The public sector has been grappling with a significant challenge for the past decade: how to reduce property portfolios and physical workspaces to increase efficiency and save money while still providing high-quality services to UK taxpayers.
This question arose following the Ministry of Justice's revised workplace strategy and 'People Plan' in 2014, which put public sector estate management under the microscope. As a result, organizations were tasked with reducing their property portfolios while maintaining service quality.
The National Probation Service and HMRC soon followed suit, collaborating to reduce the number of physical sites and consolidate their estates. HMRC also announced plans to consolidate its estate from over 220 buildings to less than 20 regional hubs.
The Cabinet Office even established the Government Property Agency to oversee the entire public estate. This shift aimed to encourage collaboration, engagement and shared spaces, all while reducing the need for long-distance commutes.
This shift is important for a sector depending heavily on face-to-face communication between employees and citizens. It was designed to promote collaboration, enable smoother engagement, and reduce long-distance commutes via shared offices and regional hubs.
Therefore, we are looking forward to 2023 and returning to the first, slightly modified, key question: How can the government reduce its real estate portfolio while encouraging employees to work in an era where hybrid working is common?
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Both public and private entities faced similar issues during the transition to a hybrid. These included communication, cybersecurity, preservation of business culture, and tech access. The former's pre-existing mission of scaling down its real estate has made it particularly difficult to navigate issues related to location and workplace makeup.
This aspect of consolidation was already important. It led to the formation of hub networks. There has been an emphasis on the creation of many metropolitan hubs as well as associated mini-hub networks through programs such as the MoJ’s "The Way We Work (TW3)" initiative and the local government's "One Public Estate" initiative.
These spaces were created to allow civil servants to choose from different workspace formats and environments depending on their work scope. A worker's choice of location may also be affected by their need to collaborate and how much.
Each hub was designed to incentivize public servants to travel further if they were placed at a geographical disadvantage. Therefore, the office's scope should be sufficient to justify the travel time.
The importance of these hubs being worth the trip has increased with the seismic shift away from traditional in-office work on a national level. However, the challenge goes beyond just the location. It is also important to ensure that the facilities and functionality of these hubs are on point.
Suppose the public sector plans to reduce its real estate in order to transform the sector into one that is more collaborative and has special functions. In that case, these new spaces should be available before people arrive. Furthermore, these hubs must be available and consistent, as workers have the option of choosing where they want to work based on their location, task, or collaboration needs. If they are unable to find what they need at one office, it will be difficult for them to find the right place.
Technology is unavoidable at this point. It provides workers with a consistent, connected, real-time platform to view what's available when, for how much, and for what purpose.
Because of the sensitive nature of public servants' work, resource management systems are traditionally built on-premise in order to limit access and usage. However, to make these opportunities available to more institutions, it is important to have a similar secure infrastructure to allow for their optimisation and use.
Benefits of a Hybrid Working Model
The benefits of a hybrid working model are significant enough to merit a dedicated article. During a recent interview with Paul Saer, Core's Head of Public Sector, he highlighted several key points:
- Increased productivity: Many employees have experienced a boost in productivity thanks to the flexibility of working from home, managing their responsibilities, and meeting colleagues in person when necessary.
- Reduced operational costs: Office space is often one of the biggest expenses for organizations, including rent, power, cooling, security, and furniture. Adopting a hybrid working model can reduce the amount of office space needed, thus cutting costs and freeing up funds for other areas of the organization.
- Improved Corporate Social Responsibility: As businesses reduce their office space, they also reduce their carbon footprint by decreasing CO2 emissions from cooling, power, and commuting. The adoption of a hybrid working model presents numerous opportunities for public sector organizations to lower their carbon footprint.
- Increased flexibility in future plans: The flexibility of hybrid working provides organizations with greater flexibility and agility, which they may not have had before the pandemic. In light of the success of UK lockdowns, organizations are preparing for any future lockdowns by adopting hybrid working models.