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Should working from home be the "new normal"?

During last week’s 2020 ADCS annual conference, colleagues discussed options about how the children’s workforce could return to the office environment which gave much to think about. Whether we adopt a “blended” or “hybrid” approach was just two ideas floated at the conference. Our ambition is to shape and influence “A country that works for all children” where individual workers manage highly complex situations and decision making, where we work to help children, young people and families, reduce inequalities and where the vital support our workforce provides is highly valued.

Throughout “lockdown” we have seen the innovation, resilience and strength and flexibility of the workforce, embracing digital technology whilst still remaining active in the community to support children and families, always following national guidance as we go. However, many are keen to recapture working together in a way that supports personal connectivity.

During these strange times, we’ve all had to make the most of digital technology to communicate, hold meetings, keep in touch, and to engage in a way that most children, young people and their families have welcomed, while acknowledging that face to face interaction is important. We’ve also heard that social workers have had varied experiences and taken to home working differently. The challenge does not appear to be about whether we return to the office environment in a way that existed pre-Covid-19, more so about how we should use our workspaces in the future.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disruptor to normal life, impacting all of us right across the sector and this will continue. We therefore need to build organisational resilience for a 21st Century workforce. The opportunity is there for us to build an organisation on the strengths and assets that our workforce has demonstrated, one that withstands, recovers and sustains us into the future with health protection firmly in mind.

It is widely acknowledged that physical space is a strong and powerful determiner of organisational culture and behaviours. We know “place” has a strong psychological impact upon people, so we must strike the right balance between face to face work, use of digital technology and private work. We must work together in different ways to reconnect, undertake collaborative work and to embrace and enjoy social interaction. This is not to say that we should forget the advantages presented by working remotely during lockdown, but instead embrace what we have learned that works well and incorporate it into future working practices. There is an opportunity to reconstruct how work is done with a focus upon redesign, to have more collaborative and less private space, all while ensuring that staff are safe and well.

The nature of how and when we do this is down to individual local authorities who have a role to ensure we are compliant with national guidance and future plans set within the context of preventing outbreaks.

The increased profile of social workers and key workers over the past few months has been very encouraging, but there is an opportunity to re-think how (and where) we work in a way that is flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs. Working from home can be a fundamental part of this and one that can have wider benefits in terms of home and work-life balance if we embrace a new normal, a newly designed working space and routine.

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