Rise in staff working from home could prompt council to sell offices

The rise in the number of people working from home could allow the council and other public bodies to sell or rent out buildings or office space that they no longer need.

Fewer officials may need to commute to work – and more of them could work at shared desks and in shared offices when they do head in to public buildings.

The trends and prospects are set out in a report to councillors before a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting in the coming week.

The number of people working from home soared during the coronavirus pandemic. Since the lockdowns and related restrictions ended, opinions have been divided on the merits of working from home versus going back to the office.

Spacewords Brighton

During the pandemic more people had to go online – rather than in person to the town hall or other civic buildings – when they were using a growing number of council services.

The switch from in person to online is not new – and sometimes, as with parking permit renewals, the change has not always gone as smoothly as it could have done.

But the trend looks likely to continue and, on Thursday (6 October), the council’s Policy and Resources Committee is due to debate a programme known as “Future Ways of Working”.

The mix of working from home and the office is referred to as hybrid working and the council is keen to exploit the trend.

The report, to the Policy and Resources Committee, said: “Our future ways of working must support the needs of our customers and must also balance our use of workspaces in a way that is efficient and sustainable.

“(It must) make the best use of our technological investments and continue to provide our staff with a valued flexible working offer.

“In addition, our flexible workspaces will continue to develop to make collaboration between colleagues and partners easier to best serve the needs of the city.

As part of those changes, officials have asked the committee to approve spending £223,000 on new office equipment and computers that can, for example, use remote meeting software.

They ran a pilot project at Bartholomew House, opposite Brighton Town Hall, where they tested “meeting pods”, “touchdown areas”, “hot desks”, conference rooms and a “collaboration zone”.

Most proved popular – and officials also plan to look at where “booths” can be set up.

Hove Town Hall

Some of those taking part in the pilot project had concern about noise and being able to maintain confidentiality when needed.

The report said: “The Future Ways of Working programme ensured a joined up approach to deliver significant changes to our ways of working during the pandemic – and has continued to develop a model for hybrid working where there is flexibility in where and how work is done, including working at home, which is driven by service and customer needs.

“Customer services are being delivered with a revised operating model developed by the Customer Experience Steering Group which is needs based rather than preference based.

“This model considered the learning (about) hybrid ways of working during the pandemic and the opportunities presented.

“For example, parking accelerated their digital transformation, with 97 per cent of resident permits purchased online compared with 56 per cent before the pandemic.

“Face-to-face appointments are provided where digital and telephone channels are not appropriate to ensure support is in place for those customers who cannot access services in this way.

“Going forward, the council will continue to develop approaches to improve customer experience, for example, exploring ‘community access points’.

“The development of hybrid working will be led by service changes and by ensuring customers are at the heart of everything we do.”

The report said that collecting information about where staff lived and worked would show where there was likely to be demand for the new style workspaces.

There could even be “reciprocal arrangements with other regional public sector organisations to reduce staff travel distance and work journeys by using shared workplaces”.

Preliminary information indicated that 68 per cent of council workers live in Brighton and Hove, 22 per cent live in neighbouring council areas and 10 per cent live further away.

The council’s Policy and Resources Committee is due to meet at 4pm on Thursday (6 October) at Hove Town Hall. The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.

  1. Dave Reply

    Well if you shut the council office and make it impossible to buy parking permits in person then obviously 100% will be purchased online….
    Tbh since the council refused to go to work the service, already awful has got 10x worse. Everyone else has gone back to work, this lot should be there too. Not everyone believe it or not finds the idea of going through the council website to not be able to find what they need and send an email with a 2 week response time convenient. Nor the 10am-1pm phone line times…

    Lead by example and get back to the office, or take a pay cut of 20% since you no longer need the money to commute, simple. Bet those offices would be rammed if the cost savings were passed on correctly.

    Furthermore it damages the local economy to remove a large number of workers from an area as they spend money on the transport, retail and catering in the area they work in.

    This move benifts only 1 group of middle class office worker and damages everyone who replies upon the money they spend while at work.

    Equally selling of the councils offices is like selling off the family silver, once its gone you won’t be able to buy it back. And yet again this was not in any manifesto pledges so its undemocratic.
    Virtual council = distopian nightmare

  2. Technique Reply

    Do your job properly and get back to work like everyone else.

    With this council it’s one excuse after another not to provide the so-called services that we, the council tax payers of this so-called city, pay for.


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