I am in no doubt that my team is doing more business with less people and that communication/supervision has not suffered in the process.
Michelle Hingston-Wood 6 Years Ago
I am about to start developing a 'Homeworking Policy' so all this information will be really useful. If anyone already has one in existence would it be possible to upload to knowledge hub or email it to me please?
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Two interesting articles, both of which highlight the increasing need for carers to have flexible working conditions: www.health4work.nhs.uk/blog/2013/07/flexible-working-for-carers and www.theguardian.com/money/2013/aug/24/carers-flexible-hours-dementia/ . In the latter, Jeremy Hunt addresses "employers", prior to the publication of a report from the Dept of Health, Carers uk and Employers for Carers. The Public Sector is, of course, a very large "employer"; because it is socially responsible in a way the Private Sector is not, it is also ideally placed to pioneer this sort of workplace innovation! And from (now traditional) flexi-work to home/virtual work is not such a big step.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Thanks, Alistair. Funnily enough, when I began touting this idea to a wholly indifferent MP/DWP/Work Programme/Cabinet Office in 2010, my focus was less on the finance and more on enabling carers and the incapacitated to find "fit-for-purpose", secure and permanent employment. It is only when I discussed it with Private Sector employers that the economic benefits came to such timely prominence (not through staff cuts but by reductions in real estate and travel expenses, as confirmed in the above "agilefutureforum" report which suggests that they are measurable). I still believe that Public Sector virtual work is an excellent vehicle for helping a disadvantaged, and underused, social group but that the financial angle might be the catalyst to get it moving. Meanwhile, it is very heartening that you report increased productivity and few "trust issues". Thanks again for your input (and more, please!).
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Michelle - the most exhaustive (and exhausting) home working policy I know is the US Federal Government's (delve into www.telework.gov ) which has been teleworking (really, what we would call flexi-work) since the early 90s, with a lot of restrictions. If you have the time and patience and can suspend your disbelief.....By contrast, the essence of my idea is protyping, whereby a few brave LGs just jump in and do it, using whatever mainstream technologies (one of the Clouds, Skype, email) are to hand rather than "Government Systems". Because the first step is to relocate trusted (and willing) in-office workers to out-of-office, this is not as risky as it might sound and policies, procedures and system requirements will naturally arise. The next step is to fill natural vacancies with outside homeworkers (possibly sourced through supportive Carers and Disability charities) which will test, and likely modify, those protocols. Once fully formed, the prototype is applied across the "system". Simple! Or perhaps not.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Thanks to Lawrence for www.forbes.com/sites/jjcoloa/2013/08/23/if-internet-org-succeeds-the-developing-world-will-gain-billions-in-online-work/. This is about the growth in freelance, virtual work which I've used myself both to employ (from the USA, a website; NZ, marketing; Sweden, research) and be employed - so I know it works. What really stands out is the effort these websites (oDesk, Elance, Freelancer) make on behalf of the employer to "trust" the anonymous employee. The ratings system (on both sides) is absolutely key and, though no more infallible than an interview (say), is rigourously applied. I also like the "Competency Tests" which extend to a fairly high level (enough to shame my English grammar) and the prevalence of "trial work". Although, at first, it feels a bit like eBay meets Monster via X Factor the outcomes are impressive.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Thanks to Mike Short (once again) for his "Innovation Update". There certainly seems to be plenty going on but, unfortunately, nothing on virtual work. Dare I say that quite a lot seems to be about creating an "Innovation Framework" rather than actually innovating? We need a Creative Council, or similar, that is willing to prototype! Nevertheless, there is an invitation to report "innovation items" to the Improvement and Innovation Board AND a list of pre-requisites from successful LG innovators which, I think, this idea satisfies. They are: 1. Agree clear, long-term ambitions and priorities. The long-term ambition is social improvement by a) expanding choice to the existing workforce and b) providing opportunities for office-type careers to those who do not have equal office access (the "disenabled" group of carers, incapacitated etc). The short-term priority is unashamedly to save money and, therefore, protect existing services by reducing significantly real estate costs and office overheads 2) Earmark resources. The main potential resources - PSN, G Cloud - are at hand; a project team (minimally, myself, of course, an LGA representative, programme leader from CC, (PSN) network expert) is required; some spending on updating the homeworker's "off ice" might be needed. 3) Allow calculated risk and intelligent failure. The risk is contained. The prototype is developed with trusted workers and opened to the outside only when the protocols are in place and both management and workforce are comfortable with the new environment. 4) Build a bold, united leadership. Of course. Piecemeal homeworking will not generate the savings which come from system-wide real estate and office restructuring. 5) Convincingly communicate the reasons for innovation. I hope the above does so. 6) Involve key stakeholders. Who are they? Phase 1: the commited workforce and managment of a Creative Council (?); the network provider of secure data storage, manipulation and transfer (PSN?); the project team to document the prototyping and create "learning packages" for the rest of LG (possibly working with NESTA). Phase 2: volunteers from the "outside" community of carers, incapacitated etc to test the system; charities and jobsearch.gov for outreach; Jobcentre Plus and Work Programmers for training. 7) Persist, despite many barriers. Yes.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
I am often asked why I do not approach the private sector with this idea of homeworking for those with mobility issues. Don't they want access to this potential pool of talent? The truth is that corporates are too comfortable to innovate. The crisis has eliminated much competition and even banks (grrr..) are better capitalised than ever. They observe socially-responsible legislation but social responsibility is hardly a core "business purpose". Have a look at www.employ-ability.co.uk , a very worthy site that enables the recruitment of disabled people. There are lots of heavy-hitter employers present with jobs that appear entirely computer-facing - Google, Morgan Stanley, Wellcome, BoA, Goldman Sachs etc. Yet not one (as far as I can see) looks beyond "the office". The Public Sector is different. I would say that social responsibility IS a core business purpose and, unfortunately, the crisis has hit hard financially. This makes it a far better field for innovation (and I do not doubt that corporates would sit up and take notice if LAs successfully adopted this "business model"). Comments welcome!
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
I have just come across "Creating the "Agile Worker"" - The Staffordshire Place Project, by Nigel Jones (Oct 2012 - apologies for taking so long!). This is truly inspiring, particularly because the BIG issues of trust and "process over product" have been so successfully addressed, but it also digs down to questions of job classification and whether electricity costs are covered when working from home. The overall outcome of this "agile working" is lower cost and better output - but it requires a bold, pro-risk vision to start, hard work to implement and excellent communication at all levels to work. I urge you to read it and would much appreciate reports of similar programmes.
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
A quiet time recently. After an encouraging meeting with the LGA Innovation and Improvements Board, things have gone silent. However, the Policy Paper of 17/12/13, "The Disability and Health Employment Strategy" deserves comment. To anyone familiar with the Sayce report of 2010, nothing much seems new (although a revised approach from JCP is welcome) and there was no mention of virtual work as a viable alternative. The mindset seems to be that people must be integrated into the "real" workplace but, whether preferable or not, it is not always possible. If in doubt, you might listen to Hannah (rosyandbo.com) on Radio 4's Woman's Hour "Working with disabled children" (20/1/14) which brings together disability, caring and the limitations of flexi-work. Flexijobs.com is an interesting US site. It did a survey of the top 100 virtual employers and, in at number 13, is the US Department of Transport. Although many of their jobs are for off-site inspection and engineering, there are plenty of "virtual office" posts as well. If the massive, famously bureaucratic Fed Gov can do it, why not UK LGs? As always, comments are most welcome!
AJ
alistair jamieson 6 Years Ago
Michael - It's been a while, so I thought an update would be appropriate. Since I last commented one of my team has had problems at home. The upshot was that in the last 2 months he has seen the inside of the office for no more than 3 days, but in that time his work has not suffered at all. Thanks to existing technology ( he was lucky to have a digital phone on his desk) he was able to divert his phone to to his personal mobile and take a laptop (which had built in camera, microphone, speakers and Skype-like software called Lync) home. The result was uninterrupted productivity at a time when the only viable option for him would have been a long term absence. This is not something that you have mentioned above, which could be particularly important to single parents, I expect, and it also underpins our resiliance strategy which allows us to continue working even in the event of the destruction of our office (and we are a payment team so it's important that we do keep going!). Working from home is not really an issue for most of my team now (some still have analogue phones so can't divert calls) and the only fly in th ointment is when mail arrives and is left on someone's desk because arrangements have not been made (or made but ignored) to have all incoming mail scanned. Much has been made in the past about how people would miss the interactions that they had in an office but I don't believe that to be true. We spend just as much time talking as we have ever done but that is probably done in fewer, longer conversations than before. Some time soon I'd like to try a "Work from home week" for my whole team (there are 6 of us) just to see what lessons can be learned, and see how many colleagues even notice our absence!
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michael tucker 6 Years Ago
Alistair - thank you for the feedback and all so positive! The details you describe are invaluable and, if you do not mind, I'll put your experience before the Innovations Board as proof that it is a viable alternative which is not only cheaper but maybe more efficient, certainly more adaptable, than in-office work. The "resiliance strategy" is something, post 9/11 especially, that the Fed Gov also sees as a vital component.
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
The Future of Work Jobs and Skills in 2030 was piblished by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) on 3 March 2013: http://www.ukces.org.uk/assets/ukces/docs/publications/er84-the-future-of-work-evidence-report.pdf It identifies 10 trends (and, unsurprisingly, virtual work figures prominently) grouped into 5 Sections (summed up very neatly in 2 charts on Pages 12 and 14). In summary: I) Society and the individual 1. Growing desire for better work/life balance = GREATER FLEXIBILITY 2. Changing work environments = OUTSOURCING Businesses are slimmed down to core functions – all other processes are outsourced; changing demographics mean that older people will increasingly compete with the younger and office staff will span 4 generations. II) Technology and Innovation 3. Converging technologies and inter-disciplinary skills = INCREASED DEMAND FOR STEM SKILLS Continuous skills development (predominantly by virtual education) will be required 4. ICT developments = BIG DATA Likely to reduce middle-management roles of data collection, analysis and presentation; threatened by cyber-crime and data security 5. Digitisation of production = AI and ROBOTICS Likely to impact administrative and blue collar sectors; increased competition for jobs, leading to zero hours contracts as the norm; increasing polarisation of society into “haves and have-nots” III) Business and Economy 6. Changing economic perspectives = GLOBALISATION But low growth could lead to increased protectionism and even de-globalisation, reverse migration 7. Shift to Asia = CHINA and INDIA This could lead to geographically alternative centres of finance etc 8. New business ecosystems = MANAGING NETWORKS of OUTSOURCED WORKERS IV) Resources and Environment 9. Growing scarcity of natural resources = POTENTIAL CONFLICT V) Law and Policies 10. Decreasing scope for political action due to constrained public finances = SMALLER PUBLIC SECTOR, LESS SPENDING Further disruprtion from the potential fragmentation of the EU. This is my interpretation but I'm not sure whether there is anything really new here - not too convinced by AI if computer-trading in the financial markets ia anything to go by. Whatever happens to the economy, the social divide will continue to widen, thev office to shrink and number of homeworkers to grow. The debt problem is a very long way from being resolved, so the Public Sector will have to keep on saving money. I have an idea.....
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
Michael, Thank you for highlighting this comprehensive report and then taking the time to beautifully summarise it for all. While I agree with the challenges set out in the report, I do feel that some of the solutions proposed have been developed through 'traditional organisational design glasses' and hierarchichal thinking. Where people see 'zero hour' contracts, I see higher personal responsibility to earn your own work through more entrepreneurial thinking and higher potential for diversity. Where people see the need to 'manage networks of outsourced workers' which is a PUSH approach, we need to turn the organisation into 'task-and-finish' groups and start recognising the strengths of platforms such as Linked In to support social recruitment. I may expect people to say, so what about Business as Usual? BAU is static and inflexible, what is needed is contiuous improvement by working with specialised SME organisations and existing digital global platforms, not internal organisational growth which actually paralyses Economic Growth. The challenges need to be viewed from the 'new world's' perspective otherwise we are in danger of going backwards and having to battle lots of resistance to change. There is less money flowing in the economy. It is time to see the economy and organisations through different eyes. The economy is not all about money, it is about 'trading' and we all have something to give to others around us ... so start giving and kick-start the collaborative/sharing economy!!! And it starts here at the Knowledge Hub, just reading through the thoughts you have provoked since your original contribution. It truly shows that 1+1=3. Thanks for nudging and sharing! Heidi
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Thanks, Heidi. The report is much more detailed than I implied and does cover alternatives such as BAU, but I tried to convey the trends that seemed to apply whatever the scenario. However, the main thrust is as you say - that central organisations/governments will continue to slim down and both "processes" and "projects" will be completed by highly-competitive,entrepreneurial freelancers and SMEs. Unfortunately, this is the antithesis of a collaborative/sharing economy. Trading (in the opinion of an ex-banker) is all about self-interest (the ol' fear and greed)! Frankly, this sounds rather bleak to me. Most people (I would hazard) are not equipped, or want, to be entrepreneurs - however beguling it sounds - and value income security highly, particularly if constrianed by mobility, family responsibilities etc. What the report calls The Great Divide beckons.....
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
I must admit that I just stumbled across this excellent blog. Interesting that one of the components is that there is a requirement that homeworking staff will have a dedicated space with all the associated costs (not necessarily mandated by the employer but to meet the needs of the employee). So in essence the location/heating costs and associated impact on the environment are passed from the employer to the employee, so it is not a simple balance against "the absence of commuting costs". For a number of personal reasons I would like to work from home during the summer and work in the office in winter. The point I am trying to make is that where in the past there was a more or less one-size fits all (one desk per employee), what we are looking at is a vast array of flavours of working, with the boundary of the system becoming expanded and far more semi-permeable. So from a systemic thinking approach, complexity and chaos are inextricably bound, to my my mind such change is achievable but requires significant change in terms of culture and technology. So to summarise, I totally agree that "communication is key" but also "trust is key" (see Toyota) and "robust technology is key". There are probably lots of other keys - so before Local Authorities jump on this bandwagon, perhaps they need to look at how good they are in terms of the identified keys. My question: Is it simply that there is a need to align the organisational core values with the various 'keys'?
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Thanks, Nick - you have lifted the gloom that briefly engulfed me over the "Great Divide"! On a particular, I think that (reasonable) domestic costs would probably be factored into the "homeworking" package. More generally, I happily contradict myself by saying that we might over-complicate things by worrying too much in advance about core values and keys, crucial (I agree) though they are in the long run. I base this on the evidence of Alistair Jamieson and the Staffordshire Project (both above). My feeling is that we need one authority to take a great leap of faith, implement a "homeworking" scheme and OPENLY report the whole process to the LGA (perhaps through the Innovation Board), including tears, triumphs, culture clashes, technology disasters (unlikely) and cost savings (or otherwise). I have no doubt that it would work (because widespread flexi-working means we are half-way there already) and result in a "How To" manual that could be updated/perfected as more jump on board. Further down the line, a website to connect all the homeworkers and enable the free trading of ideas, education, gripes, even a "Homeworking Satisfaction Index".... But - are there any takers? All opinions most welcome!
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
I don't think any authority is ready for such a leap and homeworking alone is not the solution. If it was you may as well not have an organisation and for individuals to work as independent entrepreneurial associates alongside each other. But you are right to identify that culturally, people's behaviours are still too competative in nature. Modern entrepreneurs are however very quickly learning about the power of collaboration over competitiveness, out of pure necessity. I think homeworking is but one solution to organisations becoming agile and adaptable. As you mentioned earlier, people are not yet ready to become self-directed and need empowering in the belief that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, and I mean anything but it takes a willingness to step out of some well-established comfort-zones! In my experience 'one-size-fits-all' solutions never work as they are not personalised to individual's unique experiences.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Michael - we are talking about managing significant change and I am not sure that taking a "great leap of faith" is perhaps the best approach any more than the 'lip service' that is often touted as 'consultation'. Organisations may 'consult' staff, get their views but then simply inform them that 'this is how it will be' i.e. not having really taken on board their concerns and really engaged with them. Doing good ground work, including risk assessment, and a proper 'pilot' can help to allay fears and avoid having too many "tears". Simple damage limitation is easier than undoing the damage caused (e.g. loss of trust) by poor change management. Having said that, I agree with you that we need to share experiences so that others do not make the same mistakes.
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Nick - perhaps I was somewhat ahead of myself with a "Great Leap of Faith" but I would stress that the change is not so dramatic; plenty of people work from home periodically so the foundations already exist, if in a rather haphazard, organic way - hence the need for a (eventually) standardised "How To" manual. Nor is this the end of the "office", simply its reduction to a more efficient size. I agree that a pilot project (prototyping) is essential, involving volumteers (and not all with homeworking experience). Please do continue with your very useful comments!
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Michael - glad that we agree that a pilot project (prototyping) is essential as that accords with my belief in good change management in order that we avoid panic and maintain trust (not just of staff but also our customers). I guess this is all part and parcel of Business Continuity - go through scenarios and have plans in advance that can deal with likely situations based on 'what if'. So does not need to be complex! Many thanks for starting this discussion. Cheers. Nick
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Thanks, Nick. I hope you can spread the word and involve more in the discussion. BTW, part of the EU Comp 2013 for finalists was a 3-day workshop in Amsterdam, most of which was about the virtues and practicalities of prototyping.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Michael - were there any 'hot' tips from the meeting in Amsterdam, which could be applicable to developing protoyping for home (and flexible in general) working? Cheers. Nick
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Hi Nick - from memory, it is all pretty much a combination of common sense and system engineering, based on the principles of software development, but I'll review my notes (if that is not overstating it..) and write something soon.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Michael - we are planning to run a small pilot for flexible working on 1st April. Cheers. Nick
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Nick - that is great news! Can you keep us up to date with a blog of some sort? Please!
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Michael - Will try to remember to do a blog or if not, I will put a summary up on the Knowledge Hub. Cheers. Nick
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
Hi Nick & Michael, I recently ran some 'Agile Working' Group Coaching sessions, which started from the assumption that people want to have a better work-life balance (outcomes-driven). Amazingly, it was the participants who said 'If only we could work closer to or from home ...'. I then led onto the barriers which would stop people from doing so, and apart from some great feedback collated which was fed back to IT and Property Services about agile work spaces and around making improvements to connectivity, most people did not have any issue with it as they could relate to the improved outcome of work-life balance. There were a few people who were more resistant and insisted on working from the office as they deemed it the best place to connect with colleagues. I acknowledged their choice to prefer the office setting, recognising that if everyone else would work more agile, the office environment would not remain the place to connect which would make those more resistant change their choices further down the line when they are ready. I would identify people within your organisation who understand behavioural psychology, systems thinkers or those with a coaching-style approach to working with others. I want to say start with the Organisational Development Team, but know that not every organisation has developed this department. Hope that helps, Heidi
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Heidi - as always, thank you for this. It would be interesting to know if your group came up with a list of minimum requirements. I know the US Gov places great importance (and actually checks) on homeworkers having a dedicated "office space" and I tend to agree that "going to your (home) office", rather than just the kitchen table, puts you in the right frame of mind. That, however, might be a function of age and habit; my son, for example, is much more comfortable with "working on the go". Some people might prefer to continue to work "on site" OR in "virtual office hubs" ie local premises (maybe provided by the LG?) that homeworkers can use at will and benefit, when needed, from the office atmosphere.So, in the future, you might have employees of LAs from many different regions, sitting next to each other in one place (next to private sector workers who eventually follow the excellent example of Local Gov..).Think of the synergies! Australia already has these hubs (I believe). I do remain somewhat mystified by the resistence you identify, simply because most offices are nearly there already! Management has to manage, to a greater or lesser extent, lots of "off-site" activity in the form of shared services, mutualisations, outsourcing and flexi-workers. It is but a small step, though clearly a very difficult one.
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
Home checks? You are joking?! I hope they don't come round to my house ... LOL Health & Safety is keeping us from moving forward. The world is full of risks, and most of us are 'adult' enough to make our own choices. If LG wants to install more personal responsibility in their workforce, it starts with not 'molly-cuddling' them, treating them as adults (not dependents) and trusting them to make the right choices. When a mistake occurs, don't punish but help people learn. Nor use the carrot approach, unless you intend to patronise! Don't accept a carrot or a stick unless you are a donkey! - the metaphor queen Michael, I take it you work in Europe and/or in London? You should travel up to Lincolnshire some time. As much as I love this beautiful county I live and work in, it is a fair few steps behind on the rest of the world.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Heidi - do you live in a more remote area of Lincolnshire? The reason I ask is that where we are in Aberdeenshire, Internet access can be limiting either in speed (our ISP throttles VPN) or cost (bandwidth limitation) as we don't have access to cable/fibre (just traditional copper connection)? So there can be limitations especially if your work involves intensive data transfer (including video conferencing). Systems will evolve but the point is that what works for some folk, is not applicable to others.
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
Nick - A high-speed broadband infrastructure is being put in place and it's great to see that the Council has prioritised more remote areas first. I was not so much talking about technology which I feel is making huge leaps thanks to some brilliant engineers at the Council. I was however more referring to change-readiness and change-tolerance (or just tolerance). For some reason, majority mindsets are more traditional and stead-fast?
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Heidi - my view is that moving towards other/new ways of working is heavily dependant on technology BUT also in my view, any change management programne must consider equally the twins technology and culture. So what you seem to describe appears to be nothing new and understanding resistance is surely part of good change management. My favourite take from Toyota "Trust is key" is probably really applicable but unfortunately trust can be so easily lost in the headlong rush for change.
simon fenton-jones 5 Years Ago
Hey Nick, You've hit it on the head - technology and culture. And the latter rather than the former. I should explain that my interest is primarily in making sure people like the readers here have the e-infrastructure they need, and that's not as big a job as it might seem. Heidi is sooo right about treating people like adults.That's the greatest challenge. You and so many people know what they need - a vpn (virtual private network) surrounded by a social one - so that you can separate the back office from the front. The problem then is helping people find and join a (professional group's) community, while making sure the 'trust fabric' (as the network managers say) is secure. That's why this Khun is such opportunity. It acts as a magnet for professional people.gov at the coalface, who have to integrate National services on behalf of individual Local citizens. It just hasn't gone as far as getting some network standards in place with the various silos from which they come, and the bigger National ones which they must tap into (e.g. for a user's records). The ukcarerspartnerships is such a good one because it must look right across the breadth of user's technology differences, while ensuring (in some cases) the ability to handle emergency responses. Michael asks; "Is it a major culture change or just part of a process that is already underway?" It's been happening since the web was invented. Distance learning/research is now usually global. The aim of supporting (designing networks for) Global groups rather than National institutions is a development which is well progressed in the NRENs . "What technological problems do you foresee"? The basic one - a lack of stable bandwidth - is not that big a problem. Whether one works from home, or somewhere close(r), to it is not that big a deal. There is/will be a transition as the bandwidth goes in place, but so long as one has a local place to consider home (local library?) one can always do their work. As for the design of the social space/front desk; well, that's why we're here isn't it? Nick, your last line. Turn it round. One (institution) can't change unless people trust one another (to abide by the new routines). You're very fortunate to have this hub, not just because of the good people, but also because it's focus is local. That's always been the hardest thing for me to find. Technology, schomology. They're just Dumb global networks. Quite useless without people who are clear about what they want to use them for.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hi Simon - I think one problem is that IT departments and change managers pushing the SmarterWorking agenda often don't really understand the business needs but also the individual needs of users. This is where moving towards other ways of working complicates the picture N-fold. Not only do some groups of users need special set up (e.g. dual screens - not available in all locations such as local libraries) but the physical (having space) and social requirements can be complex. So it is very much developing a knowledge base of solutions that can be adapted on a case by case basis. As you say, the Knowledge Hub is a great opportunity for providing a repository of explicit knowledge but also for tapping into tacit KM. My big concern is how we drive up efficiency and effectiveness, particularly where these complexities aren't understood and/or poorly resolved. We can do it if there is the will and it is vital that we talk! Perhaps one of the issues is that too many people do not actively participate on the Knub - so let's hear from others what their experiences are and how they have resolved any problems.
Heidi De Wolf 5 Years Ago
It is sad to see that efficiency and effectiveness time and time again gets translated to standardised 'one-size-fits-all' processes and solutions. Every department needs to take a leaf out of the Social Care agenda of personalisation. We think global and act global, instead we need to think global and act local, but that means letting go of central control (oh no!). KHub helps us share some global knowledge and lessons learned, but when people see this as 'best practice' and implement it without thinking about local need, it will always fail.
Nick Ananin 5 Years Ago
Hmm... "It is sad to see that efficiency and effectiveness time and time again gets translated to standardised 'one-size-fits-all' processes and solutions." - not sure that it does. With reduced resources, there is inevitably a drive for greater efficiency but surely not at the cost of effectiveness (i.e. delivering a better service). So in the systems, those consuming services have differing needs (definitely not 'one-size-fits-all' when it comes to customer service) and those delivering will have differing needs. So I would argue that it is the ability to match flexibily both sides that is the key - there will be opportunities but also some risks. Pushing the boundaries of systems is where innovation arises and to my mind 'one-size-fits-all' is surely not part of that potential - not if one understands complexity and creativity in systems!
simon fenton-jones 5 Years Ago
You've both made two individually important points about the same thing. "The geeks (including my network mates) don't understand the needs of users". They do of course. That's why you see "the cloud" come up in the conversation these days. It really should be called a (inter-departmental) collaborator/cloud (network) model, so it can be compared to the old departmental client/server model. The main basis for the model is that by using your credentials from one dept, you can gain access to your info in another dept. network. And when I say "your info", I'm talking about you the citizen who is self-serving yourself. Not a public servant who is delivering a service to another citizen. So the "collaborator" part of the cloud model means that you want personalization of services, which historically have been kept & delivered by individual depts. You might want to look at some stuff going down at the G-Cloud pages about patchwork . Some geeks with a National perspective have invaded this Local space. And they're a bit more progressive than most groups because they're open . You'll find that most of the developments you have in mind here will come about as we start sharing an understanding between (what I call) cheesemakers and mousetrap builders. As for "not enough people participating in this space" Nick. It's a bit hard. Firstly you have the problem of - having gathered a subset of the gov community (i.e. local) into a poorly designed (hard to navigate) space - the moderators haven't ensured that people with the same interests are encouraged to share the same group. Then, so many of group spaces are closed that one can't cross-pollinate between groups, or even read their libraries without giving a reason to join, and waiting. So we're still in the echo-chamber stage. As for "outreach", I haven't seen a local blog on this list . It's nearly non-existant. The other Anglo-Saxon peculiarity - comparing the "best practice" of silos rather than collaborating with good (enough) practice - seems to be getting shaky now (at least in the edu space) thanks to the global social media platforms. These kind of discussions (e.g. in the EC) all flag the need to build from the bottom up, and encourage 'horizontal linkages' between similar topic groups inside silos. Every local group tends to feel it's "behind" the rest of the world, even if it's not. And professional groups spend their time visioneering and blaming some other antiquated profession for lack of progress. Globalization (due to the WWW) does have a terrible effect on the imaginative mind. I think you'll find, as the guys (e.g.) in the GDS and GCN get further down the track, just how much control they are willing to give up (because they don't believe they have it). They're just approaching the same problems from a National, rather than Local, perspective - in a group of course.
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michael tucker 5 Years Ago
Wow! Thank you Nick, Simon and Heidi for all this! I'm still thinking so won't add my musings yet BUT would be very interested to hear what "practitioners" make of the discussion. Alistair, if you have a moment? Also, the "Staffordshire Project", mentioned before several times but a bit elusive?
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