Hybrid Working in Finance (Charles Stewart House)
It is remarkable how quickly and effectively we all managed to transition to home-working at the start of Pandemic back in Spring 2020. A minority of Finance colleagues had previously experienced working from home and the concept of running high volume transaction processing teams remotely challenged our quite traditional mind-sets. We have, though, managed to effectively move away from many paper-based processes to slicker electronic versions, even persuading other traditional organisations resistant to technological advances (Banks!) to accept email authorisations and e-signatures. But, as the requirement to work from home diminishes, we have reached an interesting new phase – managing a return back to the office.
We have read, with interest, the conclusions and recommendations of the University’s Hybrid and Home Working Group and have been working hard to develop complementary guidance and solutions for the Finance team based within Charles Stewart House (CSH). We responded supremely well at the start of this episode, we hope that our initial plans mean that staff can return safely, confidently and with enthusiasm as we try to lock in many of the benefits that the last 18 months have yielded.
Working Group and Consultation approach
Although we are focussing our initial guidance on the Finance Team within Charles Stewart House (as we recognise that local arrangements for our colleagues based elsewhere will take precedence) we have been inclusive in our subsequent discussions and communications so that our ‘One Team’ philosophy holds true.
We have established a working group in the department, to lead on our strategy, engagement and delivery. We felt early engagement on this topic was crucial so we arranged two structured meetings (on Teams) where we broke into smaller discussion groups and had facilitated discussions around:
a) the opportunities around and barriers to coming back to work in CSH;
b) challenging the way we work, seeing this as an opportunity to shake things up;
c) understanding what technology and equipment we really need to do our jobs well.
To guide the sessions we agreed some early overarching principles: Campus as ‘Centre of Gravity’; Service needs first – team needs second – individual preferences third; Ackowledge role and team differences but remember broad objectives; confirm definitions of ‘flexible’ and ‘hybrid’ working; and ensure adherence to University policy and Government guidance.
The sessions were very well attended and we took some great comments and feedback and summarised the main themes and issues to be addressed in our response. Having grouped the key discussion points we developed a number of workstreams to consider more specific and detailed issues, from how we use our space and what equipment we need right through to understanding our activities and considering the impacts on our business continuity plans.
Reaching our first conclusions
We have spent many weeks now developing what we acknowledge will be our first iteration (we have been clear throughout that we will adapt, evolve and respond to what works well and what works less well) for our return to the office and in a nutshell our broad conclusions are as follows:
- Our larger teams will return to their pre-pandemic office locations, BUT, as we expect fewer staff to be present at any one time (due to hybrid working) we will provide fewer desks and move to a shared-desk approach. Desks will be rearranged to create a new ‘look and feel’ and help break links to past desk-ownership;
- Larger team offices will be equipped with collaboration spaces and facilities of varying scales and designs to create flexibility and encourage joint working (booths, bistro-tables, work-shelves, board tables);
- All Finance staff within CSH will no longer use pedestals (instead locker storage will be provided for personal possession) and will operate a clear-desk policy;
- Many smaller teams will change where and how they work, with individual cellular office for Directors being repurposed for more collaborative or flexible use;
- New workspaces will be made available, ranging from quiet free-of-distraction spaces to general touch-down. A mix of low and high-tech meeting spaces and increased visibility around bookings and availability;
- IT equipment which is consistent, reliable and appropriate for the job to be done. We want to adopt a sustainable approach to equipment provision and be consistent with the single-device policy;
- Departmental guidance on hybrid working to support local team decisions on work patterns and location;
- Clear, timely and informative updates;
- A commitment to develop the solution which works for the majority and an acceptance that we will probably not get it right first time.
We have worked closely with colleagues in Estates to consider what we will need to do to adapt our offices and our facilities. We do not have a defined budget for this activity so we are seeking to deliver most of what we describe above using existing resources and innovation! We recognise that we will not be able to do everything right away and that our vision may take a number of months to finalise – we work in a challenging building which is not famed for its flexibility or comfort, but we do think that taking this opportunity to fundamentally review how we do things is right (and possibly a ‘once in a generation’ thing…).
CSH is open right now, we do have some staff who are working in the office regularly, we have some that are yet to return since March 2020. We are keen to encourage staff back to engage in the process to adapt and renew our spaces, deliver our changed approaches and begin to realise the benefits and values of team-working again. We continue to be steered by University and Government advice but we do need to be responsive to the University’s needs. Finance is a service and we need to adapt as the University around us changes. We are very happy to share what has worked well for us and also keen to hear from other areas about innovation that has delivered really effective solutions.
We will hopefully see you all again soon.
Terry Fox, Director Finance Specialist Services, Finance Department