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Communicating Covid Comms Day 7

by Jay Butcher, Digital Communications Manager, Surrey Police

Leaving the building, but not just working from home…

After three months of teams working from home, the return to business as usual, and future of policing comms, lies out of centralised HQs and in with key crime and front-line teams.

Having spent countless hours in Skype, Teams, or Zoom calls – teleconferences are so February 2020 – and with business continuity plans being tested beyond anything we’ve seen before, we know that our teams can pull together and deliver against tough deadlines in difficult, more remote circumstances. However, we are also aware that the efficiency and effectiveness of our teams have dipped; unsustainable practices have been put into place for short-term delivery and ensuring the safety of team members; and colleagues have taken on roles and tasks that have been required but have meant they are not playing in the right position. Not to mention that remote working increases the chances of double tasking and mis-briefing, and not being able to simply talk to someone across an office, or down a corridor, means that the work sometimes just takes longer.

So as society continues to open up, and as our own organisations return to business as normal we will no doubt want to retain the agility of being able to work remotely, while increasing the effectiveness of the service we provide.

Such an extended period of time out of the office means that our old norms, traditions, and ways of working have been well and truly dismantled…we genuinely don’t have to do something because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” anymore. We have an opportunity to set a new culture and direction within our teams.

Over the past three years, in Surrey Police, we’ve been moving towards a portfolio-based structure with comms officers responsible for building relationships with their respective business leads, and developing long-term behaviour change comms strategies. As part of this we’ve been encouraging the team to plan more time spent out of HQ and embedded with the teams they’re working with. A year ago, we reordered our offices, moving people and desks around to match our organisational structure, and surveyed the team for their views on the move.

We found that 75% of our team were not actively planning on spending more time out of HQ.

Creating a Covid-secure office space is likely to mean that we will have less capacity in HQ to house our team, which means our people will need to be working remotely. People will, of course, continue to work from home where appropriate, but we’re also seeing this as an opportunity to get the comms team out of the building, and closer to their operational colleagues.

It’s where business continuity meets strategic direction and vision. If a team is set up to work anywhere the opportunities for innovation and closer multi-team working, as well as better physical and emotional well-being, is far greater.

I’ve always been challenged about exhibiting trust in our staff – I saw a quote several years ago which has stuck with me, “If you can’t trust your employees to work remotely, why hire them?” The challenge as managers, post-lockdown, as I see it, is to be able to maintain close oversight without micromanaging – enabling staff to deliver their best work, deepening their understanding of policing, and ultimately keeping the communities we serve informed and safe.

For me that has to look like an agile workforce – inspired about the teams they support, envisioned about the behaviour changes that they’re working towards, and equipped to work from whichever location is most effective whether that’s HQ, home, here, or there.



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Jay Butcher

Jay Butcher is the Digital Communications Manager at Surrey Police