Government Property in 2030

Government Property in 2030 – Hybrid and Hubs Panel

Matrix Booking were privileged to launch the Hybrid and Hubs Series at the Government Property in 2030 conference, where the Government Property Agency outline their future property and workplace strategy. This event in Manchester was attended by over 250 property and workplace professionals from across the UK public sector. As part of the day’s proceedings, Matrix Booking hosted the first Hybrid and Hubs session in the series. This discussion included questions posed to the guest panel from the audience, and provided an excellent platform to debate some of the hottest topics in workplace today.

“Hubs and Hybrid” is a new series focused on the ongoing development of Government hubs as a cornerstone of property strategy, and the role of Hybrid Working that is turbocharging flexibility across the UK public sector. The panellists represented HMRC, the Ministry of Justice, UK Health Security Agency, and the London Borough of Barnet. Audience attendees included central Government, local councils, NHS and other public sector organisations.

Understanding Building usage in the new Hybrid World

The first topic sought understanding regarding how occupiers can understand the usage of space. Given the huge changes in working practices and policies in the last 2.5 years, this was cited as a challenge for all panellists. London Borough of Barnet commented that in order to understand space usage and requirements post Covid, they couldn’t use technology as there simply wasn’t the time. Surveys for both staff and management enabled a balanced view of different stakeholders regarding their requirements for workspace.

For the Ministry of Justice the team have been much more experienced in the use of occupancy sensors alongside ad-hoc surveys to understand real time and forecasted usage. The understanding of actual utilisation has been instrumental in achieving headline property objectives, where four properties have been merged into one. Real time usage data has been powerful in terms of advising the property team regarding what type and size of space is required, when looking to set up a new commuter Hub for their workforce.

The UK Health Security Agency viewed the effectiveness of their workplace not just as an estates problem, but an organisational wide problem. As a newly created department taking over from Public Health England the UKHSA had to rapidly create a working environment that was fit for purpose, using the survey and observable evidence of space requirements. With a unique mix of work settings including specialist laboratories, getting the workplace setup correctly has been vital to staff productivity during an incredibly testing time for the new organisation. The workforce of UKHSA has doubled in the past two years, which has meant forecasting space usage has been challenging. Hybrid working has enabled the attraction of a greater pool of talent. Enabling aspects of work to be completed at home, in the office or in a laboratory has resulted in a positive impact on user experience and talent retention.

Benefits and Challenges in the use of Government Hubs and Shared Spaces

Shared Hubs are a core strategy for the Government Property Agency, as part of the “One Public Estate” directive. This approach encourages public sector organisations to co-habit and share spaces with other public sector organisations. This results in workplaces that are vastly improved for their users, encourages cross-departmental and organisational collaboration, which is all delivered at a lower total cost of ownership for the taxpayer.

The Ministry of Justice were early trailblazers in the use of Hubs as part of the commuter hub network that was established in 2014. The founding principle of this was to enable MoJ staff the flexibility to work from wherever suited them and their requirements. This could mean using an MoJ facility closer to home, thereby unlocking huge potential across the entire UK estate. The Ministry of Justice working with Matrix Booking won a number of industry awards in 2015 for the delivery of the Commuter Hubs program. MoJ staff can book across the commuter hub network, with facilities to book spaces wherever and whenever they needed them. The pandemic and lockdowns resulted in a radical shift to an approach of ‘work from anywhere’. Properties have been adapted much more towards collaboration and in-person meetings. A fundamental part of the user journey is having a simple user interface and process for them to locate, book and use a required space. In the hybrid world an important part for staff is easy access to audio-visual technology, enabling a seamless connection between onsite and remote attendees.

Evolving Staff Requirements and Keeping Pace with Workplace Change

For the London Borough of Brent, the council have been letting out redundant space within their properties to private and commercial tenants.  This has created a more vibrant location for council colleagues.  The ongoing idea is to create a work environment that is attractive, where staff make the choice to want to work from the office.  Investments have been made to create a coffee lounge on the ground floor to help facilitate a livelier atmosphere.  Colleagues have commented they are choosing to come into the office to be connected with their colleagues and wider teams.  For these people the use of the office is a positive choice.   Other changes have been made to make the office replicate more of a “home environment”.  This includes additional soft furnishings, improved collaboration and meeting settings, and considerations being made to include the possibility of a creche.  These workplace changes are aligning more with organisations found in the private sector.  Through staff surveys, the council identified a number of colleagues for whom home working was not appropriate for them personally, therefore maintaining some desks for these colleagues on a full-time basis was essential.

Reflecting on the past two to three years, HMRC have seen a massive change in the way people work together.  The difference in ways of working from previous years is staggering.  HMRC completed a radical change in their property and workplace strategy, through downsizing from over 137 buildings into 13 regional hubs across the UK.  This program is on track to deliver £300 million of savings by 2025.  Each of these regional hubs are fantastic places to work and have proved to be very successful with teams and tenants alike.  Staff have provided feedback that these hubs are great places to work, with collaboration across other teams within the department, as well as other tenants from different Government organisations.  People can learn from completely disparate organisations what they do, and this has created a shared purpose amongst colleagues.  The variety in work settings, coupled with the balance of hybrid has made HMRC a really exciting place to be.

The importance of people and places

Hybrid is driving a completely different conversation regarding property and workplace strategy across the Ministry of Justice.  The location is important, but equally are the facilities contained within.  Workplace is now a broad and integrated conversation, that is more than just a simple desk.  There has been a significant shift towards more project based spaces, collaborative settings, and larger areas for on site events and department wide meet ups that have a greater event based focus than standard meeting rooms.

For UKHSA there has been particular thought given around how to support management and leadership levels in the context of hybrid working, including guidance on people management, communication, and how to set and measure expectations on staff output.  There is equally a generational variance regarding how hybrid working is viewed.  Younger graduates see greater benefits to office based working, perhaps due to lack of work options at their home.  There is also a need to feel connected to the wider organisation, which is also reflected in newer staff having their perceptions on how to progress from a career perspective.  Learning and development is key for these colleagues, and they want to make the connections and networks that will help establish their career.

Benefits of Hybrid Working to Staff, Teams, and the Organisation

Through surveys and listening to colleagues, HMRC have understood some of the benefits of hybrid working for staff.  Feedback suggest that staff are happier with the working arrangements, are more productive when they can choose how and where they work, and teams have been enabled to work anywhere.  For collaboration, a choice of different work environments means teams can chose the appropriate setting for their needs.  It is also important to note that the public who are the consumers of HMRC services have not seen any change in the levels of services as a result of these new ways of working.  A similar public facing survey is conducted by the London Borough of Brent to ensure that the wider public feel the council are getting their service delivery right.  It is an important feedback cycle as the organisation continues to go through significant change in ways of working.  With UKHSA the specialised nature of work in laboratories and other settings means that as many as 60% of staff aren’t able to take full advantage of working from home.  With significant workloads relating to Covid and more recently the Monkeypox outbreak, the focus has been on overcoming these challenges with leadership focused on output and productivity. A rolling six monthly review of work settings ensures there are opportunities to learn and adapt moving forward.

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