Kate Richardson, head of National Office Programme at NHS Property Services, discusses the organisation’s smarter working policy which allows staff more flexibility to choose where they wish to work
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced changes within all our lives. For many of us, this has been the transition to a more virtual working environment. Last year, traditional patterns of working based around the physical office became unmanageable overnight, leading to uncertain business continuity for some. While this way of working was unforeseen, it has proven that employees can work effectively from outside the office walls.
Organisations are learning that embracing flexible working can improve efficiency, and more importantly, employee well-being. Offices make up a significant proportion of the NHS estate, with NHS Property Services (NHSPS) portfolio alone covering approximately 400 office holdings, spanning 400,000 sqm and serving multiple NHS bodies. Our experiences since the beginning of the pandemic have led to the conclusion that we, as employers, would like to implement a more flexible working environment. We call this our ‘smarter working’ policy. This change is allowing us to continue supporting staff members in whichever way, or location, that they wish to work in.
Over the past year, our expertise in estates and facilities management has put us in good stead for our transition to smarter working. Our specialised National Office Programme team already has rich experience of optimising and designing the NHS office estate to encourage more agile ways of working. We are providing our employees with more flexibility, allowing them to choose where they wish to work and, at the same time, ensuring that they feel trusted, empowered and safe in the knowledge that they will be measured on their outputs, not time spent in the office. While we are still learning, initial changes have already resulted in a positive cultural shift within our organisation.
One of the benefits we have seen which would have previously been hindered due to travel restrictions, is the ability to attract an array of talent to multiple jobs. Due to our work hubs which are set up across the country for any employee to use, they are more likely to have easier access to one of our workspaces. Cutting down commuting time widens the search pool of applicants, as travel time from home to work is more realistic and promotes the work life balance everyone wishes for and deserves to have.
Flexible working also allows people with more responsibilities, such as parents or carers, to be present with their children or family members and reduces the mental and physical burnouts many people will face. Smarter working became particularly important to me personally when my daughter arrived. I’m lucky that I enjoy my role, so I was desperate to continue with it and find a balance with work and becoming a mum. By acknowledging the potential stress points for our employees, we reduce the risk of burnout to our workforce. We have witnessed that through showing we really do care, our colleagues ‘give back’ in a positive and productive way, solidifying growth and transparency within our business.
At NHSPS we are continuing to learn and grow our smart working policy. Learning and adapting will only make us stronger and it’s important to regularly check in with employees to make sure their needs are being met. Surveys are an easy way to make sure new policies are fulfilling their purpose and should be distributed at least once a year to ensure this. The results of an internal survey at the beginning of our transition to smarter working found that 59 per cent of employees agreed that working from home positively affected their work productivity.
While 95 per cent of people feel that they are still ‘connected’ with the wider company and felt informed about what was happening within the company. These figures show that most people are capable of carrying out work tasks at home to the same level of productivity and still feel supported and connected to their colleagues and company. The survey also exposed the fact that some prefer and work better in an office environment, and this is why NHSPS will always have office space for people to work in. This space continues to support a face-to-face interaction with colleagues whilst having the flexibility to work from home on their chosen days.
In addition to surveys, there must be open conversations about the needs of employees between the employer and its staff. As such, we made sure that inclusivity and transparency are at the heart of our new policies. At the start of the pandemic, we opted to provide our teams with all the necessary equipment they needed to carry out their work from home, making their workspace as comfortable as possible for them. In return, we asked that they set up a suitable ‘home office’ where they can continue to thrive in a ‘new’ workplace. We also wanted to reassure the teams that extensive training and continued learning would be available from home so everyone could continue to grow as a team.
We are now looking ahead to the new horizon of smarter working, and are working hard to prepare the estate, technological and cultural changes needed. We are beginning to implement our new Smarter Working Policy and reimagining our office spaces to support new ways of working. We’ve still got some way to go, and we’re learning all the time, but I’m proud to be part of these efforts as I believe they will make a significant long-term impact on employee well-being and productivity. It’s exciting to see flexibility become a reality and ‘norm’ for my colleagues, and wider networks. Whilst we’re certainly not yet experiencing true smarter working during ongoing restrictions, I’m looking forward to supporting our teams with a new hybrid way of working should they chose it.