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

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(Image credit: Pexels)

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

Be it voluntary or mandated, many government organizations 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 recognize that to get the most out of their employees, local authorities need to support digital ways of working over the long term. In fact, according to SAP Concur’s “The Future of Work Within Central Government Research”, nine in 10 (91 percent) of government decision-makers agree that working from home will be commonplace post-pandemic. The shifting working patterns don’t stop there, as employees are requesting to retain the benefits of flexible working once restrictions are lifted further. So, how can local governments prepare for these changes?

A plethora of technology platforms and tools have made it possible for government employees to transition from the office to a work-from-home setup smoothly. The progression in technology has also been instrumental in allowing people to be as efficient when working remotely as when they are 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 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. For example, 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, saves time for all and eradicates the possibility of human error.

The automated process reduces the need for manual follow-up and enables the organization to keep track of requests and manage demand. Automating this time-consuming process will free up time for stretched employees and will help them put their focus elsewhere. 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 things currently holding many local governments back from implementing a full work from home or flexible working option.

Using paper adds a costly physical item to the process and these paper forms can take more time to fill out and post – not to mention the negative impact on the environment. As a result, finding a paperless alternative and switching to digitizing processes is a key goal for local governments. Further to this, paper processes require government employees to physically handle paper from the public either in person or the mail, putting frontline 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 come into play for local governments. In fact, Brent Council has implemented robotic process automation to streamline business processes in its rent change service. Prior to digitizing paper records, the rent changes had to be uploaded manually onto their systems and then be 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 percent of office workers planning to split their working week between home and office long-term. With Covid-19 here to stay, 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 working. 

As local boroughs and councils recognize the current disruption and work hard to minimize the impact on service delivery, it is important that they implement platforms and tools to 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 remotely and streamline processes –governments are working tirelessly to perfect hybrid work for their employees. 

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 assess how existing technology solutions can enable a collaborative and secure way to keep business moving.

Attar Naderi, UK Business Manager, Laserfiche

Attar Naderi, UK Business Manager, Laserfiche.