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
- 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
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
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
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
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:
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.