As newly appointed smart working champion for DfT I’m quickly getting used to being asked to define what smart working is.
You can Google lots of different definitions, and to a certain extent it comes down to semantics. In our smart working strategy we describe it as about “enabling our people to work how and where they please”. I would shorten that further to “flexible working plus”. To me that sums up why we are increasing our efforts to support and encourage our people to make the most of the digital tools and techniques on offer to help meet the needs of the business and fit in better with their lifestyles.
My home is in Ilkley in Yorkshire, north of Leeds, which is a gorgeous place to live, but a bit inconvenient for popping into our London offices. So my working life is one of weekly commuting; generally down to London on a Monday and then back to civilisation, to work from home, on a Thursday or Friday. The working from home bit is really important to me in terms of sanity, and I am at least as available and effective on my home working days as when I am in the office in London. I will freely admit I am not yet a smart working whizz. I still do a lot of teleconferencing and use email to communicate most of the time. But I am now getting better at using video conferencing instead, and plan to make much greater use of ‘Share not Send’ collaboration tools to trim down the volume of emails.
We are already pretty good at smart working in DfT, as evidenced by the bumper crop of Cabinet Office “The Way We Work” awards we won at the start of the year. Being pretty good is only a start though. We want all of our people to be able to benefit from being able to work in this way and have been actively promoting smart working through our intranet, at away days and staff events, through our network of digital champions, and (most importantly) by example. This includes demonstrating that smart working is definitely something for our senior leaders - some of whom live many miles from our London HQ, are forever between meetings and rely on being able to work effectively from any location. We are improving our video conferencing, offering training and tips on how to use smart working tools, and raising awareness of the benefits of smart working by connecting with campaigns such as Diversity & Inclusion, and wellbeing initiatives.
We are also in the early stages of designing a refurbishment of our London offices and will be taking the opportunity to create a modern working environment that has smart working built in. That offers us a great opportunity to create an office space that blends technology with user needs to make much fuller use of the working spaces we have on offer than we do currently.
But being a smart working champion has brought it home to me how much this is about culture and behaviour, not buildings and technology – they are simply an enabler or, if you get it wrong, a potential barrier. And lasting cultural change is, of course, always one of the trickiest things for any organisation. So while we have come a long way already, we know there is much further we can go. We will be keen to work with and learn from others as we go – and posting regularly on our progress.
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