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The public sector post pandemic: how the mobile workforce has evolved

By Charles Knight, Managing Director of Public Services at Totalmobile

More than a year since the UK’s first national lockdown and there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, with a somewhat clearer roadmap out of lockdown. Understandably, throughout this collective experience, a lot of attention has been focused on the workers who were used to being in the hustle and bustle of an office environment, suddenly now working from home, a little isolated, and more often than not, juggling home schooling as well as navigating their new working landscape.

However, at the same time, not every worker has been able to shift gears and work from home. As well as the many professionals who have not been able to work at all, there are tens of thousands of mobile workers whose roles require them to travel between locations every day, and the impact of the pandemic on their workplace is still developing.

Businesses across the world are making permanent changes to the way they conduct business post-pandemic and, according to recent media speculation, the public sector is no different. A recent article by The Times suggests that the government is already proposing the possibility of making work from home “a permanent feature of British life after coronavirus, with plans to strengthen employees’ rights to work from home or ask for different hours”. Potentially affecting over five million public sector employees, everyone will be watching what happens next with interest.

But, as workplace change continues to sweep across the economy, what about industries that support local authorities, like facilities and property management or utilities, where mobile workforces make up a significant portion of staff? How has their way of working evolved? Even during the worst of the pandemic these organisations couldn’t simply tell employees to work from home. They needed to find solutions that kept both staff and customers safe at the same time as finding cost effective ways to complete jobs in an efficient and productive manner, while remaining compliant with regulation and SLAs.

In a bid to remain agile and efficient whilst safeguarding the wellbeing of their employees, public sector organisations with mobile workforces have, as a result, been increasing their reliance on technology; not only through hard and unprecedented times, but in better times too. Post-pandemic, we can expect these working practices to evolve across a number of key areas.

 A juggling act with high stakes 

 There is pressure on organisations everywhere – reduced budgets, leaner teams and all with the expectation of becoming more efficient. As a result, there has been considerable emphasis on streamlining areas such as reporting and analytics. One example of this is operations managers looking after vehicles spread within local authority regions or further afield need to be able to send workers to specific locations at precise times. As a manual task, managing dozens or even hundreds of remote workers is not only inefficient, but prone to errors and often more expensive.

Live scheduling technologies are increasingly one of the most popular solutions that organisations are turning to in order to address this challenge. One of the most valuable elements of today’s scheduling technologies is the ability to reallocate jobs in real time. If, for instance, it’s more efficient for one employee to visit a certain site over another, tasks can be updated as more information becomes available. As a result, operations managers can use automated updates to improve efficiencies, more accurately track vehicle movement and enable staff to make better decisions. This helps organisations to save time and allow field staff to be more productive.

Employee wellbeing has been a common topic in the media throughout the various lockdowns we’ve experienced over the last year. For public sector employers, duty of care to protect the safety of all staff and citizens alike is, and has always been, a key area for continued attention. For mobile workers, communication and the ability to monitor the location and wellbeing of employees is a ‘must have’ if staff are to be fully protected while carrying out their roles.

In practical terms, lone worker solutions, video diagnostic technologies and staff wellbeing trackers provide employers with real-time visibility of the current status of staff, while access to historical information can be evidenced at a later date should the need arise. Not only does this help organisations become more responsible employers, it also improves the safety and wellbeing of staff, while helping workers focus on their compliance obligations.

Lockdown has meant many people have become used to changing the way they access public services, and with today’s technology making it possible to balance efficiency with workplace wellbeing, while also focusing on delivering better services, both local and national public sector organisations must continue to innovate over the long term. Even with the pandemic creating its own unprecedented challenges and the current pressure on resources, local authorities are still expected to transform their customer experience. Members of the public will continue to expect the same level of high-quality service and flexibility when interacting with public sector bodies even when the public health crisis is no longer restricting how services can be delivered.

Notwithstanding the array of unprecedented challenges public sector bodies have faced this past year, they and their teams’ ability to navigate, adapt, and focus has been nothing short of spectacular. In a time of crisis, the ability of those organisations that are able to digitally transform to remain focused on the efficiency, effectiveness, and wellbeing of their mobile workforce, are the ones succeeding, and they will be well positioned to continue to see benefits in the years to come.

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