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WORK LIFE - ARISE, THE DESKBOUND

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Senior managers can set an example by giving up their offices and desks, says Blair McPherson...
Senior managers can set an example by giving up their offices and desks, says Blair McPherson

Many managers pay lip service to the idea of leading by example but, given the choice, how many senior managers would be prepared to give up their own office and the status that it confers? But that is exactly what the senior management team of Lancashire CC social services directorate has done.

The team decided it would be difficult to ask managers to give up their offices while senior management retained theirs.

The director and his five assistant directors gave up their individual offices and moved into a room the size of one of their previous offices. This shared space has four hot desks and two touch-down points, occupied on a first-come, first-served basis.

This could have been the recipe for disaster, but four months into the pilot, the opposite seems to have occurred. The team feels closer, stronger and more effective. Members have benefited from sending fewer e-mails to one another and exchanging information face to face.

Before the change, managers had been struggling to accommodate expanding teams within Lancashire's grade II listed social services headquarters. The Park Hotel, as it was originally, was built in the 19th century. The main conference room is still referred to as the ballroom.

As in most organisations, managers at a certain level had become accustomed to having their own office, often with panoramic views across a park, while other staff were crammed six or more into what were originally bedrooms.

An accommodation strategy for the whole organisation was drawn up to address the issues of overcrowding and high maintenance costs. The strategy was based on providing high-quality accommodation through fewer, but purpose-built, offices.

In September, senior managers moved into one room. Each was allocated just a single drawer for their personal belongings and a drawer for papers they were working on. As managers had used their offices for meetings and supervision sessions, additional meeting rooms had to be set up. Four meeting rooms and a quiet room were established from the six offices released.

Technology has been essential to making the pilot work. A policy of only having one copy of a document, and holding that copy electronically, has resulted in no filing basket and 24 binbags full of paper for disposal. Managers have each been given a laptop which they place on a docking station at their chosen hot desk.

Most of the anticipated problems of noise and cramped working conditions have not materialised. Giving up your own desk is not as hard as giving up your own office, but some colleagues' love of the hard copy has proved more of a challenge.

At first, the senior management team did not believe that six people could work from four hot desks. But a survey of the amount of time these managers spent within their own office revealed they were either in a meeting or out of the building altogether for 60% of the time. Even the manager who claimed to always be in the office was, in fact, out 30% of the time. Added to this, most weeks someone would be on annual leave, at a conference or on a training event. The survey proved it is very rare for all six senior managers to be in their office at the same time.

Teething problems have included personal assistants not being able to keep track of which desk managers were sitting at. This has been solved by introducing portable phones for each manager. If a highly sensitive call comes in, the manager will walk to one of several meeting rooms set aside.

Over the next three months, all middle managers based at HQ will move into shared offices next to the senior management team. All managers will move to the ground floor. The senior management team will be based next to reception, becoming more visible and accessible.

The programme sends out a clear message that modernising the organisation requires a different approach - but we are not asking others to do something we are not prepared to do ourselves.

Blair McPherson

Head of organisation development,

social services directorate, Lancashire CC

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