Council staff working from home has not hindered performance, meeting told

Senior councillors consider 'agile' working report.
Councillor Mark Rowley (SBC)Councillor Mark Rowley (SBC)
Councillor Mark Rowley (SBC)

Performance has not suffered by previously office-based Scottish Borders Council staff working from home, senior councillors were informed this week.

So-called ‘agile’ or ‘hybrid’ working, where staff work from home a large part of the working week – rather than spending the majority of time in an office environment – has become the norm post-Covid.

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This week members of the council’s decision-making Executive Committee considered a report on the impact agile working was having on council performance.

The council employs 5,100 staff over a wide range of different services, with most in customer-facing roles, such as Adult Social Care, waste collection and education.

But there are 1,200 office-based posts, the majority of which post-pandemic are suited to agile working, the report states.

The data in the report appears to debunk the perception among some that working from home results in “work not being done”.

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The report compares performance data from 2019/20 to that from 2022/23.

It shows that in 88 per cent of cases performance had improved or remained unchanged.

Additionally, flexible working was proving a benefit in recruiting and retaining staff.

Other benefits are increased staff well-being, reduced overhead costs and a reduced carbon footprint.

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But despite those benefits members also agreed to an amendment to the report, stating that the council continues to “encourage regular office attendance within the agile framework”.

Mid-Berwickshire ward’s Councillor Mark Rowley, SBC’s executive member for Service Delivery and Transformation, said: “What is really important to me is that we are taking decisions based on data and we’ve looked at what we are achieving.

“A big part of this for me is how do we support our staff to work in a way that suits them as well as us, that is really good for their needs, whether it be mental well-being or care responsibilities, looking after their children or staying close to their families and I’m pleased that, even though we have been through some rocky years, performance doesn’t appear to have suffered and in many cases has improved”.

Galashiels & District ward’s Councillor Fay Sinclair said: “I think that this is fantastic data that backs up the approach that has been taken but there is a perception sometimes that if buildings are empty, that there no people there, then they are not working and as we can see from this that is not the case”.

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Selkirkshire ward’s Councillor Leigh Douglas, who put forward the amendment, said: “The staff survey highlights some negatives, about isolation and loss of interaction with the team.

“I think it’s vital we all consider the long-term effects of remote working on the younger generation and be very mindful of that.

“Zoom is an online, collaborative company, very successful. They made a claim awhile back that it was always going to be an option to work from home and as of this summer they have now put a stake in the ground to say that they want to see all of their employees within a 50 mile radius in the office two days a week, and I know that is more widespread”.

Tweeddale East ward’s Councillor Marshall Douglas said: “All of this has been largely brought about by Covid but I think that given the geography of the Borders it’s actually been a very positive move. It saves on the footprint of CO2 and running back and forwards in cars to meetings, not only for councillors but staff as well and there’s a massive saving within that.

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“I take on-board the benefits of working from the office and it is important to get into the office to work with colleagues, although the online environment does provide that to some extent with chat rooms, but we shouldn’t be enforcing that people come in three days a week because different situations impact different people.

“We need to get the message out that people in the council are working, are productive and it’s really value for money”.