Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. Not two names that are typically associated.
Yet both Einstein and Monroe shared a common belief that in every crisis lies opportunity. The same is true for the COVID-19 pandemic that has proven how, despite challenges and difficulties, there are still opportunities to achieve meaningful change.
For the Public Sector, COVID-19 has meant reassessing the art of the possible. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said, there has been “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” and that certainly rings true for our NTT DATA business. For HM Treasury we successfully transitioned 2,000 of its people from on-site to remote working in a matter of days. At the University Hospital of Leicester, one of the biggest and busiest NHS Trusts in the UK, we acted in under 24 hours to help establish sterile, standalone ‘wards in a cage’ – complete with fully functioning IT.
That is not to say that the last few months have been straightforward. New human factors - including a lack of physical interaction, blurred boundaries between work and family life and home schooling - all became a reality with little warning.
So what can we learn from this experience, to improve how we operate across the Public Sector and make a positive impact on UK society?
1 – Don’t let ways of the past limit future thinking
The COVID-19 lockdown forced us to be creative, problem solving to find ways around the challenges of delivering citizen services during a pandemic. The sense of urgency forced us to overcome historical barriers in procurements, supply-chains and technical constraints. Maintaining that pace and creativity is an opportunity to grasp - large-scale change programmes needn’t take months and years to implement, days and weeks is the goal.
2 – Innovation can come from the most unlikely places
Pre-COVID-19, the connection between Formula 1 drivers and surgeons in an operating theatre was non-existent. Yet, it turned out that the headset microphone systems used by F1 drivers on the racetrack is an excellent solution for helping surgeons communicate with one another through their bulky personal protection equipment (PPE) in the operating theatre. Cross-industry knowledge sharing like this can make a big difference in the ability of frontline staff to do their jobs.
3 – Flexible working does not mean compromising on efficiency
There will always be exceptions, but COVID-19 has demonstrated that giving people freedom on how, when and where they work, does not materially impact an individual’s ability to get their job done. In fact, allowing people to find their own working rhythms is key to employee wellbeing and productivity. The trick is to ensure that individuals communicate their preferred routine with the people with whom they work. In my case, my team knew that during lockdown, for an hour over lunch, I was eating with my family and home schooling – it was blocked out in my diary. Because my team knew and understand this aspect of my schedule, we were able to maintain team cohesiveness, despite different working patterns.
As we slowly start to return to the office, we will be dealing with the combination of people working remotely and ‘on-site’. That will present a challenge to maintaining the level playing field that we have enjoyed during lock-down where everyone (in the main) has been at home. New rules of engagement for technology use and meeting etiquette will be required.
4 – Digital citizen services are key to protecting the most vulnerable in society
During a pandemic, the vulnerable in our society need public services the most. We are supporting the Insolvency Service with creating a new digital service in response to recent policy changes that will provide citizens with 60-days of ‘breathing space’ from creditor and potential bailiff action.
Conducting medical appointments over video conference, especially for those who may be vulnerable or shielding, is another COVID-19 induced solution that demonstrates how the shift to digital is so vital to protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
5 – Humanising work is good for us all
Having children, pets, spouses and housemates interrupting calls or wandering into shot in the background of a live video call shows the reality of home life – which I think it is a good thing. Getting a glimpse into a colleague’s or client’s personal life like this can directly improve our empathy towards those who we work with. Humanising ourselves in the way we work can only bolster the quality of the relationships we have with others.
As we emerge from the initial depths of the pandemic, it is important to remember that the barriers we thought were holding us back from delivering real change in public services are not barriers at all. At NTT DATA UK, we exist to support public sector organisations to transform their citizen and employee experiences.
To find out more contact us.