Embracing Smart Working Tech in the Public Sector

New technologies that foster smarter, more agile and productive ways of working are in high demand. Particularly across the government and public sector, with cost efficiency, office consolidations and budget cuts abound.

There is still a certain preconception that the public sector is dated and lagging behind the private sector in terms of its ability to embrace innovative technologies that encourage and inspire more creative and collaborative work. Yet the public sector should not appear stagnant in comparison with the business community. And it is essential that local government, in particular, makes use of the best technologies to ensure it gets the most out of its workforce in terms of innovation and productivity.

In every sector there is an increasing pressure to implement smart and flexible working processes. Digital transformation across the private and public sectors fuels this even more, with an increasing expectation that public organisations should make use of technologies to operate more efficiently, providing more on ever-tighter budgets.

Additionally, over the last few years, the advent of ever-smarter mobile and cloud-based technologies has revolutionised how businesses and customers interact. Consider, for example, the impact of e-commerce and mobile retail on the traditional British high street.

So it is with the changing forms of engagement between citizens and local government. Plus, technology has enabled local authorities to transform the working practices of hundreds of thousands of staff across the UK, helping to improve their work-life balance and drive improved performance.

Future-proofing the local authority workforce

Yet technology can only really make a meaningful and lasting impact in the public sector if it is planned, implemented and used in the right way. The use of technology in the public sector has to align with older, legacy systems already in place. And it’s not financially or logistically possible to simply replace legacy IT equipment and processes with the latest devices and technology – without staff engagement or consultation.

Still, this doesn’t mean local government cannot implement the latest technologies in ways that have a huge and positive influence on smarter working. As leaders, you need to focus their resources and efforts in areas where introducing new mobile and ergonomic workspace technologies, for example, will have the most impact.

Consider also the impact that the latest developments in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and big data are having on the way that key public sector staff such as doctors, police and teachers go about their day-to-day work. All of these new technological advances present huge opportunities for local authorities to innovate and future-proof themselves. Though the first step for most is how to deal with legacy tech and inefficient infrastructure.

That’s because slow and outdated technology is still a major problem for hundreds of thousands of British workers, with more workers wasting time on slow tech than they spend on holiday, according to recent reports. Older, legacy computers, slow local networks and user-unfriendly software systems are all too often responsible for limiting efficiency and productivity.

This is a massive problem. If workers are wasting time searching for files on slow, outdated servers, for example, or not being able to make the best use of their own smartphones, tablets and other devices for work purposes, how can organisations address this issue of time wasted due to legacy, outdated and disconnected technology?

On a wider, infrastructure level, organisations must ensure they offer superfast wireless broadband and mobile coverage available to all. Secondly, you can encourage the benefits of flexible working culture by introducing the wide use and adoption of technologies such as laptop docking stations, as well as issuing all staff with their own laptop bags to encourage the desire to hot-desk, work from home or work ‘on the go’.

Staffordshire County Council: a smart working success story

In this regard, one exemplary local authority is Staffordshire County Council (SCC), an organisation that has successfully achieved smarter and more flexible ways of working across its 3,000-strong team over the last few years.

Staffordshire’s smart working rollout was planned in close collaboration with Targus, the global leader in mobile computing accessories, with the County Council initially installing over 1,000 of Targus’ universal docking stations. This investment followed a council-wide survey conducted in September last year, which revealed that staff felt a lack of access to the correct technologies restricted them from working flexibly.

Hence, the organisation began to look for an affordable and viable solution to address, enable and promote an agile, hot-desking working culture. The challenge, as with any local authority, was that the legacy laptop tech that many SCC staff were using had to be catered for, at the same time as allowing users of new laptops, tablets and smartphones to connect into the same familiar networks and working environments.

For these reasons, Staffordshire called upon Targus to roll-out its universal docking station office-wide, upgrading the majority of their workstations and supporting both new and legacy devices.

“Staffordshire County Council is a prime example of just how innovative organisations across the public sector can be,” says Dean Simpson, Head of UK Corporate Sales at Targus. “In today’s employment landscape, it’s essential that staff feel they have the option, and also the technology available to work both remotely and flexibly.

“With all of these organisations having their own networks, hardware and IT systems, there will be no doubt be technological challenges to overcome. And Staffordshire is really leading the way with setting the standards for other councils and government bodies, showcasing the unmistakable benefits smart working schemes can bring to an organisation.”

In a follow-up survey earlier this summer, 93 per cent of SCC employees felt they had a good understanding of what smart working is, and what it means for them and their role. Additionally, since implementing Targus’ first rollout of new technology, Staffordshire also noted the following results in only nine months of use:

  • A 10 per cent increase in the number of employees that feel they have an improved work / life balance
  • A 15 per cent rise in the number of employees that believe they are able to work anywhere in order to deliver business-critical services
  • 17 per cent growth in the number of staff that are able to access the technology they need to work from different locations

“Since employing our smart working project, staff are no longer restricted to their desks. They are free to work anywhere around the office, at home even ‘on the go’, while maintaining relationships with colleagues and staying on top of workloads,” explains Vic Falcus, Head of IT at Staffordshire County Council.”

UK police force boosts use of smart devices

Another great example of the benefits of introducing smart mobile devices in a public sector organisation is that of the British police force. Targus recently carried out some insightful research that revealed that double the number of police forces across the UK have equipped their officers with smart devices over the last five years.

This has unquestionably revolutionised the way in which the British police work. The last year alone has seen a 265 per cent growth rate in the number of devices given to officers, which means they are better equipped to do their jobs and no longer have to travel to and from centralised police stations to complete operations.

“We champion the police forces’ commitments to enable their officers to address crime and public safety in a more efficient and effective way, through technology,” says Nikos Liapis, Regional Sales Director, Large Enterprise EMEA at Targus. “By ensuring officers are spending more time on the beat and less time in the station, forces are taking proactive steps to improve the safety of our everyday lives.

“Issuing smart devices ensures officers have access to information, data and intelligence, enabling them to carry out the most important elements of their role, whether they’re in the station or on the move.”

The four stages of smarter working implementation

For local authority leaders to introduce such flexible ways of working, they need to implement an education programme to work with staff on the changes, with four key stages to follow:

1). Test it: If you want to roll-out flexible, open-plan working, then test it out initially in one department or at one site.

2). Introduce the plan to employees: As far ahead of time as possible, communicating clearly to all staff the plans and explaining the rationale behind them.

3). Sell it: You have to sell this new way of working to your employees. Don’t just assume they will ‘get’ the benefits.

4). Show, not tell: Educate your employees and get their feedback to ensure everybody benefits.

That last point, in particular, is vital, as you are likely to have a wide age-range of employees, from very different generations – from younger Millennial, through to Gen X’ers and older Baby Boomers – all of whom will differ greatly in their motivation, ability and willingness to embrace new technologies in the workplace.

Lead from the front

Finally, as well as ensuring that all your employees are involved at each stage of the process outlined above, always remember to practice what you preach. If you are introducing hot-desking and flexible working practices throughout your organisation, then you need to be one of the first to publicly embrace this new way of working.

Consultation is key, as some staffers may well not want to embrace hot-desking or remote working as much as others, so it’s important that you listen to and accommodate individual needs. If you can do this sensitively, and manage to bring workers from those different generations mentioned together to work side-by-side, then you’re on the pathway to success. By working with partners such as Targus, we can support you as you progress on that journey.