React, respond and renew

Local government’s workforce has been at the heart of helping us through the coronavirus crisis.

Councils, and our staff, have worked at breakneck speed and pulled out all the stops to protect communities and support the most vulnerable in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

But how has the national emergency changed work and what does the future of work look like for local government?

From the moment lockdown was announced, councils needed to prioritise vital local services. Huge numbers of staff started working from home, while critical and frontline workers were adapting to social distancing guidelines, hand washing and personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Managers had to swiftly adapt to managing frontline and remote teams while trying to implement a tidal wave of new government guidance on service delivery and working practices. 

This ‘react’ phase was intense, but the local government workforce proudly rose to the challenge and found new ways to support their communities through the crisis. 

It’s becoming clearer we won’t go back to exactly how things were pre-pandemic. That’s why, after our own ‘react’ phase – dealing with terms and conditions and new ways of working – the LGA’s Workforce Team started to think about how we could capture the workforce experience and identify what issues we should consider to proactively shape the future. 

We’ve now published our paper, ‘React, recover, renew’, which aims to capture this strange snapshot in time, and help stimulate that thinking. This paper provides a workforce narrative to the journey through recovery and points the way to renewal.

For example, we may have been surprised about which roles emerged as being critical during the pandemic, and we have a lot to learn about what this has taught us about workforce planning, skills shortages and reshaping jobs. 

We’re also talking so much more about diversity and inclusivity – we must ensure that we equality-proof the future. So when we’re talking about increasing home-based working or interviewing people via digital means, for example, we will need to be careful that we’re not excluding candidates or allowing unconscious bias to drive our decisions. 

We’ve set out considerations about home-based working and, while we suggest it’s too early to declare the office is over, things are clearly going to change. 

One outcome of this crisis will be more emphasis on developing behavioural and values-driven leadership, and we’re discussing how the LGA can support councils to embed this throughout their organisations – look out for our inclusive leadership webinar later in the autumn. 

Another key theme that’s clearly here to stay is employee wellbeing. There are already signs that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the nation’s mental health. Managers will need to be compassionate and develop a strong framework to support employees’ mental health, so that will also become a key part of our support offer. 

If the crisis showed us anything, it is that people really are the biggest asset in local government. Whatever the future holds, local communities are going to need to be confident that we’re getting this right. We are here to support you in doing just that. 

For more information about the work of the LGA’s Workforce Team and its support for councils, please visit www.local.gov.uk/our-support/workforce-and-hr-support. If you are interested in working with us on these issues, please email workforce@local.gov.uk

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