Remote working likely to outlast Covid at Hertfordshire County Council

There is said to be significant support among staff for home-working to continue for two or three days a week after the pandemic

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 9:16 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 9:21 am

Parts of Hertfordshire County Council’s Hertford headquarters site could be sold off, leased or redeveloped, as part of a review of working practices it has emerged.

Under normal circumstances, iconic County Hall is used by more than 2000 council staff every day.

But during the Covid-19 pandemic almost all of those staff have been working remotely, from home.

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County Hall (C) Google Maps

And there is said to be significant support among staff for home-working to continue for two or three days a week – even after the pandemic.

The council has already been looking at increasing remote working – enabling staff to spend more time working from home or at local ‘touchdown’ sites.

And, ultimately, that could mean some council-owned buildings could be sold off, redeveloped or leased – resulting in lower running costs and council tax bills.

The county council has already reduced office capacity at Apsley, in Hemel Hempstead – cutting the council’s annual budget by £1.2m.

And if increasing numbers of staff were to work remotely, the number of buildings could be reduced further.

Executive member for resources Cllr Ralph Sangster says the “history” and “iconic situation” of County Hall would have to be recognised in any future plans.

And he says he does NOT think the council would ‘walk away’ from County Hall.

However he draws a distinction between the 1939-built original building – which includes the entrance, council chamber and ‘ballroom’ – and the more recent extensions and grounds, which he says could be used ‘for other things’.

“I think the County Hall estate won’t look the same in five years time,” he said.

“We won’t be occupying all the buildings we currently occupy.

“We have already made approaches to assess how much of County Hall we need to maintain to carry on the work we need to do.

“I don’t think we would walk away from County Hall.”

Bosses at the county council say they have been looking at working practices and the future use of buildings.

But they say the process has been speeded up as a result of the experiences of lockdown and home-working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the approach is included in in the county council’s budget proposals, published in advance of the the council’s cabinet meeting on Monday (January 18).

It highlights more flexible working environments, sharing buildings and a new asset management plan, as well as referencing the need for Covid-secure buildings and locations for testing and vaccinations.

And it states: “Our ways of working prioritise outcomes over locations.

“Many of us will work at home or in the community, combined with using office spaces when we need them.

“With this flexibility comes better work/life balance, a reduced environmental impact, financial savings, and opportunities to deliver services differently to better meet the needs of a changing Hertfordshire.”

Commenting on the approach, director of resources Scott Crudgington acknowledges that the ‘one person, one desk’ model may already be a thing of the past.

But he stresses that technology will need to be right and buildings adapted in the right way to allow collaboration, before any changes are made to the use of existing buildings.

The county council’s budget documents – known as the ‘integrated plan’ – were published in advance of the cabinet meeting on Monday (January 18).

And following a series of meetings, they will be considered by a meeting of the full council on February 23.