Learning from the government’s approach to hybrid working

Learning from the government’s approach to hybrid working

Government organisations were ahead of the curve with regards to hybrid working when the pandemic hit. The UK public sector had already begun carefully reinventing workspaces to allow a far more flexible and nuanced approach that sidesteps the binary choice between home and office. Kieron Murphy, Director of Workplace Hubs at Matrix Booking, explains how the private sector could learn a lot from the public sector by looking at its cross-organisational sharing of workspaces.

There’s rarely a week that goes by without a prominent private sector boss suggesting that workers should get back into the office. Businessman Martin Sorrell said in May that ending home working would prevent our ‘decline and fall’. Meanwhile, Google is reportedly forcing workers to return to their desks.

Of course, there are some ministers who have publicly called for an end to home working too. Notes were left on the empty office desks of some civil servants to stop them working from home. And in June another government official expressed a desire to see fewer people working from home.

While this rather black and white debate continues to rage, the UK public sector has been at the forefront of hybrid working for the decade. It’s been carefully reinventing workspaces to allow a far more flexible and nuanced approach that sidesteps the binary choice between home and office.

At the heart of the civil service’s plan is cross-organisational sharing of workspaces. This is where different departments and teams work in the same physical space, boosting co-operation and cutting office costs, while still benefitting from the privacy and security they need to undertake sensitive tasks.

This is perfect for businesses because it allows for more open and collaborative spaces, which is ideal when everyone is already working towards the same ultimate goals. Breaking down walls and physically merging siloes has the potential to drive knowledge sharing, quicken problem solving and ignite out-of-the-box ideas.

Yet when privacy is needed, it can still be assured in a cross-organisational space. For example, members of a HR team can find room to deal with sensitive issues while still operating in the same office as those they’re managing. This can be vital in businesses of all sizes – or even when there are many businesses working in the same space.

This begs the question, how has the public sector achieved such a clever and carefully managed model that allows cross-organisational sharing without the downsides?

A more viable dynamic

Naturally, like everything else over the past few years, the transition and trend that had been gradually evolving for years prior was accelerated by COVID. At this point, public sector workplaces were better prepared for this change with more established framework to navigate the transition seamlessly.

Firstly, it started with the removal of side-by-side desks because of the pandemic. This led to the natural creation of booths, dividers or protection from other workers – a transition which offset the need for different offices or different floors in their entirety.

By combining departments and reducing overheads around the location itself, while maintaining privacy and required siloes, an organisation can save space and money while still harnessing both sides of the focus-collaboration coin.

Secondly, the pandemic forced government entities and public providers to pay closer attention to the security of their technology. With workers suddenly at home, all devices, systems and solutions quickly became secure even if they were working from their kitchen tables, sofas or sheds.

The legacy of this is that hardware and software is now more mobile and secure than ever. Workers no longer must be in one specific office to undertake tasks without compromising their data or lacking access to it. This is perfect for cross-organisational workspaces, allowing co-working without worry.

Data-driven first steps

With the physical and technological stage set for cross-organisational working, the public sector has also invested in software to manage the shared spaces where civil servants operate. Far from being a free-for-all where employees simply turn up and work, resource management systems such as those Matrix Booking offers, are used to ensure desks, meeting rooms, IT peripherals and other resources are available when and where needed.

Our data confirms this shift, with millions of bookings made by government employees using our dedicated workplace tools every month.

These may relate to workflow management tools to provide flexibility and clarity around what spaces are available, and when. They include security solutions to ensure that anyone booking time in-office is who they say they are, before entering under proper protocols.

They address meeting room and boardroom booking tools to add a layer of added security for high-level meetings, training or presentations. Or they could refer to visitor management systems to guarantee room availability and attendee verification in this new look space.

Most importantly, these public and governmental organisations are using data and insight from these systems to audit the success of cross-organisational working and to help them plan for the future.

Cross-organisational working and shared spaces are still relatively new concepts, and the public sector is working harder than most to ensure these first forays aren’t being taken blindly, or as a kneejerk reaction to the wider working world. But what is absolutely clear, is that they’re having a hugely positive impact, providing flexibility, security, improved productivity and an overall reduction in cost thanks to a consolidation of real estate.

Take note, private sector

In a world where leaders still blindly call for a return to the office, cross-organisational working can answer their needs while also allowing the flexibility workers now demand. It offers everything the traditional office did, but without the rigidity of a single location.

It provides different departments within a business everything they need – from collaborative space and meeting rooms to private areas where prying eyes are effectively kept at arms-length. It manages the flow of people into suitable areas and keeps tabs on what’s available. It’s like an omniscient office manager carefully ushering the right people to the right place at the right time.

The private sector should take note. Larger businesses could benefit hugely from this approach and smaller ones could set up in a cross-organisational office as part of a hub of different businesses. Even competitors could work in the same shared space without the worry of giving away their secrets.

It’s time the naysayers of the world stopped thinking in black and white. And started embracing a new model pioneered by the public sector. It’s time for cross-organisational working.

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