Addressing the people part at the heart of smart working

Bridget Workman talks about her work to embed smart working within organisations and why getting employees on board is vital.

Image of people at work in the background with technology overlay indicating techposter syndrome

 

Bridget Workman worked for many years as a civil servant and has promoted smart working within government for over 20 years. A surveyor by profession, she has long been interested in how people use their workplaces both professionally and personally.

She has seen how things have progressed over the last decades. In the 2000s technology provoked an interest in more flexible working, although the technology was not as advanced in terms of mobile working as it is now. That coincided with Bridget’s own interests and needs at the time. She had always worked independently as a surveyor, but was able to design her working pattern more around her children and to avoid a daily three-hour [both ways] commute. She became more and more interested in how to normalise this for everyone, given the many reasons people might like greater flexibility.

The civil service became more open to different ways of working as it viewed what the most progressive private companies were doing in an era of private finance initiatives and closer working with the private sector. However, when Bridget took voluntary redundancy from her post as Assistant Director of the Government’s Property Unit at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011 after the financial crisis there was not much interest in smart working, defined as a model of work that uses new technologies and the development of existing technologies to improve both the performance and the satisfaction that is obtained from the job.

It came back in vogue later, but mainly as a cost-cutting measure as the civil service sought to divest itself of expensive real estate during the austerity era. Bridget had been in charge of some high-performing property and could see that it didn’t just have to be about cost cutting. It could be a win win for employees as well as employers.

In addition to other consultancy work and her role as international coordinator of The Workplace Network, an exclusive, global community of senior executives in public-sector real estate, she set up Integrans Consulting Ltd. Through it she advised governments in the UK and overseas on new ways of working, workplace strategies, strategic property asset management, community and network management.

The people part

Bridget returned to the civil service in 2013 as Workplace Transformation Strategist where she developed the vision and principles for the Cabinet Office’s The Way We Work programme and worked with Andy Lake, director of Flexibility.co.uk on The Way We Work – Guide to Smart Working in Government. Smart working moved from being encouraged to being expected. There was more support for training, IT and a focus on design, but Bridget felt that the people side of things tended to get a little bit left behind – helping people adjust to different ways of working and understand the benefits rather than just imposing it on them. For Bridget, engaging people and getting them on board is a vital part of culture change, but it can be more challenging than simply focusing on IT or office design.

In 2018, Bridget became CEO of The Changing Work Company, a group of hybrid working experts which offers tailored training and consultancy at the intersection of smart working and change management. Through that role, Bridget, who is author of Working without Walls and Working beyond Walls, won a contract to developed the Changemakers programme for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The programme is  a 10-week  interactive learning and development programme for employees who apply to be Smart Working ‘Changemakers’. The Changemakers provide support and advice for those implementing a more flexible culture.

Bridget worked with the DCMS, using her extensive knowledge of the civil service, and tailored the programme to the department’s needs. It was run in early 2019 and again in 2020. During Covid, she has been looking at how to adapt the programme to online delivery. “The principle is the same – how people can work together better without someone telling them how they will work,” says Bridget.

The focus is on facilitating interaction between people, giving them different ways to voice what they want and allowing them to be part of the solution. “In that way they are more likely to accept and understand it,” she says.



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