Office, hybrid or home? The future of work for local governments

From remote working to hybrid working, local governments are faced with the pressure to clarify their stance on working practices in the UK while upholding this position for their own employees

Whether voluntary or mandated, many government organisations are seeing a high volume of internal and public-facing requests, which leave businesses and workers confused and left scrambling to determine what is next post-pandemic. 

Public sector leaders recognise that to get the most out of their employees, local authorities need to support digital ways of working over the long term. According to SAP Concur’s “The Future of Work Within Central Government Research”, nine in 10 (91%) of government decision-makers agree that working from home will be commonplace post-pandemic. Employees in a variety of organisations are also requesting the ability to retain the benefits of flexible working once restriction are lifted further.

A plethora of technology platforms and tools made it possible for government employees to transition from the office to a work-from-home set-up, and to continue to work as productively at home as they did in the office. However, while technology is certainly an enabler for workforce productivity and mobile collaboration, it is important to get a sense for how this trend will drive the future of work. 

Here’s how local governments can leverage these next few months to put new processes in place.

Automating WFH Requests 

Many local governments have changed their workflows by automating processes to save money, increase productivity, secure data and improve customer service.

To streamline the communications process, the records department of local government can invest in technologies to enable department heads to submit work from home requests for their staff. These electronic forms can simplify workflows as if the member is “non-exempt,” the request can be automatically routed to HR for approval and then to IT to verify that the request can be fulfilled. If granted, IT will provide the necessary setup. If an employee is “exempt,” however, the HR step is bypassed. This streamlines the process and saves time for all.

The automated process reduces the need for manual follow-up and enables the organisation to keep track of requests and manage demand. Even as guidelines evolve daily, having a process already in place and able to be revised as necessary will make the process easier to manage. 

As the public sector continues to decipher the best approach to handle work from home requests, it’s important to remember this is a learning process for all and there is no right or wrong way to handle this new way of life.

The process to paperless

Paper filing and paper requests through mail are two of the main manual processes currently holding many local governments back from implementing a full work-from-home or hybrid working option. Paper processes of course require government employees to be physically present to handle the documents, putting front line workers at risk for the social contact that can lead to COVID-19 exposure.

Even as the UK government lifts all restrictions, many businesses and people will continue to be cautious and uphold their own social distancing rules. This means technology will continue to be a key tool for local governments. For example, Brent Council has implemented robotic process automation to automate business processes in its rent change service. Prior to digitising paper records, the rent changes had to be uploaded manually onto their systems and assessed by council officers. 

The process has saved time and allows council staff the ability to automate rent change documents through the press of a button rather than making unnecessary — and potentially risky — trips to the office.

Implementing a “work anywhere” mentality

According to a survey from British Council for Offices, in the next six months, “hybrid” working will become the norm, with 46% of office workers planning to split their working week between home and office long-term. With COVID-19 a continuing roadblock, some teams at some government agencies have struggled to wrap their heads around the changing Government guidelines, while others are fully embracing technology to help them maneuver through the new normal. 

Countless cities across the country are doing everything possible to ensure public meetings are limited and allow employees to work remotely. Specifically, many businesses in London have changed their existing policies to allow employees to work remotely and flexibly indefinitely, and have ensured they have access to the tools they need on a daily basis to get their jobs done, no matter where they are. 

As local government and councils recognise the current disruption and are working hard to minimise the impact on service delivery, it’s important that platforms and tools can both enhance the citizen experience and workforce productivity. From enforcing flexible working policies, to looking at ways to make meetings virtual, to determining how to access essential documents and streamlining processes –governments are working tirelessly to make ongoing remote work seamless for their employees using digital process automation and other technologies. 

Even as the UK comes out of lockdown, coronavirus cases continue to be on the rise and we will need to continue to grapple with this health crisis. It’s critical, therefore, for governments to consider security concerns as teams and workflows connect across different departments and asses how existing technology solutions can enable a collaborative and secure way to keep business moving.

About the Author

Attar Naderi is UK Business Manager at Laserfiche. Laserfiche is the leading SaaS provider of intelligent content management and business process automation. Through powerful workflows, electronic forms, document management and analytics, the Laserfiche® platform eliminates manual processes and automates repetitive tasks, accelerating how business gets done.

Featured image: ©Wong yu liang