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Monday, 3rd September 2018

More golf for me at the weekend, this time 'Dino Golf'. I came second, to a five year old. I hope you also had a productive and confidence-inspiring couple of days.

Remember - if you enjoy this newsletter, others might too! Please forward it on to anybody you think might like it, or encourage folk to sign themselves up! Got something I ought to include? Mail me!

Being flexible

Moving away from digital transformation slightly, I wanted to pick up on a topic that I have been asked about quite a lot recently, which is flexible working.

Lots of teams are wanting to start working in a more flexible way, minimising the need for unnecessary travel, reducing the cost of maintaining offices that perhaps aren't really required, and also creating an environment where people are genuinely more productive.

The key concept here is that work is a thing you do, not a place you go. That makes it sound awfully easy, but the fact is that in most organisations, flexible working isn't the consistent and easy to do thing it should be, despite the wide availability of technology to help make it happen. 

One reason is a lack of communication. For many, when people are working away from the office, whether at home or elsewhere, their colleagues feel unwilling to contact them, not wishing to disturb them. Now it's true that oftentimes people will choose not to come into the office because they need to work on something that requires concentration, but even in this case, folk shouldn't feel bad about getting in touch with them. It's easy enough for a flexible worker to mark their status as 'do not disturb' or similar on comms tools if they are really concentrating, after all.

In fact, a team with remote workers should communicate more, not less! The trick is to use the right channel. Don't start using email for everything, flooding inboxes with loads of messages. Instead have a think whether a discussion is best suited to email, instant messaging, group chat, video call or a simple phone call. Keeping up a steady flow of comms between team members throughout the day is vital to them feeling connected and a part of things, even when not physically present.

A second issue is with technology. If remote working is a frustration because of the tools, nobody is going to want to do it, and those that do aren't going to be terribly productive. Simple things need to be right, such as having decent speed access to key systems, the ability to access files as you would in the office, appropriate hardware such a webcams on laptops to help with video calling, software choices for conferencing, chat, collaborative editing and so on. To be honest, getting this bit right is the easy bit, but in many organisations it's still lacking.

Thirdly, rather than blanket approaches to flexible working, like always coming into the office, or always working from home, the approach should be that people work from the location most appropriate for the work they are doing. Sometimes that will mean coming to the office, or staying at home, but it could also mean going to a library to work, perhaps going to a cafe (particularly for a one on one meeting for instance), or a library, a co-working space or a different building belonging to the organisation. 

This also bring in the idea that getting people together regularly is still a good idea. Remote work really doesn’t mean never actually meeting your colleagues. What it does mean is that these get togethers become even more important to get right. This means not meeting up for the sake of it, but ensuring you have some objectives for a get together. So, only meet when there is a need to, and not just because it hasn’t happened for a month.

But in all honesty, the most vital bit to getting this right is to have a corporate wide rethink about what work looks like. This means losing the focus on presenteeism as a measure of performance, the creation of more defined qualitative outputs from staff to ensure they feel they are being productive and useful, and work on team building and shared values to make everybody feel a part of a single unit, aware of their role and proud of their contributions. Fundamentally, everyone needs to adapt, even if they remain steadfastly in the office everyday.

Without this wider development of working culture and acceptance of remote working and what it means for an organisation, it will always be seen as a bolt on, and many of the opportunities it presents will be missed.
 

Strategy

 
  • Beatrice at FutureGov invites us to make conscious decisions about digital transformation. It provides a number of really useful frames through which to think about why you are transforming, which then help you decide how you're going to do it. It's likely your answers will differ from service to service, of course. Link
  • An Institute for Government report recommends that the civil service should have a digital person seated at the very top table. A sensible suggestion, and one that all organisations ought to be implementing. Digital (technology, yes, but also operating models and culture) is key to the success of our institutions and not having someone at the most strategic level with deep digital understanding helping boards and management teams make decisions seems nuts to me. Link.
  • It's always good to read about how other industries have been disrupted by digital, and to learn from their experiences as we try and transform government. So, it's well worth spending a bit of time reading this piece about TripAdvisor and its impact on the travel industry. Link

Tools and techniques

  • An article from the US Digital Service on the importance of product management. Interestingly it tries to articulate the difference between product and project management. I'm always keen to see more of the former. Link
  • The digital government atlas is a mega list of guides, toolkits and other stuff from around the world to show how change is possible, honest. Link

Technology

  • A terrifically well researched longish read from Ben Evans on Tesla, software and disruption. Link
  • A fascinating article about a blockchain-like technology hiding in plain sight in the New York Times for the last 23 years. Link
  • Demonstrating the benefits of AI in government with the Rubik’s Cube. Can't really add much to that title... Link

Events

  • The folk at Advice Cloud are running a cool looking event at the Brighton Digital Festival, taking a talent show approach to tech procurement. Link.

Jobs

  • Head of Service, Business Support and Customer Service, Waltham Forest Council. Link
  • Digital Producer (Web Editor), The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Link.
If you're on the lookout for a new public service digital job, then you'd do a lot worse than signing up for Matt Jukes' entirely job-focused newsletter.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and please feel free to forward this onto friends and colleagues - and maybe even encourage them to sign up!

If you have any feedback, or an idea for something to be included, please just hit reply and send me an email.

Until next time,

~ Dave

dave@digest.digital
twitter.com/davebriggs
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