Looking ahead to life after lockdown

Friday, 15 May, 2020

Like everyone else East Hampshire District Council has had to quickly find a way of working in a world that has been thrown upside down by the coronavirus outbreak.

For more than a month we have been operating with very different practices, working in ways we would not have attempted had our hands not been forced by the virus and subsequent lockdown.

More than 80 percent of the council’s staff have been working from home since the end of March. The only staff coming to work are those working on essential services that cannot be delivered at home.

Online conference calls, laptops on the kitchen table and the occasional unexpected interruptions from pets and children are now all part of ‘the new normal’.

I am keen to keep the best parts of these new working patterns when the lockdown is lifted.

It has not been easy of course. Public meetings have been suspended and many of our staff have been re-deployed from their day-to-day roles to help out with our work to support vulnerable local people.

Using our constitutional powers, we have still managed to keep our normal business running as smoothly as possible - but it is key pillar of local government that the decisions are scrutinised by the general public.

As a result, we hope to be holding our first online meetings soon. This will give the opportunity for debate and allow members of the public to ‘attend’, as they would have before the pandemic.

These virtual meetings will give the public a chance to hear the debate and follow the decisions being made.

As we move towards the recovery phase of this crisis, perhaps we will retain some of these practices. Will digital conferences replace face-to-face meetings? Could we give the public the opportunity to dip in and out of council meetings, listening in to the items they are interested in, and not asking them to travel through the evening to sit in a stuffy council chamber?

What is the impact of working in the way we are at the moment, what impact has it had on our staff and the services they deliver?

More importantly, what impact will the virus have had on they we behave as a society?

We want to maintain the good habits we have delivered in terms of technology and flexibility. But there’s a lot of work to do to identify what new practices we will keep when we move out of lockdown.

And perhaps we won’t know what our organisation is going to look like in the future until we fully understand what our society is going to look like in the future.