Flexible Working in the Public Sector: From Evolution to Revolution

As the government push for a return to offices, so organisations across the public sector have been reviewing their working processes and their workspaces.

Having adopted remote working practices at scale, many employers will be questioning if there’s still a need for physical offices in the way that they existed before COVID-19. And, if so, what will they look like given the safety guidelines that need to be adhered to?

At this pivotal moment, we spoke to a panel of Smart Working experts to ask them about their experiences of remote working in the pandemic, and to get their view of what the working environment of the future will look like in the public sector?

For Portsmouth City Council, like many public sector organisations, the impact of COVID-19 was immediate and substantial.

"We did have a very traditional work style”

Jeremy Underdown, Head of Facilities, described how the number of employees based in Portsmouth’s 15,000 square metre civic offices fell from 2,000, to just 250 core staff, responsible for critical service provision.


This shift to remote working represented a big change in the way Portsmouth’s workforce operated.

“Pre COVID, whist we were beginning to take our first steps towards change, we did have a very traditional work style”, Underdown explained, “with homeworking the exception rather than the norm”.

“We’ve moved from an evolutionary process to revolution in just a few months.”

Portsmouth’s experience will be familiar to many public sector organisations working through change programmes. Aided by improvements in technology, remote working has been on the agenda for employers for some years. The pandemic simply acted as a catalyst to accelerate the pace of change.

“We’ve moved from an evolutionary process to revolution in just a few months.” said Paul Allsop, founder and MD of The Agile Organisation, a niche consultancy that helps organisations with agile and smart working programmes.

This was the case at the MoD too.

“You think you have a mature Smarter journey,” said Trish Jakeman, Smarter Working Lead at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, “and then COVID comes along and gives you an opportunity to build it even further, particularly with remote working”.

“Now is the opportunity for significant and lasting change”

Jakeman’s sense of opportunity was a view shared by Underdown.

“Now is the opportunity for significant and lasting change that will benefit both sides of the fence, employer and employee”, he said.  "Those organisations that do get it right will be the ones people want to work for”.

However, he added that, for some, entrenched attitudes to flexible working at senior management level may continue be a barrier to achieving long-lasting change.

"How do we change the thinking of those that keep talking about getting back to normal, or those that think the best way to get efficiency is to have everyone sat in front of you?”

For Trish Jakeman, the pandemic hasn’t changed the goals, just how they are achieved. “Our vision remains the same, this is about enabling people to work at the right place and the right time and with the right people, it’s how we execute it that needs to be updated.”

“The new normal won’t be a one-size-fits-all"

Meanwhile, Paul Allsop stressed how Smarter Working approaches that might work for one organisation, may not be right for others.

“The new normal won’t be a one size fits all. Each organisation needs to consider its own situation, its own learning and its own experiences and prepare its own new normal”. 

Click here to download an in-depth report summarising the experiences, learnings and predictions of our expert panel.

Smart - Free report - blog image
These topics and many more will be covered at the Smart Estates and Workforce Virtual Summit on 10 November.  Find out more at http://smartestatessummit.co.uk.