Business case studies
Case Study: Fife Council
The local authority employs over 17,500 people including teachers and care workers.
Few staff were furloughed because most roles are Government funded and not eligible. Everyone remained on full pay and there were no redundancies.
2 Adjusting to lockdown
The Council started pandemic planning from January. But the lockdown was still a huge adjustment.
“Everything changed so quickly and that’s something we really struggled with. It wasn’t just the implementation of lockdown, there was change to government guidance. It didn’t just feel like daily, sometimes it felt like you were living hour to hour.
“Although there were business continuity plans in place, it felt really different than anything we had prepared for.
“We’ve had to be extremely reactive at understanding the guidance, but also putting that out to 17,500 staff and managers.”
The impact of Covid was profound with some services suspended, and others more crucial than ever but in Covid-secure ways. Around 10,000 people became home workers overnight. A ‘Use Your Own Device’ scheme introduced in 2019, helped many workers achieve this.
Wellbeing was a priority. Managers were responsible for monitoring hours, and the Council’s health and wellbeing team delivered information and support.
“We were absolutely clear for all staff that wellbeing had to be a focus for them, looking after their own wellbeing. But also managers thinking about their staff, not just in terms of working longer hours, but actually just facing the environment that we were in and this situation that was unfolding around them.”
A wellbeing strategy was being finalised before Covid. This was refreshed and included online mental health awareness training.
A regular video from the Chief Executive reminded staff the importance of balancing family responsibilities with work, as well as providing business updates.
The Council’s flexitime system was suspended to avoid staff who couldn’t work all their hours ‘owing’ time.
As restrictions lifted, managers did expect staff to work their usual hours. However, the lockdown experience helped change mindsets.
“[Before] we didn’t focus on people’s output, we measured how long they sat at their desk every day and that’s clearly not the best measurement of productivity or output. What we’re seeing now is more recognition amongst managers that output and productivity is more important to [us] than somebody sitting at their desk for seven hours and 12 minutes per day.”
A significant number of employees were not able to work because they were at increased risk with Covid. To fill gaps in service, the Council launched ‘Team Fife’ to attract and reassign members of staff to critical roles. Several thousand Council workers volunteered.
A new form of paid special leave was introduced for anyone who could not work from home – for whatever reason.
“A lot of the work was about getting managers to accept this was not just as you would have worked in the office being dumped in the household, there is a whole shift which is required along with that.
“Generally managers are more accepting of the responsibilities that staff have outside work now.”
Managing time and workloads
“Rather than people not being able to work, there were people who were doing too much... I think people were trying to prove they could do everything from home.
“It’s not about working ten-hour days so you can then take a day off in three months’ time, it’s you’ve got your hours to work in a, maybe, four weekly cycle. You might work a longer day, you might work a shorter day, but it’s up to you to manage that. It’s a different way of working and some people are totally embracing it and loving it, whereas others are struggling.”
Productivity increased during lockdown, but this is not likely to be sustainable.
“My team productivity levels are probably way up on where they were previously. People have worked running on adrenalin. We’re looking at that levelling off now because people are realising this is for the long term, and we can’t maintain that high level. But, certainly within my team, we’re producing everything that we produced prior to lockdown and more.”
4 Flex in future?
The Council will offer more flexibility
Flexibility allowed the Council to continue delivering essential services and it wants to sustain new ways of working.
“How do we harness some of the learning we’ve had during this time, how do we harness that flexibility?
“Had we been rigid about either ‘you need to work in a specific location’ or ‘you need to work within a specific time period’ then we wouldn’t have got anywhere.”
Flexibility for a diverse staff
“The diversity of the organisation and the number of employees we have that work in all different types of places and all different times of the day, we need to be much more receptive to flexibility that is a much wider concern, as opposed to just about homeworking or working part-time because you’re a mum and you need to do the school pick-up. A lot of that is going to be focussed on how we can actually have flexibility across as many of our employees as possible.”
Practical issues about expenses and kit.
Staff have questions about kit and personal expenses, and these need to be worked out.
Understanding roles better
Understanding whether roles are location and/or time dependent - or not - opens up new ways of thinking about how to provide choice and control.
“It might be that we’ve got shift patterns, we might have flexitime for some staff and we might have ‘true flexibility’ in terms of I can choose when I do my work.
“We’re also looking at different ways of getting that flexibility. For example, some people could move to a nine-day fortnight [and] work their contracted hours within those nine days.
“We need to consider with staff and trade unions if, instead of going back to our very structured flexi system, there are different things we can do to give people more flexibility.”
Flexibility has accelerated questions around property use.
“We’ve always [been] trying to work towards reducing our office capacity, allowing people more flexibility, allowing people to work from home or from hub locations. This has really accelerated the thinking we’ve got around about that.
“I think we’ve flipped our thinking about what we go into work for, and actually [it’s] the social aspect. We’ll be able to think about how we’ll have our team operating.”