Agenda item

Impact of COVID-19 on the Current Agile Working Programme

Minutes:

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation introduced the report and stated that the Council had seen lots of changes to working arrangements in a short space of time because of the pandemic. She highlighted that in December 2019 the agile working policy had been refreshed, but that because of COVID-19 the Council had to learn to adapt quickly to agile working for the majority of the workforce. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation thanked the IT team for their hard work in ensuring that all members of staff had access to the right equipment to work from home, including the fast-tracked rollout of Microsoft Teams. She clarified that although some services had to shut-down due to social distancing restrictions, the majority of services were being delivered successfully from home.

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation added that one of the main barriers to agile working pre-COVID19 had been the lack of home telephony solutions, but these had been successfully overcome within a week of lockdown being introduced. She added that the Council had also set up the TCCA, and given work mobile phones to those that needed them, as well as solving issues surrounding hunt groups. She stated that another barrier to agile working pre-COVID19 had been the amount of printing that had been done within the offices, but many services had been able to transfer successfully to digital working. She recognised that home working was not successful for all staff members, sometimes due to the lack of social interaction, particularly for those vulnerable people who were shielding. She stated that the Council had introduced new support packages for managers and staff to encourage social interaction virtually with team members, as well as a new e-learning agenda.

The Director of HR, OD and Transformation summarised and stated that agile working would continue to be the way of working once lockdown had ended, and her team were currently looking at ways to sustain the progress made. She added that as the country moved towards recovery, officers would be considering council buildings, as less space might be needed for staff, although a civic office would always be available for people who needed to work from the office.

The Chair welcomed the report and thanked officers for their hard work in keeping services running during this difficult time. He highlighted point 6.3 of the report and felt glad to see that agile working would become the new normality. He added that the transition to home working would also benefit the environment as people drove less and improved their carbon footprint. He queried what percentage of council staff would continue to be eligible for home working after lockdown had ended. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that there were approximately 2,500 people that worked for the Council, of which one third were frontline workers, such as care staff or waste collectors, and were based in the community. She stated that two-thirds of Council staff were office based, but confirmed that the majority of these roles could be undertaken from home. She stated that some services would remain in the Civic Offices as staff needed direct access to residents or colleagues. She felt that the policy of “less offices, better services” was ambitious, but hoped that the momentum started by COVID-19 could be sustained.

The Chair felt his key concern was ensuring good quality services for residents, and asked how oversight was being provided when staff members worked from home. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that providing good quality services was a key priority embedded in every Council officers expectations. She added that staff members were being monitored on their outcomes, and this was being overseen by individual managers. She added that during lockdown the number of resident’s complaints and member enquiries had decreased, and this would continue to be monitored. The Chair asked if home working had affected the level of staff sickness. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that pre-COVID19 the target for staff sickness had been 9 days, and the Council had struggled to achieve this. She was pleased to report that for 2019/20 the average number of day’s sickness had decreased to 8.2 days, representing great efforts by managers and HR. She stated that in the 2 months since lockdown began sickness had remained low due to number of factors such as a decrease in the spread of infections because of decreased social contact, and more flexibility for staff members. She clarified that the Council had always focussed on staff wellbeing and service provision, and was providing COVID-19 testing to those staff members that needed it.


Councillor Duffin congratulated officers on meeting the staff sickness target. He questioned the plans for the rebuild of the Civic Offices, and asked if discussions had been taking place on how to best utilise the space, if less office space for staff was needed. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation stated that the plans were currently being looked at, as although there is a need for the Civic Offices, the amount of space allocated to offices could change. She added that a baseline needed to be established post-lockdown of how many people needed to come into the offices on a regular basis, before any decisions could be made.

Councillor Ralph stated that he felt impressed at the speed of which the Council and its IT department had changed to home working. He added that working from home could have some negative impacts for people, such as loss of self-identity, decrease in physical and mental health, and the loss of an escape from home life. He queried what monitoring was being undertaken on members of staff to ensure their wellbeing whilst at home. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that staff wellbeing was critically important, and highlighted that sources of help were available on the intranet for any staff that needed it. She added that managers were encouraged to ensure their teams did not feel isolated, and were encouraged to hold team or one-to-one meetings on a daily basis.

RESOLVED: That:

1. The Committee commented on the content of the report and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ways of Working.

Supporting documents: