Charles Knight, Managing Director of Public Services at Totalmobile, explores what the public sector might look like post-Covid for its mobile workforce
We’ve now passed the one year anniversary of when the first UK national lockdown was implemented, and the way out of the pandemic is closer every day. Throughout this collective experience, there has been understandable attention given to the large numbers of people now working from home, how the changes have affected them and what the future might hold. At the same time, there are also tens of thousands of mobile workers whose roles require them to travel between locations every day, and the impact of the pandemic on their workplace norms is still developing.
Indeed, according to recent media reports, the government will use a public consultation later this year as part of a process that may make flexible working “a permanent feature of British life after coronavirus, with plans to strengthen employees’ rights to work from home or ask for different hours”, according to The Times. With over five million employees, public sector employers and workers alike will watch what happens next with interest.
But, as workplace change continues to sweep across the economy, what about public sector roles where mobile workers make up a significant portion of staff? How has their way of working evolved and how might it continue to do so in the future?
Even during the worst of the pandemic, many public sector employers couldn’t simply tell their mobile staff or contractors to work from home. Instead, they needed to find solutions that kept workers and customers safe, while finding cost-effective ways to complete jobs in an efficient and productive manner, remaining compliant with regulation and SLAs despite the restrictions they faced.
As a result, public sector organisations with mobile workforces are increasing their reliance on technology to remain agile and efficient whilst safeguarding the wellbeing of their employees, not only through hard and unprecedented times but in better times too. Moving forward, their working practices are likely to evolve across a number of key areas.
Blending efficiency and service quality with wellbeing and compliance
In the current environment, budgets remain tight yet there is pressure on organisations everywhere to become more efficient. As a result, there has been considerable emphasis on streamlining areas such as scheduling, reporting and analytics. For example, operations managers looking after vehicles spread within local authority regions or further afield need to be able to send workers to specific locations at precise times. As a manual task, managing dozens or even hundreds of remote workers is not only inefficient but prone to errors and often more expensive.
Increasingly, the technology-based solution to this issue comes via live tracking, where operations managers can use automated updates to improve efficiencies, more accurately track vehicle movement and enable staff to make better decisions faster. One of the most valuable elements of today’s tracking technologies is the ability to reallocate jobs in real-time. If, for instance, it’s more efficient for one employee to visit a certain site over another, tasks can be updated as more information becomes available. As a result, automation can save time and allow field staff to be more productive.
Another key area for public sector employers is their duty of care to protect the safety of all staff and citizens alike. For mobile workers, communication and the ability to monitor the location and wellbeing of employees is a ‘must have’ if staff are to be fully protected while carrying out their roles. In practical terms, lone worker solutions, video diagnostic technologies and staff wellbeing trackers provide employers with real-time visibility of the current status of staff, while access to historical information can be evidenced at a later date should the need arise. Not only does this help organisations become more responsible employers, but it also improves the safety and wellbeing of staff, while helping workers focus on their compliance obligations.
It’s important to appreciate that these objectives are not mutually exclusive, and today’s technology makes it possible to balance efficiency with workplace wellbeing, while also focusing on delivering better services. This raises an important point: lockdown has meant many people have become used to changing the way they access public services, and as a result, both local and national public sector organisations must continue to innovate over the long term.
For instance, even with the pandemic creating its own unprecedented challenges and the current pressure on resources, local authorities are still expected to transform their customer experience. Members of the public will continue to expect the same level of high-quality service and flexibility when interacting with public sector bodies even when the public health crisis is no longer restricting how services can be delivered.
Despite the huge range of challenges that public sector bodies and their teams have navigated over the past year, their ability to focus on the efficiency, effectiveness and wellbeing of their mobile workforce remains front of mind. Those organisations that continue to digitally transform service delivery will be well-positioned to see benefits in the years to come.