Why should I have to work in a big city? An option to achieve a better work life balance, produce more outputs and save Property Services costs in the Public Sector
More for less is required from our Public Services. High priced CBD rents, expensive city centre living, long distance commutes. Staff are our great asset. Staff want a better work life balance. You’ve heard it all before so why can’t more public sector staff be given the option to work in remote cities, towns or even from home and away from the main CBDs.
We live in an ever advancing technological age with cloud computing, video conferencing capabilities, fibre cabled broadband connections, video phones, web cams and good “old fashioned” telephones (that nowadays know when your eyes are closed). I have a small office at home which is set up with phone access, high speed broadband and when I use my secure token, I can create a secure PC link to the work server. However unless its exceptional circumstances I’m required to commute to sit at a desk in an open office environment with Alabaster coloured walls, a heating system that tries desperately to cater to the masses, where there are people talking loudly on the phone and I’m trying in vain to find a quiet meeting room to speak to one of my remote team members. Even worse is that in certain Public Sector organisations (and just to clarify, I thoroughly enjoy working for one) if you want to move up the promotional ladder you have to move to a Metropolitan city.
In a recent article in my local paper it referred to main city centre rents for good quality office space ranging from $505 - $560 per sq m. In the city where I’m based the range was only $210 - $250 per sq m. If I can work from home, it’s “virtually” free as I may have an occasional requirement for a meeting room that can’t be undertaken in the local coffee shop. Ignoring the home situation, based on my very crude per sq m figures of $505 and $210 respectively, together with an annual salary of $50k, for every 170 sq m of space moved away from the main city centre you can pay for an additional staff member. Based on 20,000 sq m, you can have 117 additional staff. Just so we can achieve the adage, let’s go for 100 additional staff, this now gives you the more for less.
Then you have the work life balance. As I overlook the sea, in a house which won’t take me 25 years to pay off and 40% of my gross income to do so, I’m fortunate in that my commute is only 30 minutes each way. Some of my colleagues who have fallen into the lure of the big city have in some cases nearly 3 hours a day on a train. Some may say it was their choice and in some cases this would be correct although when you can’t afford the houses near the city, you have to live further away and still have a huge mortgage. Is this really work life balance? Would I be more or less motivated knowing nearly 40% of my next salary payment goes straight to the bank?
If we are truly serious about work life balance, providing flexibility for our people, valuing our people, valuing our communities whilst at the same time driving efficiencies within the public sector, we need to be innovative, we need to challenge the current models and we need to really make use of the technology available.
If there is no real need for staff to be located in high cost city centre offices and they can demonstrate they:
- Are self-motivated
- Can cope with office isolation (if working from home)
- Understand how to use virtual technologies
- Have and can deliver clear outputs
then give them the option to work from home or in cheaper office accommodation.
Working from home or non-Metropolitan cities cannot and will not work for everyone but for some it will and can. By providing it as a credible option it could provide:
- Better work life balance with the reduced travel to/from work. If the hours normally spent travelling are used more productively or even if some staff just get more sleep, how much more productive would they be? Also on occasion it could mean staff work more hours if they can start within 30 minutes of getting out of bed and possibly on occasion work later at night as they don’t have to catch a train home?
- Reduced personal expenditure costs with lower mortgages living in non-Metro regions, reduced travel and associated costs.
- Environmental benefits of reduced travel.
- More production/outputs given less distractions.
- Reduced grapevine information as all key information can be provided directly by the organisation.
- Opportunities for disabled people who have mobility issues to consider it as a viable option
- Increased loyalty to the company given the trust and flexibility provided.
- Reduced overhead costs for the organisation as less space is required.
- Greater levels of empowerment when their Leader/Manager is not on site (assuming they are given the autonomy to self-manage).
In respect of leadership though, managing virtual teams or people is not uncommon around the world. In global organisations this means spanning different time zones and cultures. Invariably though in a single country, Public Sector organisations would only have different cultures to deal with. It does however require a change in working patterns and behaviours of the reporting officer as you have to become more disciplined at picking up the phone to say hello. Conversely though not having the ability to walk up to the staff member, it can, if managed correctly provide the employee with a greater sense of trust and self-confidence to make decisions.
As pressure on Public Sector budgets continues to bite, then Senior Managers will have to look at different ways of doing the same (or more) for less. Property costs are traditionally one of the biggest expenses in Public Sector behind staff. It is therefore going to take a radical shift in focus around doing things differently, giving people the flexibility to work in cheaper locations or at home. It will require Managers to change their leadership style, adapt their communication style, use available technology and trust their people.
In summary, changes in property solutions can for some, achieve a better work life balance and also drive significant cost savings if given the opportunity and if Senior Managers are prepared to be radical (by Public Sector standards)
Dr B (you know who you are) Frey who despite losing his voice managed to inspire this hack