The Government Digital Service have teased us again by pushing their Government Transformation Strategy publication date back into the New Year but this doesn’t mean we can’t take our own look at how the public sector’s digital overhaul impacts on its employees so we can work towards overcoming the possible barriers.

Cloud based software will provide unified, one-stop processes making it easier for anyone with internet access to go online or use a mobile to pay council tax, request a rubbish collection and even send a cup of coffee

Digital transformation in the public sector has the user at heart and will simplify services to the point where one day we’ll laugh at the old ways of working, from the page after page of yellowing papers stuffed into brown files and stacked high in office storerooms to the inner covers of hardback pocket diaries filled with smudged ballpoint pen lists of impossible to memorise user IDs, passwords, pins and prompts.

Cloud based software will provide unified, one-stop processes making it easier for anyone with internet access to go online or use a mobile to pay council tax, request a rubbish collection and even send a cup of coffee to the civil servant who showed her how to use the software to get that wasps nest removed. Old, admin-heavy processes are being streamlined and simplified but as technology advances, it is important to ensure staff don’t get lost and left behind while job roles and desired skillsets change.

Andy Beale of the government’s Technology Group says that “to make change happen we must collaborate” and as user data between departments becomes connected, relationships between staff in those departments should operate that way too. An open attitude with knowledge sharing at its core can unite with the digital forces removing silos to create a transparent government. The public sector is taking bold steps to meet the changing demands of its users and going through a much-needed modernisation, but this can take a toll on its people.

Deloitte surveyed leaders in the public sector and found 93% say that workforce issues are the most difficult areas to manage in their organisation’s digital transformation, with culture being particularly hard. The idea of reprogramming your workforce might seem a bit much for even the most charismatic leader but if in doubt of your overall direction, start with something you can take control of immediately. Deloitte’s report suggests changing the actual office environment can help “‘shock’ the system” and reinforce the values behind collaboration – switching to open plan, introducing hot desking or complete departmental reorganisations can add a physical element to the concept of idea sharing and ending silos, perhaps taking the term “interior design” to a more personal level.

Every employee should feel safe providing advice to each other

Mark Langley of the Project Management Institute acknowledges “the scrutiny that surrounds large-scale public sector projects” and the importance of sharing “common knowledge and communications… across borders and cultures in order [to] drive the best possible outcomes.” When you are at the forefront of change there may not always be many others you can look to for lessons learned or inspiration so open discussion of successes and failures should become the norm. Every employee should feel safe providing advice to each other, whether that’s through regular anonymous feedback surveys or the monthly Beer & Business Meetings that we’ve had such success with here at Shaping Cloud. 

New talent entering departments may be more technically skilled than the historically paper-based workforce in place, but it is important not to let this develop into a divide. Fresh eyes create fresh opportunities and if a strong leader can manifest a shared vision between all employees, there is nothing stopping the necessary upskilling from being a matter of pride and personal development, instead of a fear that jobs are changing to replace people rather than help them grow. Time should be invested in those, whether in their first few weeks or thirtieth year, who are passionate about improving the public sector in order to develop them into coaches. These are the people who can continue to tell the story day to day in the office. The revolution of job roles can be made easier if every small success is celebrated and clear progression paths devised.

The London Borough of Camden is an example of changing the office environment to open up a platform for employees to embrace digital challenges, share knowledge and increase collaboration, but an energised and engaged workforce still needs the right tools for the job. It’s worth remembering this quote from the aforementioned Deloitte survey: “Underpinning this transformation was strong investment in flexible and agile technology.”

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