Monmouthshire Council: 'Agile' working means too few desks

By Clare Gabriel
BBC News

image captionThe new Monmouthshire County Hall is designed to see less of its staff

A new £6m council headquarters is being officially opened later but there are only 88 desks for the 200 staff.

The shortage of desks at Monmouthshire council's office in Usk is deliberate after "agile working" was introduced.

It involves each worker being given a laptop and being able to work at home or on the move some of the time, reducing the need for desk space.

The council says staff are being judged on what they achieve and not clock-watched for how long they are at desks.

Councillors hold their first meeting in the Usk offices later.

The new building is smaller than the old 1970s-built offices in Cwmbran and the new way of working is seen as reflecting the climate of cutting costs.

The council's project manager Sian Hayward said Monmouthshire started bringing in the "agile working" policy two years ago before the move.

"We were sharing the old large building at Cwmbran with Torfaen and found that it was going to cost about £30m to renovate - the running costs were about £1m for heat and light," she said.

"So we did some research and found that at any one time we only had about 50% of our staff in the office.

"At the same time people were starting to use laptops and work remotely so we decided to go the whole way and introduce agile working."

The idea is that staff become much more flexible with their time, their working pattern and their ideas.

"They are free to work wherever they want to, be it at home, on the road or in the coffee shop," said Ms Hayward.

"They have their laptops with telecommunications so they can take part in video conference wherever they are. We haven't given them iPads or iPhones because they simply don't need them.

"Our team are being measured on what they achieve and not clock-watched for how long they are at the desk."

There are also side rooms for meetings and a council chamber from where proceedings will be streamed online.

'Space and the quietness '

After some initial reluctance, Ms Hayward said staff had now embraced it.

image captionThe old County Hall at Cwmbran is now a thing of the past

Information management officer Emma Jackson said it suited her family commitments.

"For me it's not about the place you do your work, its the work that I do," she said.

"I don't have to be anywhere special to do the work that I do. I have a small child and can work flexibly around collecting her from nursery. The key for me is having a life-work balance."

But Ms Jackson added: "I don't like to spend too many days working from home on my own. There's the plus of the space and the quietness but it can be isolating too."

Bella Arora, graduate school manager at the University of South Wales, said that hot-desking and open plan environments work in certain contexts but does need to be centred on people.

She said it can work for certain professions and the pros and cons have to be actively managed, even down to making sure that the colour and lighting schemes of the areas where people are working are right.

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