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Working smarter at Aberdeenshire Council

A Flexibility case study

Aberdeenshire Council is one of the pace-setters in introducing Smart Working in local authorities in Scotland.  Its Worksmart programme has been delivering a wide range of benefits, and is now being supplemented by a stronger focus on property rationalisation, styled WorkSPACE.

The Aberdeenshire approach is now being adopted as a model by several other councils, some of whom are also using the Worksmart brand.


The aim of Aberdeenshire’s Worksmart project can be summarised as:

  • Increasing productivity, in the light of reductions in funding
  • Using council accommodation more efficiently and effectively
  • Improving sustainability through reducing travel to work and business mileage and reducing the environmental impacts of premises
  • Improving service delivery by making services more available where and when the public wish to access them
  • Attracting and retaining staff and being an employer of choice.

The WorkSPACE programme involves an assessment of the Council’s property portfolio to find out the best places and spaces for Council staff to work in as they adopt more flexible and mobile forms of work.  This involves desk-sharing, with a maximum ratio of seven desks for every ten members of staff.  There is also a focus on improved spaces for collaboration, and the development of ‘hub’ type facilities throughout Aberdeenshire.

Key features of Worksmart and WorkSPACE

The Council has adopted a pragmatic approach to working smarter.  The aim is for the change to more modern ways of working to be as seamless as possible, to minimise any disruption to services and help departments to move at a speed they are comfortable with.

In the first phase this meant that Worksmart was a voluntary programme, focusing on promoting the business and personal benefits. Teams or individuals could apply online to change where and when they work.  With the need to rationalise property through the WorkSPACE programme, a more strategic approach is being adopted so that buildings can be vacated, with some being refurbished to support smart working and a new purpose-built office being built in Peterhead.

Worksmart involves staff adopting one of four work profiles: Fixed, Flexible, Mobile and Home*.  Aberdeenshire was one of the first local authorities to adopt this approach, which is becoming increasingly common in the public sector.

Additionally, staff can apply to change the times at which they work, with eight different patterns of working time: Annualised Hours, Compressed Hours, Day and Time of Day changes, Flexitime, Part-time working, Self Rostering, Shift Swapping and Term-time working.

Increased mobile and flexible working enables greater desk-sharing, with seven desks to ten people the current minimum target.  The Council has 98 offices with running costs of around £6 million per year.  WorkSPACE is targeting a reduction in the portfolio to 53 offices, making annual savings in running costs of £920,000.  Worksmart is clearly key to achieving this aim.

According to Mark Baker, Service Manager (Improvement & Performance) and driving force behind the Worksmart initiative, staff engagement has been a key element of the approach:

‘We’ve done a huge amount of staff engagement. Over 200 managers have been consulted so far, so we know the kinds of issues and concerns that they have, and how to provide the support they need.  We have a dedicated project team to support each service as it undergoes change.   Services know they can get the support they need, and this is reflected in the feedback we’ve had.

‘Having the support of senior managers is really important.  If the senior managers in a department are on board, that’s great.  Our focus then is more on supporting middle managers who will need to deal with managing in new ways – they are expected to become more modern managers, managing by results.’

The engagement and culture change process is supported by a very useful website with briefings, policies, news and case studies, regular updates and now by e-Learning packages as well.


The achievements to date are impressive.  Over 1200 staff have been through the applications and approval process for Worksmart, with a further 280 who have been assisted to change their working time patterns. 

Eight offices have been released so far, leading to savings of around £250,000 per year.

Significant travel savings have been recorded too.  Monitoring of the business mileage of 830 officers has shown that it has decreased by up to 16% per during one quarter in 2011 compared to the previous year.  Commuting mileage similarly saw significant reductions. Between 2010 and 2011, figures from 230 officers who recorded their commuting mileage showed a 69% reduction over the previous year: a savings of 204,730 400,049 miles and 51,116 104,593kg of CO2 through staff working at a location closer to home or from home.

Technology has also been moving forward to support the changes, with staff who adopt more mobile working practices being equipped with appropriate portable technologies.  Remote access is available for staff working away from the office, and a unified communications pilot has been carried out with a view to rolling out across the Council.

And a survey with 330 responses of people who had adopted Worksmart indicated that many of the benefits are being achieved, with people achieving both business and personal benefits, as the following chart illustrates:

Worksmart survey chart 

Particularly striking is the way smarter working is enabling staff to spend more time providing face to face services.  The survey also showed that 61% of managers felt staff had increased their productivity, with only 2% feeling productivity had decreased.


The Council has faced some of the usual challenges in terms of resistance to change.  According to Mark Baker, one of the biggest challenges has been the natural resistance that people feel in terms of ownership.  This can be in the sense of ownership that people feel for their desk, or their filing cabinet.  Sometimes the way forward is to tell people how much their desk and storage costs per year.  In this way staff are encouraged to take ‘ownership’ of the costs of their working practices.

There were also natural concerns about the potential impacts on teamwork and for some managers on managing people that they don’t see every day in the office.  But the results from the Worksmart survey showed that these are not significant problems in practice.

The Worksmart survey also highlighted some issues for some people in using unfamiliar technologies.  And there are the inevitable challenges with connectivity in a large rural area.  Paper-based processes are still heavily used in some parts of the Council, which also puts the brakes on mobility.  But all these issues are on the agenda and further technological improvements and training are set to address the issues.

What’s next?

Perhaps a distinctive challenge for Aberdeenshire is comes from their geographical situation.  Aberdeenshire is the fourth largest Scottish authority in terms of area.  It doesn’t include Aberdeen City, but does have the largest number of settlements of any Scottish local authority.  This means that ‘property rationalisation’ is not a straightforward affair, as there remains a need to keep an accessible presence throughout the region.  And there are local and political sensitivities around this.  So whereas an urban council might easily make the case to dispose of surplus office buildings, in large predominantly rural areas with small towns, the business case is different.

But having a presence in a locality and having an office there are not the same thing, so the Council is looking at a range of solutions.  One solution is to have service points in libraries and other local facilities. And the Council is also looking to develop ‘hub’ solutions – i.e. places where people can touch down to work – possibly shared with other public sector bodies.

The Worksmart project is set to continue to evolve, keeping the staff on board and delivering improved services to local people.

Mark Baker’s Top Tips

Flexibility asked Mark Baker for his Top Tips for other organisations setting out on the road to Smart Working.  Here are Mark’s tips:

  • Getting Senior Management Team buy-in is essential to give the project the legitimacy and momentum it needs
  • There needs to be a champion of smarter working on that team, to maintain the focus
  • There must be dedicated project resources to support departments making the change
  • The project team must have a good contacts in Property, ICT, HR and Finance
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel: speak to and learn from other organisations
  • Good communications are vital, and getting genuine engagement with staff at all levels.


* In more detail, the four workstyle profiles are:

  • Fixed working: staff work at a single place with no requirement for working away from their base
  • Flexible working: staff work at a single base for more than 50 per cent of their working time, perhaps working at multiple council locations. They have no requirement for a fixed work station and will work from home or remotely one or two days a week
  • Home working: staff spend around 90 per cent of their time working at home, with no requirement to work in the field and are provided with the required ICT to achieve this
  • Mobile working: staff work at their base for less than 50 per cent of their working time and have no requirement for a fixed work station, working at multiple council locations and working remotely or at home three days a week.


Aberdeenshire Council - Worksmart office environment

August 2012


A Smart Working Scottish
 local authority

All local autorities are facing the challenge of modernising services against a backdrop of diminishing funding.  Working smarter is key addressing the challenge of doing more with less.

But while some councils and government departments ponder the issues, others just get up and start modernising.   Aberdeenshire Council is one of those setting the pace.

Here we take a look at the Council's Worksmart and WorkSPACE programmes, which are attracting a lot of attention from councils around the UK.

Flexibility.co.uk spoke with Mark Baker who heads up Worksmart there to get an insight into the achievements and challenges.  Our thanks to Mark, and to Worksmart Team Leader Worksmart Team Leader Helen Strachan for added input.















Aberdeenshire Worksmart - mobile workstyle

Mobile Smart Working is a key part of Aberdeenshire Worksmart - enabling field staff to spend more time at the front line




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