Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) wants to create a
modern flexible workplace. More flexible working
arrangements can play a vital role in organisational
performance. WBC recognises that social,
technological and economic developments have changed
and influenced not only the way people think about
working, but also the way in which customers want to
The Council has also been affected by Government
cuts that have meant further reductions in spending,
and a need to find new ways of delivering services
WBC began with one main aim for the project, and
that was around cost savings and property reduction,
however it was soon clear that Smart Working could
tick a number of boxes.
The main aims are to improve work / life balance,
with ‘work’ being in many cases not place dependent,
realise financial savings by introducing a 2:1 desk
policy that would allow a rationalisation of
accommodation and generate revenue from vacated
space that could potentially be rented to third
parties. Aligned to this was a target to reduced
storage by 50%.
This new way of working would also lead to
contribute to corporate goals by supporting a
reduction in congestion at peak travel times,
delivering better services – whatever the weather!,
and ensuring value for money by less reliance on
costly office accommodation.
How are we implementing Smart Working?
Inter-disciplinary Project Team
WBC began their Smart Working journey around 2
years ago. A project team was set up which included
people with expertise in Property, IT and HR – these
were identified as the 3 key enablers to deliver on
The project followed Prince 2 methodology and
high levels of governance to ensure that good
practice was being followed throughout. The aims
and outcomes were agreed, and the biggest challenged
was working to the 2:1 desk policy that had been set
in order to accommodate more people in less space.
There were around 1200 people to move to Smart
Working and a deadline to vacate costly premises by
A challenging project plan was created and an
overall approach to deliver Smart Working to a
‘pilot’ area, before rolling out fully across the
Council. This would allow the project team to check
approaches, processes, technology and collate
feedback on the experience from people.
As a result of the pilot, the overall Smart
Working policy was amended to make it easier to
understand and remove unnecessary categories of
worker. There are now 2 categories: Fixed and Smart.
A communications and engagement plan was created
to ensure that a variety of methods was adopted to
communicate key corporate, and individually tailored
messages to people.
Meeting with people
The project team began working with each Head of
Service to agree a schedule of moves and approach.
Thereafter face to face meetings were set up with
lead Smart Working coordinators nominated from each
service team. The meetings involved talking through
the process and providing support on people issues,
property and technology the project team.
Requirements were taken from every individual in
terms of their technology and storage needs. Every
Smart Worker would be using a laptop and crypto card
to enable them to work from any location. People
were shown what models and sizes of laptop were
available for them to choose from.
Managers were simultaneously talking to their
direct reports about their own personal ability to
Smart Work i.e. Was it possible for them to work
from home as an alternative location? The
individuals’ jobs were also reviewed in terms of
whether the role could be delivered flexibly, or
whether there was an organisational requirement for
the ‘role’ to be fixed in the office. Careful
consideration needed to be given to this as the more
‘fixed’ office roles there were, the less scope
there is to achieve the target of a 2:1 desk ratio.
An organisational decision was made to keep all
administrators as fixed workers i.e remain office
based. These were a key group of people that helped
support services on a daily basis.
Teams are still located together, but now make
use of un-personalised ‘hot desks’, or ‘touch down
points’ if they are only in the office for a short
period of time. The principle is that if people do
not have meetings, or need to habit a desk in the
office, then they should work from an alternative
Training people and managing change
Within the face to face meetings the project team
listened to peoples requirements, concerns and
issues and gave as much advice and support as
possible. The team also signposted people to other
areas such as Managers Training courses on managing
Smart Workers, employee e-learning modules about
working remotely and the intranet where lots of
practical advice and tips were held on protocols,
policies, technology etc
Overall there are expectations of people that
follow some basic principles:
- Be customer focused
- Flexible, adaptable and resilient
- Strong performance management
- Management by outputs
- Be more efficient through the use of
These are supported by an organisational People
The new way of working is a challenge for some.
It is not only a change in working style, and in
some cases process, but also a need to become more
familiar in using different types of technology and
hardware to work more productively.
Some people feel isolated working from other
locations where they may not have contact with their
colleagues, so additional interventions such as a
buddy system and conference calling have been
implemented to mitigate this. Additional meeting
rooms have also been created so that teams can still
go to a central place to meet up.
Reducing storage has also been a challenge for
some. WBC is in the middle of rolling out EDRMS to
enable us to be more efficient around storing
documents and data, and using technology as an
enabler for this.
Supporting Smart Working to work
To ensure that Smart Working ‘Works’ staff and
managers need to have some guidance around
behaviours to ensure Service Delivery is efficient
and effective despite changes to working patterns.
Hot-desking has encouraged staff to clear their
desk once they’ve finished with it. This has
resulted in staff not having to inhabit a work space
surrounded by paper, files etc. Because hot-desking
means Smart Workers no longer have a desk of their
own, some Services have implemented a desk booking
system to ensure staff who are in the office can use
Hot-desking and working at home has meant that
people may not know where to find each other. There
are a number of ways to avoid confusion, staff can
update and open their outlook calendars to show
where they are located along with the telephone
number that they can be contacted on.
Flexibility will be restricted if the job/service
involves regularly meeting customers or receiving
phone calls. Staff and managers are encouraged to
work together to produce a protocol. This may
include staff having Open calendars, Publicise
contact numbers within calendar and on intranet,
Phones transferred to mobiles/VOiP phones, Better
use of voicemail with alternative ways to contact.
Copies of example protocols are located on the
intranet to share good practice ideas.
To date, 286 people have moved to Smart Working
with another 540 to move.
There have been both financial and people-related
achievements to date.
- The disposal of assets, aiming for £500,000
capital receipt and year on year saving of
- A new Shared Legal Service model developed
in partnership with another local authority
where income from office space charges is being
- 82% of our people say they are more
productive at home
- 38% reduction in office space to date
- 286 people now Smart Working
- 540 people under the current programme of
- Lesson learned review after Lower Ground
Floor moves, resulted in a revised ‘New Ways of
- 65% of Wokingham Direct (call centre) staff
- 20% of these work permanently from home
- During the snow events of 2010 and 2011,
they were able to staff the phones throughout
their normal working hours of 8-6 with smart
workers managing the extremities of the day
- By having a resilient workforce they have
been able to manage customer/media enquiries in
a timely manner, residents have been surprised
with the levels of service they have received
- Sickness absence down to 5.43 FTE days per
person, in areas where we are Smart Working that
figures reduces to 3.54 days per person (Private
The next stage of this project is to continue
with the approach until the remaining staff have
moved across to Smart Working. The target for this
is April 2013 when WBC needs to vacate costly
Creation of a ‘one stop shop’ reception will also
see those teams that work more closely with
residents and service users, all in one place.
There is a need to look at measuring more areas
in terms of achievement i.e. productivity, reduction
in travel time / miles, people retention. Further
work will be conducted to gather evidence and
feedback for measurement.
Comments from Smart
Working Project Manager, Stephanie Maxwell
‘As the Project Manager of Smart Working I
would say that this has been a Project that evolved
from a Property Rationalisation Project borne out
of a desire to achieve financial savings but
developed over time into part of a wider cultural
With budgets reducing and demands increasing,
as an organisation we have needed to explore
alternative means of service delivery and a way of
maximising the use of our property portfolio was
identified as a way forward.
Some of the successes so far have been that
we have disposed of assets securing a capital
receipt of £500k, in addition we have made an
ongoing revenue saving of £50k per annum.
The desk ratio of 2:1, though ambitious has
been achievable in some areas, ensuring space has
been created for staff from another location to move
in around April next year. The space now occupied
at Shute End is definitely more aesthetically
pleasing. People are less dependent on paper files
so storage is at a minimum.
Staff are overall happy with the change to
their working practices and feel more empowered as
they are managed by outputs not the time they are
sat at a desk. However, in moving to this new way of
working there have been significant challenges along
the way. Not least was buy in from some service
areas and indeed managers. There was a culture of
space according to status and perhaps staff also
felt that with the likelihood of impending job cuts
they needed to be in the office more not less.
Gradually and with a significant amount of help from
Organisational Development we are slowly winning
hearts and minds.
The way forward we learned was to involve all
stakeholders early and allow them to be part of the
process, more doing with and less doing to.
Property, HR and IT were initially the 3 identified
departments to enable Smart Working, however, as the
project gained pace and momentum we have invited
various different people to join the Project Board
(our IT partners for example), we have also widened
our approach to include Communications and Finance.’
Strategic Communications Lead at Wokingham Borough
‘When I was first asked to become a smart
worker two years ago, I was nervous. As the lead
officer for communications, and spending a vast
majority of my time dealing with external
communications and the media, I didn’t see how it
would work if I wasn’t based in the office. I see
myself as the eyes and ears of the organisation and
I had concerns about keeping my finger on the pulse.
How would I know what the burning issues are, or
what media enquiries my team are dealing with?
I couldn’t have been more wrong – my location
doesn’t impact on this. And I don’t think our
customers have noticed a difference in the service
we provide. I am more productive. I plan my week
around the days I work at home – for example the
days when I have to write copy for our residents
newsletter or proof it, I work at home as it’s quiet
and I can get my head down. I usually work at home
two or three days a week.
I find when I am back at Shute End, I really
look forward to being there and seeing my
colleagues. With our new look Intranet, I can keep
up to date with the latest internal news or
corporate blogs, and email is a good way to keep in
touch with the team. With instant messenger being
introduced next year that will also benefit internal
communications. I am sure over time more and more
internal social media channels will come on board.
With the rest of the team working more
flexibly at a different locations, one member of the
team is in the office every day to be on hand to
deal with any face to face queries. Other members
of the team are available by telephone and email as
usual. Every Wednesday, we all come into the Civic
Offices, allowing us the chance to have a team
meeting, catch up on the week’s events and
brainstorm ideas for projects.
This doesn’t mean to say the rest of the week
we don’t speak to each other – far from it, as it’s
very important we keep our own communications
channels open. We regularly talk on the phone,
either on a one to one basis or as a conference
call. It just goes to show that with the right
technology you don’t need to be in the same room to
have meaningful conversations. In fact, ‘meeting’ on
the phone can often me more productive that a face
to face. That’s not to say there aren’t times when a
face to face meeting is more appropriate.
We still have a few problems every now and
then such as slow IT or mobile phone reception being
patchy. But there aren’t any issues we can’t over
come. Having the right mindset helps. By working
in a smarter way, I believe the organisation is
becoming more productive. It is about fitting the
work into your hours as opposed to hours into your