The evolution of the public sector – how to adapt to the new digital workplace

Nigel Herbert

Nigel Herbert, Industry Director - Government, HealthCare and Life Sciences UKI & MEA at Medallia

The pandemic was the catalyst that changed the world of work as we know it. In 2019, only 30 percent of the UK workforce said they had ever worked from home. By April 2020, this figure had increased to nearly 50 percent. While this rise was prompted by circumstance, it set in motion a trend for future change – across both the public and private sectors.

Fast forward to 2022 and, while there has been a steady decline in the numbers working exclusively from home, the proportion of hybrid workers – those splitting their time between the office and home – has risen from 13 percent in early February 2022 to 24 percent in May 2022, despite a return to ‘business-as-usual’ mentality. This trend has been mirrored within the public sector – with the pandemic prompting a rapid programme of digital transformation to facilitate remote and flexible working at scale.

The highs of the hybrid workforce

Within the public sector, the world of hybrid work offers a wealth of benefits. From the worker’s perspective, it strikes a better work-life balance, and there are considerable savings to be made in both time and money that would otherwise be spent on the daily commute.

From an employer’s perspective, there are also significant productivity gains to be made. In fact, a 2021 study revealed that 83 percent of remote workers felt that their home environment enabled them to work productively, compared to 64 percent who felt productive in an office environment. Indeed, digital workspaces provide more flexible ways to bring people together, driving creative collaboration, faster response times, and steadier workflows, while also helping teams to avoid unnecessary distractions.

How to embrace the digital workforce

While the benefits of such a hybrid approach are clear, there are concerns with the model. A hybrid workforce ultimately means a geographically split workforce, which can result in individuals feeling disenfranchised from the rest of the organisation. It is critical for organisations to focus on creating positive employee experiences for everyone, regardless of where they are located.

Here are our top three ways for organisations to fully realise the benefits of the hybrid workforce:

1. Focus on employee well-being

Creating a positive employee experience is one of the key factors in making a digital workplace succeed, and as such, organisations must put their efforts into improving the well-being of their employees by creating a safe, inclusive environment where they feel empowered.

One of the biggest omissions of the digital workplace is the loss of more casual interactions that occur within traditional office settings. These ‘watercooler’ moments are central to the delivery of a good employee experience. They provide an informal space for employees to connect outside of their everyday work – a factor essential in promoting well-being.

Since casual chats over coffee, or indeed the watercooler, do not come naturally in the digital workspace, organisations must actively look to enable them. One method could see public sector organisations creating specific online spaces to encourage these casual bursts of conversation and foster camaraderie amongst colleagues.

2. There is no well-being without inclusivity

Well-being goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity – if an individual feels excluded for any reason, it will have a negative impact on their well-being. According to a McKinsey survey, a number of traditionally under-represented groups, for example, those with disabilities, strongly prefer hybrid working but may feel excluded compared to able-bodied employees that go into the office frequently.

Organisations must strive to create an inclusive environment for those working digitally, which can be achieved by regularly checking in with remote workers to understand their experiences. One-to-one meetings and regular surveys are essential here to take the pulse of workers. Even simple changes in workplace terminology can make a big difference when it comes to inclusivity. Indeed, McKinsey suggests that employers “shift… their thinking from ‘the’ office to ‘an’ office…that small shift can help equalise the field and headquarters a bit”.

Beyond the subtle changes, organisations can also undertake a ‘culture inquiry’. This helps employers look at the prevalent patterns of culture in their organisation and identify things that might shift these patterns. Speech analytics can be used here with great success, enabling organisations to easily identify any potential problem areas. For example, by tracking how many times people speak up in an online meeting, organisations can better assess whether there actually is equal participation and sufficient inclusion, empowering them to make any necessary changes to redress the balance.

When organisations use data and insight to provide a safer environment for employees, it builds trust, which in turn creates more engaged workers. Given that organisations with greater diversity outperform their less diverse peers by 36 percent when it comes to financial targets, it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

3. Use technology to empower employees to provide feedback

In order to measure employee well-being and the success of digital and hybrid workplaces, employers can observe productivity levels and provide employees with multiple feedback opportunities, such as engagement surveys, triggered interactions, and organic feedback. As part of this feedback process, it is important to gain a full understanding of the employee experience, taking into account the company view and the employee view. Together, these will provide a comprehensive assessment of employees’ feelings across the board.

For more ‘authentic’ employee-employer interactions, video survey tools can be utilised. By experiencing that traditional human touch – albeit in a modern way – employees can feel a greater sense of connection in the digital workplace.

AI-powered speech and text analytics can also be used to uncover the trends in the data captured from employees. These tools can allow organisations to process data at scale and quickly uncover common feedback patterns. Armed with this intelligence, organisations can take steps to improve the way hybrid teams interact.

In addition, crowdsourcing can be used to tap into the views of employees and gather feedback and ideas. As some employees may not feel comfortable speaking up or being put on the spot in large meetings, this approach provides them with a safe place to share ideas.

The digital workplace is here to stay

We can no longer look at the world of work through the pre-pandemic ‘nine-to-five’ prism. It is now about how people fit their work around the rest of their lives, as opposed to the other way around, and organisations must adapt if they want to attract and retain an engaged workforce.

A positive employee experience is essential to the smooth running of an organisation. As such, organisations must focus on improving well-being and creating safe spaces where employees are empowered to share their experiences and ideas. Those that do this well, and leverage the right technology to help, will reap the benefits. These benefits go way beyond improved productivity and lower recruitment costs, as there is clear evidence to show that happy employees deliver a better customer and citizen experience.