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Working Beyond the Walls of Government

Transforming the government workplace

The UK government, like most governments, has a lot of property. 13.5 million square metres in the civil estate. 72% of this estate is offices.  The total asset base was worth £220 billion ($383 billion).  And the government wants to use these assets more wisely, with new ways of working at the centre of a programme to transform the government estate.

The report Working Beyond Walls sets out the rationale for smarter working in central government and sets out a blueprint for workplace change, providing case studies of departments that are progressing along this path. 

Distributed working, according to the report, is

"a key response to government's policy requirement for a civil estate that is smaller, more tightly managed, flexible, agile, environmentally and socially sustainable, and that delivers value for money."

Working Beyond Walls outlines a series of measures to ensure the Civil Service adapts to meet the challenges of the modern age, and is set to radically enhance ways in which civil servants deliver high quality services. It paints a picture of the Civil Service in 2020 where home-working and mobile working is commonplace, and Government office workspaces are used more efficiently and operations are more sustainable.

The guide encourages new thinking on information and communication technology, styles of working, estate transformation, strategic asset management, sustainable design and human resource issues. It is intended to lead to the further development in the Civil Service of diverse workspaces and innovative ways of working that deliver greater productivity, attract talent, and ultimately provide better value for money for the taxpayer. It also considers the importance of safeguarding data security, the environment and developing a healthier work / life balance.

Strategic and practical approach

Central to the guide is the principle that the approach to new ways of working must be strategic.  It recognises that up until recently many central government initiatives have been ad hoc or partial implementations - and that this needs to change.  This is essential as the new approach being carried forward by OGC aims to to achieve up to £1.5bn in efficiency savings annually by 2013.

The guide, however, moves beyond strategy and vision to set out the principles for introducing new working practices and new workplaces design, and the practical steps needed to realise them.

Central to the new ways of working is the effective use of technology - not for its own sake but to liberate civil servants from their offices and allow them to work from wherever is most effective and appropriate.

The case studies show a range of developing smart working practices.  Some of these, such as the DVLA and Northern Ireland civil service focus very much on a modernised office environment that encompasses forms of desk-sharing for a more mobile workforce, while others such as the Ofsted case study look at more radical change where government employees are mostly home-based.

Blueprint for managing change

One of the most useful sections of the guide for public sector managers looking to change the way they work are in the 'Workplace blueprint for the future'.   This contains several checklists of options and activities, and outlined a project management structure and route map for achieving change.

Finally, there is a chapter on 'Reimagining the government workplace', which looks forward to how the government workplace ought to be in 2020. It is lean, green and decentralised.  Whitehall is now a campus centre for policy initiatives and knowledge working.  It is a place where:

"High-tech serviced working and meeting spaces have brought together both internet and baby-boomer generations to work and meet in team neighbourhoods, non-territorial ICT labs and airline-style club-lounges. Full-immersion room displays and computer animated virtual environments (CAVES) support communication between remote teams. Life size, standup telepresence enables people to meet and speak in real time across the globe using hologram video technology."

This is complemented by a network of similar campuses around the country:

"Away from London and centred on each UK region, alongside each campus headquarters is a shared service centre (SSC), which enable economies of scale to be achieved through centralizing administrative
and transactional functions across branches of government. Where cost and space permit, family-friendly reception areas allow parents access to
childcare facilities."

Extensive use of contract staff and consultants is expected to be part of the mix.  Homeworking will be a natural way of working for most staff who want to do so.

It's exciting that this is now a vision endorsed by central government.  The reality is - as the case studies indirectly show - that while there are big developments in changing government workplaces, there's still a long way to go to change the culture and to have the majority of government employees empowered and enabled to work beyond walls.

October 2008


Working Beyond Walls - The government workplace as an agent of change provides a blueprint for a radical change in the way government works. 

The new government workplace should be lean, green and flexible, enabled by a strong commitment to using new technologies, and reducing the focus on work as a place rather than an activity.

The report is a collaboration between the  Office for Government Commerce (OGC) and strategic design consultancy DEGW.  The report is available from the OGC website.



Flexibility verdict

This is a well-written and authoritative guide to transforming the government workplace.

It also takes an honest look at what has been done so far, and the progress that is needed,

We hope the government sector implements the practices set out in the guide, and achieves the vision set out in the final chapter.

Highly recommended!

















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