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As 2020 draws to an end, it feels as if we’ve lived a decade in just 12 months.

When we first-footed into this year, none of us could ever have imagined what we’d need to endure as individuals, as an organisation, as a country.

Now, as we take time to step back and look at what has been achieved, can anyone actually remember what work and life was like pre-pandemic? It feels almost impossible …

News archives

Searching through our employee news archives, there was a real focus on changing our culture in January and February.

Our Council of the Future Anytime Anywhere team were working hard to highlight the benefits of hot desking and working from home, as well as the need to keep desks clear and the benefits of giving up an office. Little did we know what was just around the corner … 

The start of the year also highlighted:

  • we could commercialise areas of our business, with Internal Audit securing an external contract.
  • our workforce package roadshows had been a success, helping employees air their views.
  • entries had flooded into our employee awards.
  • a desire to tackle climate change, with the launch of a new green charter.
  • an ‘in principle’ decision to build a new HQ with c500 workstations and arts centre in the town centre had been agreed.
  • work was well underway to start the rollout of Microsoft 365.
  • working with Entrepreneurial Spark, community hackathons began but quickly had to be put on pause because ….

Life turned upside down

COVID-19

On March 23rd our country went into lockdown and we went into emergency response mode, putting our transformation into fast forward.

Changes that would otherwise have taken years took days and, in some cases, literally happened overnight because we had one common goal – to fight the virus and support communities.

Everyone that could set up an office at home, and a huge number of processes were taken online to ensure essential services continued to operate.

Our frontline workers did what they always do - they put the needs of those we support ahead of their own, making sure the elderly and vulnerable were cared for, that communities had access to additional food supplies, if needed, our children educated, and our bins emptied.

The slick processes and centralised stores that had already been put in place through the Council of the Future Redesign of the Building Maintenance Division also helped free up hospital beds and allowed us to store essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

While the Council of the Future Next Generation Contact centre gave call handlers the capabilities to continue answering queries safely from their own homes.

Where support was needed, our CANS and employees volunteered to help out, delivering everything from PPE to food supplies and helping drive carers to people’s homes.

What we witnessed during those first few months of lockdown was a radical shift in how we worked together across teams and services and with communities.

A virtual steer in the right direction

With many employees working from home, IT equipment had to be sourced and set up and Microsoft 365 rolled out at superfast speed, since then our Digital Champions have played a critical role in helping people reap the benefits. 

The hard work of our Council of the Future IT and digital projects not only enabled people to continue working during lockdown, they also played an instrumental role in helping change our working culture.

Thanks to technical advances and changes in mindset – and once we are allowing back into offices – those currently working from home will continue to do so, only coming back to an office for, on average, half of their working week.

Creating new space

Speaking of offices … a momentous decisions was taken by Elected Members this year – the green light was given to build a new Council Headquarters and Arts Centre.

Badged by the Leader of the Council as a way to “revitalise, rejuvenate and repurpose Falkirk’s town centre”, the decision also meant new modern office space could be developed in Larbert’s Central Business Park and the Falkirk Stadium.

Work is now well underway to transform the Larbert location, with architects and engineering firms now appointed.

Elected Members also agreed to close or dispose of seven council buildings, including the current Municipal Buildings, which helps the Council of the Future Strategic Property Review take a step forward.

Getting digitally connected

digital

The pandemic also highlighted just how important digital transformation is going to be to our future, resulting in our new Digital Falkirk strategy being approved.

Other digital highlights:

  • Funding for the Council of the Future Connected Falkirk project was fast-tracked and it’s Sprint Team helped cement two deals critical to the project’s next phase – rollout.  
  • 1500 iPads and internet access provided to digitally excluded people and families on low income through the Scottish Government’s Connecting Scotland programme.
  • The team behind the Council of the Future’s Integrated Resource Management System project worked relentlessly to ensure all employees could view payslips online – and employees signed up in their droves.
  • Moving support online ensured our Employment & Training Unit was able to help more than 800 people gain employment skills during lockdown.
  • We used our digital expertise to make it safer for employees needing to go into a council building and ensured democracy in action could be watched live online.
  • By moving payments online, our Council of the Future Hubs & Spokes project was able to continue supporting those in need – and the Central Hub team will shortly have a presence in two new locations.

Working together

Responding to the crisis highlighted what can be achieved when employees, Elected Members and communities work together, and it brought home that if we ask, listen and act on what people tell us – wherever we can - real change can happen.

Over the summer months, we:

  • launched our employee pulse survey and held employee focus groups, attended by many frontline workers.
  • held virtual workshops with Elected Members to shape new council priorities and the next phase of the Strategic Property Review.
  • an online community survey went live, and Community Conversation focus groups arranged, to help us understand the priorities of local people.
  • asked local businesses for their views through the Falkirk Business support Survey 2020.
  • got news that the Scottish and UK governments had pledged to invest £90m into our economy
  • highlighted the support we'd given local businesses when our new procurement strategy launched.

The consultation undertaken during those months fundamentally shaped the direction of the Council, helping to create new priorities – Communities, Enterprise and Innovation – and three plans critical to our future:

The views also transformed the Council of the Future programme, simplifying workstreams, creating new projects and putting in place new governance to propel us forward.

The hope of a New Year

Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true - Alfred Lord Tennyson

If there are three key messages to carry into the New Year, they are: 

  • Prioritise Your health and wellbeing. This year has been hard on us all. We must remember to be kind to ourselves - and to others - and if we struggle, we must reach out for support.
  • We cannot go back to how we once did things. We need pace, dynamism and accountability if we are to hold onto the common purpose, collectivism and social partnerships created during lockdown.
  • We need to build on the partnerships formed during lockdown, continuing Community Conversations that will help shape the future direction of the Council including priority Council of the Future projects.

By doing that – and by listening to independent, external advice – we will continue to make headway with our transformation in 2021.