To increase productivity, local authorities must empower employees

By Martin McFadyen - Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media Business

Rapid digital transformation across local authorities has been driven by necessity. 

But there’s a big difference between quickly adopting emergency measures and making sure they enable effective flexible working in the long term. 

And underinvestment in new ways of working, along with the ongoing costs of propping up legacy systems, have made it difficult for local authorities to work as effectively as possible during these challenging times.  

54% of HR leaders identify poor technology and infrastructure as the biggest barrier to effective remote working. 

Clearly empowering staff is key to providing a premium service. But what does this mean in practice? 

Getting it right means putting effective tools in people’s hands, wherever they happen to be working. 

Efficiency leads to empathy

Our report shows that one example of how to get it right is Edinburgh City Council, where innovation and staff empowerment are actively complementing each other. 

Like many authorities the council accelerated innovation following the pandemic, and digital tools are now at the heart of the way it works. 

As Stephen Moir, Edinburgh’s Executive Director of Resources, says:

“Previously it took three weeks to clear 400 landlord applications. When we automated that clearance process we had 80% cleared in three hours.”

Automation like this frees up staff to focus on more complex needs – citizens wanting to talk through issues face-to-face with a council representative, for example. 

“There’s more time for empathy, judgement and face-to-face human interaction,” says Moir.  

Digital technology itself can even lead to greater empathy. Cllr David Simmonds, who chairs the Local Government Association’s improvement and innovation board, suggests just two examples

“From investing in telecare so people can live independently in their homes for longer to using online services to tackle loneliness by putting neighbours in touch with each other.”

Examples of empowerment

The Local Government Association is collating examples of best practice across local authorities, sharing ideas for how authorities can empower employees to best meet the demands of their citizens. 

From reaching food bank clients via SMS to offering free courses on things like online banking, authorities are using technology to enable staff to offer a range of support services online. 

Wirral Council, for example, has been webcasting most public meetings since 2018. When the pandemic restrictions hit, the council carried on running meetings through Microsoft Teams and broadcasting them through the Public-I’s Connect Anywhere system

To begin with, they limited Teams to just four video feeds. Now, they’ve upgraded it to show up to 49, so pretty much anyone who wants to can tune in. 

For Campbell Park Parish Council in Milton Keynes, new collaboration technology has transformed ways of working. 

“Councillor attendance at the meetings has been boosted to virtually 100%,” says Cllr Dominic Warner. 

The council is using an array of virtual collaboration tools, including online meetings, phone calls, instant messaging, calendars and file sharing. 

Technology like Microsoft Teams introduces efficiency after efficiency. Photocopying and sharing paper documents before every meeting is a thing of a past. Now the paperwork is available digitally and employees can update it all online. 

Councils can choose to share that info with citizens online too. Anyone who has a smartphone or internet access is just a few secure clicks away from the information they need.

Heighten the happiness

A recent report published by the New Local Government Network in collaboration with the Local Government Association emphasises that a happy workplace is a productive one. 

The report suggests that “Now more than ever, local government needs a strategy to ensure employees are motivated, productive and flourishing. Local government needs to engage its current and future workforce to make sure they are ready to take on the challenges of tomorrow’s council.”

Inevitably, a workforce set free to do what it does best is happier. And happy professionals are more productive, efficient and safe. 

Now is the time to make sure that your colleagues are empowered with innovative digital technology so they can help citizens from anywhere. 

It’s about putting the latest and best tools in people’s hands, wherever they’re working from. Improving the employee experience has a tangible knock-on effect on people’s engagement. 

The statistics back that up. Organisations that fully focus on improving employee engagement are 82% more likely to provide better customer experience and 96% more likely to achieve overall profitability. 

Microsoft Teams isn’t perfect of course. There have been a number of times when the system went down during the pandemic. But by boosting the solution with a Unified Communications as a Service solution organisations can make it more resilient.

Digital Transformation means better outcomes all round

The ultimate outcome is improved support for citizens. Content, well-resourced professionals – equipped with exactly the tools they need – simply deliver a better service. 

They can quickly access data, communicate effectively with citizens and collaborate with colleagues. Legacy IT and issues of complex, fragmented interoperability can be streamlined, making it much easier for teams to serve customers and provide better access to services. 

It’s time to invest in cloud-driven communication and collaboration tools, innovative technology and the development of new skills. This combination will empower staff and inspire confidence in citizens who can be reassured that their data is secure and their needs are being met. 

Want to discover and harness the technology that empowers local authority staff?