On the 21st June, the iNetwork and Yorkshire and Humberside Public Services Network (YHPSN) convened an event focused on hybrid working and differing approaches from members. The topic of hybrid working has been widely discussed across the iNetwork and YHPSN membership as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic forced public sector organisations to shift and adapt quickly to new ways of working. Throughout 2020-21 many staff members worked solely from home, with restrictions now lifted, many organisations have introduced hybrid models of working. However this hasn’t come without challenges with regards to implementing new technology, ensuring staff wellbeing and maintaining high levels of productivity.

Dr Carolynne Lord, a Senior Researcher at the University of Lancaster kicked off the event, presenting research undertaken during the pandemic focused on hybrid working and sustainability, providing great context for the session. The qualitative study involved interviewing 17 individuals who were furloughed during the pandemic to discuss how their working habits and patterns had changed. The research was also supported by secondary data on resource use trends during lockdowns.

The research found there was an influx of materials into the home, such as IT equipment, office chairs etc. Carolynne explained that the interviewees discussed quickly creating makeshift office spaces in their homes, utilising dining room and kitchen tables. However many of these temporary set ups quickly became inadequate with interview participants becoming uncomfortable, with chairs causing back pain. Carolynne noted employers soon began to provide proper office chairs for the home or people purchased their own meaning more equipment in the home. In 2019-20 sales of  IT equipment such as computers, webcams and monitors dramatically increased, with some providers selling out. Carolynne highlighted as restrictions continued, people began seeking spaces with more privacy to try and create some separation between work and home life.

Carolynne went to summarise the implications of the findings, firstly highlighting that COVID19 has not marked the onset of sustainable consumption. Domestic consumption is now much more complex as homes are consuming more energy and purchasing more equipment which has its own carbon footprint. Additionally, Carolynne noted that there has been an increased demand for larger homes to accommodate new working practices. As a result, Carolynne argued that sustainability needs to be central when employers are developing and supporting hybrid models of working.

In the second presentation, Alex Grundy, Head of Customer Services at Plus Dane housing reflected on the journey that the company has been on since the pandemic. Alex noted the housing association had not implemented any hybrid working policies prior to the pandemic, with the majority of staff working in the office from desktop computers.

The company adapted quickly to meet the needs of the employees and customers, with new IT equipment and one to one support from managers to ensure staff wellbeing. Alex mentioned online communication tools have stayed in place following initial utilisation during the pandemic, meaning staff are much better connected when working remotely. Although many positives came from working at home, Alex mentioned that rapid changes in working led to some siloed working taking place across the business. In turn this highlighted some inconsistencies in processes across the association. In addition, since restrictions have been lifted Alex noted it has been difficult to encourage staff to return to the office.

Alex stated there is not a one size fits all approach to this new normal. Plus Dane Housing’s approach is constantly being reviewed to ensure well being is at the front and centre of their approach in the future.

Following a short break, Becky Colton, Senior Transformation Officer at Hull City Council discussed the WorkSmart programme which was established in 2018 before the pandemic. Becky explained WorkSmart is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose. The programme allows maximum flexibility in order to optimise performance and productivity. The programme has four key focusses: Residents and businesses, culture and staff, technology and buildings. Becky stated that central to the vision are three enablers: people, place and technology allowing the organisation to act holistically.

Danielle Peacock, human resources office at Hull City Council explained the journey that WorkSmart has been on since launching in 2018. The programme initially started with the roll out of an additional 2,300 mobile devices across the organisation, with support provided to ensure that staff could use the devices provided. In addition to new devices training was provided on flexible working approaches and new office layouts were piloted to encourage flexible hybrid working. Danielle explained that the project put Hull City Council in a good position to be able to adapt quickly when the pandemic took hold. The pandemic accelerated the roll out of the WorkSmart programme, Microsoft Teams was quickly integrated and further support was provided to ensure staff were comfortable with new hybrid working practices.

The WorkSmart programme is well informed with multiple engagement sessions held with staff to ensure the new way of working is meeting the needs of staff and customers. Becky highlighted some of the main findings from engagement such as management support, personal circumstances and policies and procedures had informed ongoing work on the WorkSmart programme. Many of the main principles of WorkSmart are now integrated into working practice at Hull City Council, therefore the project is pausing on any further activity allowing time for evaluation.

The final presentation of the session focused on future ways of working at North East Lincolnshire (NE Lincs) Council. Helen Knights, Head of ICT and Digital at NE Lincs Council began the talk by explaining the context, noting the existing work practices within the council were not sustainable as a result of the pandemic. The future ways of working project aimed to build on pandemic enforced working practices, with a focus on efficiency and sustainability, staff wellbeing and maintaining a presence for residents. Helen explained multiple rounds of engagement had formed a key part of the project, with background research, 21 focus groups and a survey for frontline staff allowing input across the council. The engagement helped highlight priorities for employees and employers with flexibility, guidance and wellbeing being similar across both groups. Following the discovery of the core priorities, NE Lincs began to provide training, guidance and support to management in line with the identified themes.

Vicky Leach, Head of People and Culture, continued, discussing what the future looks like at NE Lincs. Vicky explained that the council has been using the EACH model which means treating employees as Adults, Consumers and Humans. Vicky went on to discuss how they developed a framework to ensure new ways of working were embedded across the organisation. Vicky noted that it was not a one size fits all model, with the council employing a flexible choice based approach, into where, when and how employees work. NE Lincs council categorised all their active job roles into four categories; blended, hybrid, front line and home first/office first. This enabled the council to provide specific support and guidance based on the type of role.

Reflecting on the change journey so far, Vicky stated it has been a positive change with choice and flexibility now at the heart of working practices at NE Lincs Council. Vicky explained a range of support is now in place for staff with schemes such as technology upskilling ensuring an inclusive offer, guidance on running hybrid meetings and training for managing a remote work workforce for managers. Although the programme has brought about positive changes across the organisation, it has not come without challenges. Vicky summarised noting it had been difficult to change old working cultures and ensuring everyone across the organisation embraced the new digital ways of working. Additionally Vicky stated it was important not to reinforce existing inequalities and generational differences with regards to hybrid working.

This event was well attended by an engaged audience from both iNetwork and YHPSN members. This was the first collaboration between iNetwork and YHPSN, we are exploring hosting further events together in future as our priorities are closely aligned for 22-23. There are a number of events coming up hosted by iNetwork, visit our event listing page to check out other event you could attend.