St Helens Borough Council

St Helens Borough Council

St Helens WoW (Ways of Working) Programme

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

The St Helens Borough Council WoW (Ways of Working) programme is an innovative change programme that encompasses cultural transformation, policy and strategy modernisation, digital innovations and a modern accommodation programme. Most importantly the programme has a key focus on staff health and wellbeing and ensuring that people feel part of a modern, efficient and effective council. The programme ultimately delivers improved outcomes for residents, extending customer response periods through greater flexible working for staff and be providing services where data shows they are most needed, through the development of locality working.

The main objectives of the WoW programme are:

-To increase the effectiveness of our activities
-To reduce running costs of the council through making best use of our assets
-To meet the aspirations of staff for an improved work-life balance
-To create environments to allow collaboration and innovation
-To reduce the environmental footprint of our working practices

Prior to COVID the council had started an agile working pilot, based in one building. The council had also signed the “Time to Change” pledge to show commitment to address mental health and wellbeing, and had launched a mental health first aiders programme. A range of wellbeing activities had been implemented from free fruit provision to a workplace sports evening with local groups and businesses as well as council staff. The pandemic has accelerated development of a modern working environment and what tools and techniques will be needed in the workplace of the future. A core equipment offer was developed for staff to support them in creating home working spaces. A closed staff Facebook group was implemented with the aim of replicating informal kitchen and corridor conversations. Staff from leisure services have implemented regular, live online workouts and library and arts staff have also implemented online sessions. A “screen free” hour has been introduced with the aim to encourage staff to have time away from their screens. A core strand of the WoW programme is staff wellbeing, however the programme is broader than wellbeing as it is embedded into our culture, leadership and the ways that we work. The programme has been developed around four key elements – a positive culture, greater collaboration, making the workspaces into the best place to work and creating a workforce fit for the future. The benefits of the programme are from four key projects;

1. Policy and Strategy – started by producing a revised Agile Working Framework policy and are prioritising refreshing our HR policies
2. Cultural Transformation – our Vision, Values and Behaviours and how all staff can feed into and influence the programme through becoming cultural champions. This project has increased trust in the organisation as staff have seen how they can shape and influence the direction of the organisation.
3. Accommodation – the transformation of our physical environment, which includes rationalisation of our estate. This is centred around an agile hub which has been reconfigured for use from December 2020 (when COVID rules allow) and the Town Hall as the democratic heart, and where the public interact with the council. The agile hub includes staff socialisation space and innovative “villages” where teams can collaborate. The hub uses corporate colours and modern, flexible furnishings. The next Phase of the project includes venues in localities around the Borough.
4. IT and Digital – this has developed an innovative and efficient new App that staff can use to book desks, collaborative space and meeting rooms. This project also brings together the suite of organisational digital transformation projects.

In summary, our approach is reflected in the wellbeing pyramid that has been developed by CIPD. As the well-being pyramid shows, to create a healthy workplace, we need to ensure that our culture, leadership and people management are the bedrock on which to build a fully integrated health and well-being approach. When staff feel a high level of well-being they are more engaged and productive at work. This has a direct impact on the way that our services and support are delivered to our residents, businesses and visitors. This is what we want for our staff and why have started our journey to put the WoW factor in St Helens.

What are the key achievements?

The key achievements of the programme to date can be summarised across the four key projects:

– Policy and Strategy – a revised agile working framework has been introduced. The multiple, complex policies across the organisation has been streamlined and revised and staff policies now are contained in three key documents, “starting work at St Helens Borough Council”, “working at St Helens Borough Council” and “exiting St Helens Borough Council”. Staff can now work fully flexible working patterns (according to business need), which is enabling some services to be more accessible to residents, as differing working patterns mean that staff can respond to customers outside of traditional working hours and provide more modern and responsive services. Through greater home working staff are reporting savings in commuting costs, there are savings in resources due to less printing and paper and a reduction in staff sickness levels. The new working arrangements are also supporting a better work-life balance through allowing work to be blended around caring responsibilities, allowing staff to schedule time for personal appointments and wellbeing and trusting and enabling staff to achieve the outcomes required in their roles.
– Cultural Transformation – over 130 staff have volunteered to become Cultural Champions and have started working with their teams to revise the vision, values and behaviours of the organisation. A new BAME staff group has been set up to order staff from these groups have a direct influence on ensuring a fair and equal organisation. Staff have increased their trust in the organisation and are having a greater level of involvement – for example a recent Wellbeing Pulse survey achieved a response from 636 people (20% of the workforce) within a week. Staff have created “A Day in the Life of ” case studies for over 30 different roles in the council to increase understanding of the roles within the council both internally and externally.
– Accommodation – council estate is reducing, focusing on a modernisation of the Town Hall as the public facing democratic heart of the organisation, and a staff agile hub created in one building. This building has been transformed to an open plan, modern agile hub consisting of touch down spaces, resource areas, staff villages, collaborative spaces and bookable desks and meeting rooms. The next phase of the programme will look at developing locality hubs in areas of the borough where data shows they are most needed, these will be public facing resident services and support, which will also have agile staff spaces. The accommodation is decreasing running costs of the council through focusing on key buildings and an asset transfer or disposal programme will commence as soon as practicable. The new, agile hub ensures that there is no wasted space and that utilisation of the buildings is maximised.
– IT and Digital – a new, innovative App has been created which allows staff to book spaces within the agile hub and town hall. This can be booked from 30 minutes to a full day. The App also includes COVID secure features, such as booking cleaning between booked meetings and ensuring there are sufficient gaps between bookings. This supports staff feeling safe and secure in the workplace.

What are the key learning points?

The key learning points from the first Phase of the Ways of Working programme are to maintain regular, staff engagement in a variety of formats and to pilot and test before committing to high expenditure items. Staff engagement has been conducted in a range of formats including digital surveys, team meeting toolkits, “Chat with Kath” sessions with the Chief Executive, and “Let’s brew” sessions. A key lesson has been to listen to staff feedback and be willing to change and adapt plans based on staff feedback. For example, the original plans for the agile hub had no team areas the idea was that the bookable spaces would be meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and individual desks. However the feedback from staff was that they highly valued time within their teams to work alongside each other. This led to the development of the staff villages, which are dedicated team spaces.

Another key learning point is to test out configurations and spaces before committing to purchasing. There are many different types of agile and flexible furniture and these can be arranged in many different ways. We started with one floor of the building and arranged the furniture in an initial formation. AS showrooms have been closed during the implementation, the company have been able to lend us several different styles of furniture. When staff use the building they are asked for feedback on what furniture and configurations they like and dislike and which furniture is best for which purpose. Staff that have not yet been into an office due to the pandemic have been able to view mood boards of different styles of furniture and configuration plans have been shared. This feedback will used to inform the permanent purchase of the new furniture. Additionally we continue to learn from others, asking ourselves which organisations seem the best to work for (whether they are public sector or international private sector) and we research how they organise their spaces, what their policies say and what benefits are available for their staff.

Additional Comments

This has been a difficult programme to move forward at a time when the necessary focus of the council has been the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The tenacity and drive of staff have been key to introducing innovative, and sometimes challenging ideas to the workforce. The programme has absorbed the learning and experiences of enforced home working during the pandemic to influence the programme and inform the future ways of working.