Smart working and modern workplaces: a Microsoft webinar

Written by Microsoft on 2 November 2016 in Sponsored Article
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A recent Microsoft webinar examined how civil servants can realise the full benefits of mobile, flexible and modern workplaces with the Government Hubs programme

The Government Hubs programme is not just about bricks and mortar, desks and chairs. Instead, it’s about improving working lives and public service outcomes – goals we can all support says David Phillips, head of policy, strategy and workforce transformation at the Government Property. Speaking at a recent webinar hosted by Microsoft and CSW, he said: “I’ve been in the civil service a long time, and this is the most exciting area I’ve ever worked on, because of the impact it has on people and the positive way it can impact public services.”

Philips began the webinar by setting out some of the reasons behind the Hubs programme, which will see government reduce its office estate from around 800 buildings now to around 200 by 2023. At the same time government will create around 18-22 strategic hubs across the country, bringing together staff from different departments in upgraded buildings with modern technology to support smart working.

He outlined three motivations: creating modern workplaces that can both accommodating different ways of working and attract and retain talented individuals; improving standard of government’s buildings, currently a “mixed economy”; and reduce costs – estate is second highest running cost after people, he said.

Phillips also gave us some hints about what the new workspaces will look like. Rather than focusing on particular furniture or technology, the aim is to create environments that help individuals to be as productive as possible, providing choices for different working styles and work types. So there will meeting areas, spaces for project work which support visual planning, and ‘touch down’ spaces that let employees who are not usually based in that in that hub to come in and do work before moving to another location – be that home, or their usual office.

Importantly, he also spoke about removing barriers to collaboration across departments. So in the new Hubs, IT between teams will be interoperable, and we could see shared spaces which allow staff from different departments to meet and “harness strengths across whole civil service in our building.”

Next up was Graham Shakespeare, Microsoft’s Office 365 lead for the UK public sector. He shared his experiences at Microsoft as the company has moved to a more flexible and mobile environment over the last 10 years. He set out some personal advantages – setting up meetings through Skype for Business, for example, allows him to transfer the meeting to his mobile phone if he needs to leave the office part way through. He explained how using the collaboration tool Yammer helped him to prepare his presentation by asking colleagues for ideas, and a clever database behind Yammer can suggest relevant documents and articles based on meetings in his calendar that week.

Shakespeare also set out the corporate benefits which Microsoft has realised: in 20xx a campaign encouraging people to hold at least one in four internal meetings online resulted in over £1m savings due to reduced travel costs. At Microsoft’s campus in Reading, a sixth building was due to be built around 2010, but has not been needed so far as employees increasingly adopt flexible working practices. Holding virtual Town Halls (with Skype for Business you hold meetings with up to 10,00 attendee, he explained) resulted in increased engagement and positive feedback from those who listened in.

In a question and answer session, Phillips and Shakespeare discussed the various factors that will help to make modern working a reality in the civil service – from changing management approaches, to ensuring employees not only have the right technology but know how to use it.

The audience raised some common concerns about moving to more mobile and flexible working – covering everything from security and tech support to cultural and personal concerns – how can managers monitor what work their teams are doing, for example, and how can employees get involved in designing new spaces?

One participant asked a question that gets to the heart of what modern, smart working is about – choice, flexibility, and a fair balance between individual and organisational needs. The audience member asked whether managers have seen resistance from staff who prefer face to face meetings to online interaction. Both Shakespeare and Phillips agreed that face to face interaction will still be needed, especially when teams go through major changes, but this agenda is about improving choices so that staff can work in a way that suits them personally. “Face to face won’t be replaced,” said Phillips, “it’s about giving people a series of options. It’s about having that choice.”

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