Researchers at University of Hull – the Centre for Human Factors – are providing vital support to local authorities, to address the challenges caused by changes in working practices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre for Human Factors’ mission is to make work healthier through addressing psychosocial risks to health and safety. This is through the use of evidence-based, pro-active and preventative approaches to tackling issues such as stress and fatigue, using systematic and robust methods of analysis to support organisations in understanding their unique organisational challenges and enabling informed intervention.
The aim of the award-winning ‘Future Work Design’ project was to provide partner local authorities with timely information about the experiences and perspectives of staff regarding the changes to working practices. Local authorities reported a lack of preparation in unprecedented times and significant challenges with transitioning to agile working. There was a commitment to assessing the impact of these changes on staff. The findings of the research would be used to inform the design of future working practices and consider the kinds of resources, training and support that staff and managers may need to support them in developing healthy and sustainable working practices for the future. The project received funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) via the COVID-19 Local Digital Challenge Fund, awarded in August 2020.
A collaborative team consisting of four local authorities in the Humber region teamed up with psychologists at the University of Hull. The Centre for Human Factors had developed strong relationships with the local authorities through previous work. The local authorities valued the opportunity to work with an external organisation in order to produce independent, professional research. Funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the work aimed to consider the experiences of staff in adapting to the changes to working practices, with a view to using the information to inform work design for the future.
A series of 32 focus groups were carried out, with over 300 participants from a range of services, representing a wide sample of roles across the four local authorities. The data collected provided a substantial body of qualitative evidence to support the decision making of local authority recovery and forward planning teams, including the four local authority partners and wider national authorities. The project delivered three outputs: a qualitative report, presenting the breadth of issues and experiences from local authority staff, a series of Working Practice Profiles presenting issues of relevance to specific role types, and a bespoke remote working survey tool to enable the measurement of stress risks within the remote working population.
Dr Katie Cunnah talks about Phase 1 – Future Work Design:
“Working with the team at the university showed the level of research and gave the project credibility. They were understanding and willing to make necessary adjustments to the scope of the project. Communication was clear throughout every step, a completely transparent process, and all participants were heavily involved. I have never been part of a more positive project.”