New ways of working: what are the challenges?

  • Local government is developing new ways of working to achieve ambitious cost savings
  • Centralising, hot-desking and remote working are all attractive options, but they also present new challenges for councils to consider
  • Issues such as health and safety, and data security must be carefully reassessed when looking at new work dynamics

Local authorities are under pressure to achieve significant cost savings, and are looking at new ways of working to achieve these.

Some options that are proving popular are centralisation, hot-desking and remote working. While each of these initiatives may address certain challenges, they can present new ones.

Councils will need to carefully consider aspects such as health and safety and data security, to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.

All under one roof

Many councils are hoping to save money by reducing their number of office locations. However, recent major incidents – such as the devastating fire at the shared office of South Oxfordshire and the Vale of the White Horse District Council – have highlighted some particular vulnerabilities to consider.

Bringing more services under the same roof has major implications for business continuity management, and increases the potential impact of a major incident.

Graham Page, Risk and Insurance Consultant at Zurich Municipal, was involved in reviewing the effects of the South Oxfordshire District Council fire earlier this year: “What struck me is that it really did highlight the vulnerability of having everything in one place. When you get a major incident like that, the whole of the council can be out of action overnight.”

When you get a major incident…the whole of the council can be out of action overnight

Graham Page, Risk and Insurance Consultant at Zurich Municipal

Councils need to ensure they have a business continuity plan in place that prescribes the right course of action, not only for common interruptions, but for major incidents as well, especially if a number of key services are in the same location.

If any changes are occurring in the organisation, it is important that these plans are reviewed and rewritten if necessary.

Importance of lateral thinking

In addition to attempts to centralise operations, many councils are adopting new ways of working, such as hot-desking (where nobody has a fixed desk, but use any that are available), and remote working.

Remote working, in particular, has surged in popularity. Since 1998, the number of home workers in the UK has significantly increased from 2.9 million to 4.2 million in 2014.

While these changes can help improve employee performance and efficiency, they can also create other challenges, including data security and health and safety.

Page explains: “The key is to think laterally. When you implement a change, always consider its wider impact. With the focus firmly on cost savings, councils need to ensure that they are not overlooking other important considerations.”

Health and safety duties

Employers have a duty to provide a safe place of work for their staff. In particular, health and safety legislation exists for the use of Display Screen Equipment (DSE), which will apply to anyone working at a computer.

To satisfy their duties under DSE legislation, workstations are typically adjusted to suit their individual user.

“This is fairly easy to do if you have the same people at the same desk all the time,” says Page.

“But if staff are continuously moving desks, or working away from the office, then it can be a bit of an issue for employers to manage effectively.”

When changing working environments or the way staff operate, councils should always consult their health and safety expert to revise risk assessments and adapt their policies, for both office and home workers.

Data security implications

Technology, from online portals to cashless parking payments, is playing a large role in the current transformation of the public sector. Greater utilisation of technology is also increasing the amount of data that councils hold, and the importance of ensuring its security.

This is easier to control if data remains in the office, and under lock and key. However, if councils are using practices such as hot-desking or remote working, this presents challenges for data security.

Hot-desking, and especially a mobile work force, will require more staff to have portable work devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets. They may also need to take files away from the office, or travel with their work devices.

“If staff are taking data out of the secure office environment, this immediately brings increased vulnerability to a breach, which can be very damaging,” Page explains.

“Organisations need to update risk management practises to incorporate any changes in working practises,” continues Page, “and ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities to manage and protect data, wherever they are.”

Contact us to find out how we can help with business continuity planning and testing, as well as risk assessment training and reviews.