This summer our new Hybrid Working Strategy was approved, with unanimous, cross-party support. It builds on work we started before the pandemic – our smarter working programme – and our experiences during it, to inform our new approach to working.
We believe that hybrid working will make the council more efficient, effective, and productive, save time and money, and help us reduce our carbon footprint.
Over the coming months we will continue to change our workspaces and the way we work, with the new model expected to be fully in place by the end of October. Our buildings will become a mixture of office space, quiet space, bookable desks, and meeting rooms, with technology to allow staff who are working at home to join face to face meetings.
How this works for each person varies, as our staff do very different jobs and have specific needs. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach appropriate for everybody, so the scope for hybrid working, and how it works in practice, depends on the service, team, and person.
Rather than office working being the default, we will be led by the nature of the work itself, so we can deliver services when and where needed. We will have more flexibility, so we can better meet the needs of our workforce and residents. It will enable us to be closer to our communities, working with them and partner organisations, so our services continue to be accessible.
We believe that hybrid working shows how local government can adapt, offering better value for the taxpayer, and helping councils be greener.
During the pandemic our staff travelled approximately 3.5m fewer miles due to more staff working at home, reducing travel costs by around £1.6m and cutting carbon emissions by 1,000 tonnes.
We don’t want to lose these benefits, but at the same time we recognise there are advantages to being able to meet and work together in person. New staff can learn informally from those with more experience. Discussing ideas can be easier in person, especially for longer sessions where doing things digitally can lead to online meeting fatigue. There can be distractions while working at home that you wouldn’t get in an office.
While our priority will always be delivering the best services possible to our residents, we also recognise the importance of staff health and wellbeing. We know how important simple things like having a chat and a coffee with someone at lunchtime can be to our mental health. We don’t want people to feel isolated and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of face to face time, particularly for things like after-work social events.
Our employees are our greatest asset. I’m proud to say we adapted quickly to meet the demands of the pandemic and have worked incredibly hard to maintain services. This new strategy will support a better work/life balance for staff, improving motivation, recruitment, and staff retention.
Our new hybrid working model is informed by feedback from our workforce. A survey in April showed that 32% of respondents saw themselves as mainly home-based workers in the future, with 6% office based and 14% working in the community.
This feedback is helping us develop our new way of working. We will continue to work with employees and trade unions to develop details of how the hybrid model will work in practice, as well as our self-managed support groups, to ensure we adapt our approach to our colleagues’ diverse range of needs.
By empowering our staff and teams, being open to change, and making improvements, I’m confident this will work well. We’ve already reduced the number of offices we work in from 17 to ten, saving £1m a year, and significantly reduced carbon emissions by an estimated 885 tonnes due to reduced business travel last year.
While we have begun a gradual and phased return to more office-based working, we know that the coronavirus hasn’t disappeared. Many of our staff are continuing to work from home, but everyone’s circumstances are different.
We will continue to follow all national government and public health guidance, to protect the public and our staff.
Our priority is to deliver the best and most cost-effective services possible. I believe hybrid working will play a big part in helping us do that, now, and in the future.
Anthony May is chief executive of Nottinghamshire CC