Flexible working policies and environments in UK Local Authorities: current practice
- Publisher: Sheffield Hallam University with sponsorship from the RICS Foundation
The research surveys the uptake of 'modern' or flexible working practices in UK Local Authorities, especially as it impacts on property and office accommodation.\ud Nearly all permit flexible starting and finishing times for as many employees as is practical while forms of accredited hours working for at least some appropriate employees are policy in a majority. Flexible practices with property and ICT implications, working from home without a dedicated work station, formal policies, 'hot' desking, flexible offices and satellite or drop-in offices are less common (ca 10%) but have grown significantly in the last two years. A number of councils also report being at the stage of planning pilots. \ud Five detailed case studies are reported. Three authorities have expanding strategic programmes for 'workstyle' changes or new ways of working. One has shifted its emphasis away from such plans toward higher density office usage only and one was awaiting the election result before anticipated permission to start.\ud These cases do all come from authorities in areas of much higher than average property values and costs. While they have seen savings, they emphasise that the initiatives were equally about better work life balance and improved office environments. Green benefits and service enhancements are harder to quantify but are believed to have been achieved. Higher density of net space utilisation has uniformly been achieved.\ud Executive commitment and clear member support are seen as critical strategic success factors. Clear liaison between HR, Property/ Facilities and ICT has been essential to operational success. Entrenched management attitudes and, at least initially, staff reluctance to change, are cited as the major drawbacks. Accounting and valuation practices can also be a barrier.\ud Similar messages are provided by a variety of pilots, some undertaken deliberately as strategic tests, others as much more of an ad hoc response to local circumstances. Most have not, or not yet, seen net office space reduced. The more successful pilots were not 'just' either property or HR policy initiatives: indeed there is some evidence that initiatives involving only one of the two functions have been less successful.\ud Service areas most frequently cited as being involved in changes are various property functions. Trading Standards and Social Services are other areas where the real or potential development of flexible working and shared desking is highlighted though the latter in particular is also cited as an area where workers in the office have particular mutual support needs. Higher density officing for less mobile workers is, in principle, an option more widely available. \ud Workplace strategy should reflect future service delivery models, asset management plans and organisational development. New ways of working have been a tool for achieving changes in culture and delivery, but were, and are, a challenge to traditional mindsets. They will involve senior property professionals in a range of issues with which they have not traditionally been associated. Future property and workplace strategy will be driven by an authority's service models and aspirations as to working culture: but will also be a tool, alongside organisational development (OD) and ICT, to achieve change and improvement.