Business case studies
Case Study: ILF Scotland
ILF Scotland is a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB), governed by a Board of Directors, appointed by and accountable to Scottish Ministers.
ILF Scotland operates as a discretionary fund providing financial awards to over 4,000 disabled people in Scotland and Northern Ireland to help them live independently. This funding enables individuals to pay for support so that they can live with control, choice and dignity in their homes and within their local communities. This includes the 2015 Fund, which provides a regular 4-weekly independent living payment and the Transition Fund for 16-25 year-olds, providing grants, for up to one year, to support young disabled people.
ILF Scotland employs 54 people: a team of four in Northern Ireland, and 50 across Scotland, made up of 30 support staff in the Livingston office, and 24 home-based assessors. No staff were laid off or furloughed in response to lockdown; and two new staff were appointed.
ILF Scotland is an award-winning employer and leader in the field of flexible working.
Business tempo increased dramatically during lockdown, even though the review process for support had to be suspended, because assessors could no longer go into people’s homes. This work was replaced by a programme of welfare checks (around 3,500 to date) for all 2015 Fund recipients, and also a 60% increase in demand for the Transition Fund for young people.
2. Adjusting to lockdown
Assessors were already home-based, and most office-based staff moved immediately to working from home. However, to keep the helpline open and deal with mail, the Operations Team had to continue to work part-time from the office. A skeleton staff worked shorter hours and a shorter week, on rotation, so that, as far as possible, most work could be home-based.
In tandem with that, it also helped accommodate the increased care responsibilities of those staff who had children or who had family members who were shielding or in need of additional support. All ‘nice to have’ projects were suspended. There was no expectation that anyone would work their normal hours. The essential message throughout the crisis from the Executive Team to staff was ‘do what you can’.
Pre-Covid-19, ILF Scotland was already a highly flexible organisation, and most people were familiar with working from home, at least occasionally. Two years ago, a programme to equip all staff with laptops had been completed, enabling a seamless transition during lockdown. Line managers had been trained and supported in managing staff remotely. Clear leadership around ILF Scotland’s priorities and values had been and continued to be crucial to building confidence and embedding practice.
Staff already managed their own working hours, and the core principle was unchanged, that as far as possible the working day falls between 0700 and 1900. If someone chooses to work out with those hours, no emails should be sent until the next time they log in.
Despite dealing with increased service demands, and the complexities and demands on individuals in managing their home responsibilities, managers made no changes to the objectives of their staff. ILF Scotland is perhaps unusual in its very light-touch performance system. Staff are expected to perform to their job description, with concerns or issues being managed and responded to via regular one-to-ones with line managers.
Line managers redistributed the workload across the team as circumstances changed, with colleagues taking on more responsibilities as required, in the confidence that if they in turn needed to reduce their hours or take a complete break, they would be supported.
In recognition of the additional workload and the general stress of living and working in the pandemic, between July and September 2020, ILF Scotland introduced a ‘two day weekend’ to support staff and to try to avoid Covid-fatigue. Pro-rated to hours worked, staff members can add two days to a weekend once a month, in addition to their regular annual leave entitlement, to enable a clear break and recharge.
Despite the established flexible working and values-based culture, staff found the change to full-time remote working challenging, compounded by the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Communication, and maintaining the culture of two-way openness, became a priority for ILF Scotland. Weekly updates (bi-weekly at first) are shared across the team, and pulse surveys are used to keep in touch with how people are coping and feeling. Informal welfare check-in calls by line managers and HR were introduced weekly, not related to performance or work. A monthly online forum for the whole organisation was introduced, plus a range of social initiatives, such as a catch-up and cuppa weekly zoom, and Zumba sessions. Yammer proved a useful channel to exchange news, information and keep up to date with colleagues.
Overall, in terms of
impact on performance and customer service, it has been a very positive period,
with a drop in short-term sickness absence. ILF Scotland’s leaders are confident that
putting staff-wellbeing at the heart of the organisation benefits the people
Mental Health and resilience
When ILF Scotland assessors were no longer able to go into people’s homes to carry out assessments, it was decided to carry out remote welfare checks across all 3,500 fund recipients in Scotland, to make sure that they were receiving the support they were eligible for. This programme of work was unexpectedly stressful for the team, because they were dealing with a rapidly changing policy context in which people’s rights to benefits and social care funding changed frequently and they were identifying vulnerable people who needed additional support from the organisation. Working from home in itself was also a mental health challenge for some staff, who felt isolated and uncertain.
Resilience training for all staff, and training in resilience leadership for managers, was implemented early on during lockdown. A well-being ambassador also links in with the Scottish Government’s Well-being Network. Weekly welfare check-in calls and a general focus on two-way communications contribute to a coherent and sustainable programme of support.
Investing in kit to support home-working short and longer term
An immediate challenge was access to Zoom, which was judged to be the most useful communication tool for non-formal information and team contact. The solution was to give tablets to those staff who could not otherwise use Zoom.
Short-term, some office-based staff needed new equipment to enable them to work safely and effectively from home. As it has become clear that working from home is likely to continue into the longer term, greater investment has been needed in appropriate kit.
4. Flex in the future
Although ILF Scotland is already highly flexible, it will become more flexible, as a result of this experience.
More meetings will be held remotely, and the office will be used more thoughtfully.
A number of people would like to see greater fluidity and choice around where and when they work; others value structure and routine, and face-to-face working.
Future flexibility is not just about the task-fit, but also the psychology of the workerAn unexpected outcome of the lockdown surveys and wider communications is that a deeper understanding of people's working styles, and what enables different people to work at their best is needed.
5. We could do that!
Two day weekend
Two days extra paid leave pcm, pro-rated, to make a four day long weekend. It’s generous and you may feel unaffordable, but it has kept sickness absence low and performance high.
Resilience training for staff and managers
A practical investment in the well-being of your people that is likely to have long-term benefits, in terms of individual engagement and of building empathetic and compassionate leaders.
Weekly welfare check-in calls
Light-touch, informal calls by the line-manager, to keep in touch, not work-related, not performance-related.