Gareth Johns, Senior Director, Vertical Solutions, RingCentral UK, explains why local government must see hybrid work as an opportunity to embrace new ways of working
As the lockdown took hold and millions of private and public sector organisations were forced to confront the vulnerability of on-premises communications systems, it seems many woke up to the idea of an alternative way of working, with a recent RingCentral survey showing that 85% of public sector respondents say COVID-19 has changed their organisations view on remote and flexible working.
For the first time for many public sector organisations, the economic and social disruption of COVID-19 has brought the need for remote governance to the forefront. As ministers consider proposals to keep home working for the long term, what does this look like in the public sector, particularly local government? And what are the opportunities on offer?
The reality of hybrid working in local government
2020 brought the reality of remote working home to more people than ever before. While there were issues as employees improvised with home IT that fell far short of enterprise standards, the advantages were there for all to see, from flexibility and family-friendly work patterns to time and money savings.
It’s unlikely that we will ever go back to working the way we did. Instead, it’s predicted by many that remote and flexible working will become the norm, driven by new cultural attitudes and the power of technology to allow employees to work from anywhere.
The technology required to make hybrid working successful, from the right hardware to streamlined unified communications, will not only help workers become more efficient and productive as they work from anywhere, but will also strengthen the link between government and the public sector, businesses and citizens. It will allow for greater collaboration, problem solving, and benefit sharing between all three.
The opportunities this presents to citizens
In a connected world, the way citizens deal with public sector services provided by local governments is changing, driven by the possibilities opened up by new technology. Given 48% of citizens in the UK want a simpler and cleaner experience from local government digital services, the time is now to embrace the technology that will not only power hybrid working but also great service for communities.
Technology that empowers people to work from anywhere enables the office of the future, for example, an environment where all the threads in a benefit claim or social care case review are combined so callers can be directed to the right people immediately and where case workers can consult and collaborate with colleagues and other agencies seamlessly and effortlessly. There is a huge opportunity to deliver services better, faster, and with improved outcomes, while desk-based staff and front-line workers can also become better equipped to work together to empower local communities.
The opportunity for local government
Public sector organisations still playing catch-up after years of austerity and reliance on out-dated technology can also drive down costs and speed up working processes by embracing the hybrid workplace and its associated technology. With more than £250 million in central government transactions still completed offline every year, at a cost of £14.70 per hour to the taxpayer, the opportunities for cost savings as well as a reduction in errors and fraud are considerable.
The increase in online citizen self-service and the ongoing One Public Estate (OPE) programme to integrate services into fewer buildings are already driving the need for office space down. The increased adoption of remote working tools can only accelerate this process. As a result, local authorities can look forward to savings in office rent, maintenance, heating, lighting and building services that can be redirected into improved services and greater value for money for council taxpayers. Some may seek to repurpose accommodation for co-working spaces to cement their position in the community and become hubs which can reduce longer distance commuting.
Remote governance through tech like cloud-based communications facilitates secure collaboration and remote working for all, with built-in accessibility features. RingCentral’s recent public sector survey showed that the user preference is for integrated apps, with 81% of respondents saying integrating voice (softphone) into other business apps is preferred. Meanwhile, easier collaboration at distance means substantial savings in travel time and costs.
Looking at how the UK has handled the pandemic, there are major changes in how our society operates. The behaviour of individuals, households, and companies has all changed significantly. Digital communication software has played a major role in the UK’s fight against COVID-19 and can foreshadow how our society will rely on technology to help with future times of crisis and adaptation.
Local governments must act now to embrace the technologies that enable hybrid working, not only for the benefit of both government and its employees, but most critically for citizens relying on these services. As people grow used to the evolution in how they interact with those around them, looking beyond just offices and hybrid workplaces, we must create a system that enables connection in a way fit for the modern age.