Governments embrace the modern workplace
They’re catching up to the private sector when it comes to creating workplaces that better meet the needs of their employees
Governments have been slower to adapt. But they’re now getting in on the act.
Take Australia’s department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is transforming the way it does business by giving staff a choice of settings to do their work across its Canberra offices. They've made innovation their ultimate objective after rolling out successful pilot programs.
In Canada, they've adopted a set of standards designed to give government employees greater flexibility in how and where they can work. Known as GCWorkplace, it incorporates the expertise of IT and information management departments, along with human resources, security and facilities.
The underlying motivation behind these initiatives is to drive down costs and, importantly, put a focus on wellness, says Chris Hunt, Head of Government Business for JLL in Australia.
“Millennials are demanding more comfortable and connected workplaces, and governments are getting to grips with the need to respond in practical, transformational ways if they want a workforce that is productive, agile, and equipped to respond to the new ways people want to access public services,” he says.
The rise of cloud computing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, apps and automation is giving governments the means to modernise. In several countries, adoption is being mandated, including in Sweden and Argentina.
Michael Keenan, Australia’s minister for digital transformation, echoed the broad sentiment last year. “In a world where most people can’t remember the last time they physically went into a bank, we cannot expect citizens to put up with multiple logins, outdated paper forms and spending time queuing to access services face-to-face,” he said.
The PM&C’s Working your Way strategy puts a heavy emphasis on digitisation. Staff can access resources on mobile phones and new digital tools include CabNet+ viewer, which allows documents to be circulated electronically and viewed by approved users via secure devices.
Results from the trial of the scheme show there’s merit in a better connected, more agile future for government. Staff satisfaction leapt from 34 percent to 88 percent and there was a perceived increase in productivity by more than 35 percent.
Technology was also central to a workplace transformation for the town council in Bristol, UK. Over three years, thousands of staff transitioned to mobile phones from landlines, moved to laptops from desktops, and began working in flexible, collaborative workspaces. The capacity of the council’s 1930s Grade II-listed city hall building increased from 400 people to 2,000 people, enabling the council to accommodate more of its partners.
Barriers to change
Still, governments worry about protecting classified information, which can sometimes be cited as a reason to avoid change, according to James Tonkin, JLL’s Head of Federal Government Business in Australia.
He describes the recent approvals of US-centric tech giants like Microsoft as cloud-storage providers to the Australian Federal Government as “a major step”.
“Those government agencies that cite IT security as a reason not to progress will be left behind and their ability to grow a flexible workforce will be affected,” Tonkin says.
As cyber threats become more sophisticated it is impractical to protect technology systems from every possible breach. However, according to consultancy firm McKinsey and Company in a guide for government transformations, adding extra resources to protect the most sensitive and valuable information as well as exchanging knowledge with the private sector on comparable threats can make governments more resilient.
Security concerns are not the only hurdles. Changes in government are too, according to Tonkin. Though he highlights that the significant upheaval of people and offices that often goes with the territory actually makes cloud-based and wireless technology even more compelling.
Age is also a challenging factor. The average age of Australia’s public sector workforce is 44 years-old, compared to 38 years in the private sector. While there are benefits to an older cohort of employees, it can also slow down change as “different generations can have conflicting ideas on how offices should be configured”, says Tonkin.
Even so, with increasing scrutiny of the efficiency of government estates, few agencies are now isolated from the force of progress. Those that embrace it will be infinitely better off, says JLL’s Hunt. “These departments will be where ideas are shared, projects will be collaboratively delivered and where more employees will want to be – it’s just human nature,” Hunt says.