Funding the “Future of Work” for Local Councils
Our experience has been that Local Council staff and management care deeply about our communities. Recent history has shown that they have really stepped up in a time of crisis.
For example, when Covid-19 hit, many Councils set up incident response teams and worked around the clock to put in interim changes to ensure continuity of service where it mattered, and clear and consistent information was available to the community where changes were occurring. They collaborated across the sector and iterated through sharing ideas and experiences freely.
But … some Councils had to work harder than others and found the tasks at hand more difficult and time consuming. Why?
We observed that Councils that were already more advanced in the following areas seemed to have an easier time of it:
- Digitisation – internal – if a Council had already done the hard work of moving away from paper and physical internal processes, they were already well placed to run those processes from home
- Digitisation – external – wherever possible, the ability for the community to self service via digital channels meant that there was less demand on physical services
- Operational maturity – managing to outcome & output rather than inputs (e.g. hours in the office or time spent on task). Understanding processes, procedures, and reporting helped to manage remote work more effectively.
- Communication – Councils who prioritised communication and had the incumbent skills in place were able to communicate well to their staff and community and avoid waste and fear
- Management capabilities – basic, core management skills and activities. Focussing on output, regular communication, clear task assigning and constant feedback and adjustment as required. Remaining connected to staff, and connecting through to the organisation’s values
Did Covid 19 create the need for the above? No, it just highlighted how important these practices are generally. They are especially important for resilience in dealing with rapid change and emergency situations.
What is ‘The Future of Work’ that many are referring to and how does it relate to Covid-19?
The future of work is an umbrella phrase, that means different things to different people. Generally, in our context it means “what are the changes that have occurred recently or are on the horizon and how are they going to shape the ways we work together”. The obvious example is that we have been ‘forced’ to work from home which has increased the acceptance of the validity of working from home more; our hardware, software, processes and managerial practices have had to work hard to keep up. It’s important to note that the ‘future of work’ has been evolving for decades, and Councils that were further ahead on the curve were better placed to respond to Covid-19 when it hit.
What does this mean for Finance Managers?
Digitisation projects and projects that enable remote work and customer self-service are Capital intensive projects, but are sometimes done on shoestring operational budgets. Instead, they must be viewed as an investment into infrastructure and the value we provide our communities. Supporting the organisation to find ways to fund these projects is important to the ongoing success and resilience of the organisation.
Additionally, creating room in the operating budget for ongoing investments into operational management maturity, communication capability & capacity, and core managerial capability is equally important too.
Helping the executive team and management group to fund these important investments, and to hold them to account (via quality reporting and budgeting processes) for spending is a partnership role the finance team can play in all organisations. These investments are too easily swallowed up when we’re looking for funds to spend on Capital Projects or FTE costs, but underinvestment will make the organisation less resilient, and less effective over time.
As we gear up for the next financial year, can you help facilitate investment into more digitisation, operational maturity and management capability?
Posted by Ben Farrell on 2 July 2020