There’s no doubt that you need your IT to work if you’re going to successfully move whole functions and teams to homeworking. We interviewed local council Marketing and Design Manager, Andy, to find out exactly what role IT has played in his, his team and whole council-wide colleagues’ move to work from home.

How IT is making working from home a doddle for local council manager

Hi Andy, can you tell us what you do and something about your role for the council?

Hello Rachel. Yes, I’m the Marketing and Design Manager for a local council and I’m responsible for all council communications, from press and media to the campaigns concerning the many services the council provides. These include the campaigns and communications you would expect to see from your council regarding services like waste collections, highways and libraries, to other important aspects of services that are perhaps less obvious, like fostering and adoption, health and wellbeing, and adults’ and children’s social care.

COVID-19 is a good example where we have a lot of campaign, or communication, work to do to inform the public about the help and advice available, as well as provide up-to-date information on what services are and are not now available.

What IT ‘functions’ are involved in this work?

A lot! We are writing and designing constantly, for print and digital formats, using the various software we need to do that, with many different versions of material flying around by email and keeping track of input and amends this way.

Plus, the contact; there is a vast amount of planning behind the scenes for every single project we undertake. We have many stakeholders and team members to communicate with on everything planned and produced. This means that our email activity is constant, as well as arranging our diaries to accommodate meetings, catch-ups and of course, being on the phone.

How has IT helped you and your team get this work done from home?

I’ll admit that trying to recreate our work out of the office ‘until further notice’ was concerning me at first. We are used to getting together in person, with the team as well as colleagues from all different departments of the council, for planning, creating and progress purposes that I didn’t know if we could fully do it.

But tech has made this a much easier transition than it could have been, and actually, it’s made some things better. If we’d have relied just on phoning and email, our work would be a mess. Can you imagine all the documents flying around by email to many different work groups and keeping track of amends and versions that way?

No Andy! That sounds like a nightmare.

Exactly. So, we have all got onboard with using the various ways of sharing documents so that we can comment and update live versions, to avoid utter confusion and chaos. We are mostly using Google Docs. This totally takes the email chain out; no long messages to service and the process is much more efficient and professional.

We are also now all using video conferencing via Google Hangouts as naturally as we were picking up the phone, arranging times and meeting in person. It’s so easy to pull in the right people for every job.
And we are using instant messaging relevant to each particular project by creating and organising channels in Slack. We also use Slack as a more informal means of communicating. So, it’s not uncommon to ask each other what we’ve had for tea, or what we’re watching that night. It’s a more relaxed way of communicating and doesn’t interrupt the flow of work.

How do you think your team have responded to the changes?

They’ve adapted overall very well. Some miss the day-to-day but in getting through the work everyone has been excellent and really engaged. Everyone feels supported because we can all be in such ready contact. It’s easy to involve and reach everyone and that keeps us all feeling connected, and, so far, in good spirits.

Are there any ways in which homeworking with the right IT helps you to do your job better?

I guess there are. For me as a manager, interruptions are many when I’m in the office. I find it easier to focus on the work I need to do when working from home. My personal workload is easier to manage because I can dedicate time to things without distractions, like cakes in the office, emergency meetings, and actually walking to meetings between buildings. I’m saving a lot of time but people can still speak to me, and I to them, whenever needed.

What else would you say is better about working from home?

Better work focus is just great because it helps you to feel less stressed. But there are many other factors. The children are at home because of COVID-19 so being able to see them and be involved with their school work is great. I would never get to do that otherwise. I can do more cooking, exercise and have more family time generally. And of course, the time saved on travel is amazing.

Do you think you’ll go back to office-based working?

I can’t say what the council’s plans will be when we’re through the other side of COVID-19 lockdown, but I think there’s a lot to be gained from keeping homeworking as part of normal working. In so many ways our work is either the same amount of effort or easier to produce, and the work-life balance has too many lasting and far-reaching benefits to give-up completely.