Posted: 02 Dec. 2020 2 min. read

How will our workplaces operate in future ?

As organisations adapt to the immediate challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, attention is shifting to the future. What will this will mean for our physical spaces, management practices and organisational structures? 

It has been easy in some ways to identify the best workplaces during the last five years – the sleek, modern buildings with collaborative and creative break out spaces, which often come hand in hand with access to professional development opportunities, wellbeing support and flexible or remote working. 

As private sector organisations start to look at bringing teams back from an enforced period of home working they are entering into a very different working world.  What does the future hold and what can the public sector learn from changes that were already being implemented by those employers routinely named as great places to work?

An agile work environment

Technology, including big data, wearable devices, collaboration platforms, the Internet of Things, and cloud are allow us to work in new and more agile ways while keeping the workforce more engaged and productive.

These types of changes tend to be adopted first in the private sector, but it is important that public sector organisations recognise this evolution and adapt accordingly. If public sector organisations like the NI Civil Service (NICS) want to retain more millennials and digital natives, they will need to build an employee centric experience with digital tools which enable many more people to work when, where and how they want.

Creating an agile work environment will be of even greater importance as the public sector moves to fully embed digital capability and new technologies. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will create new areas of growth but displace others. Government organisations need to be able to lift and shift roles and operate in a more flexible way.

Focus on employee wellbeing

Modern work situations can create unhealthy stress levels for employees who struggle to unplug. Mobile devices have created a world in which many employees never feel like they are truly ‘off duty’. Wellbeing is also highly affected by how well (or poorly) an employee is managed. Bad managers are a leading cause of stress for workers and therefore wellness initiatives should also focus on improving management practices and policies.

Improving wellness initiatives across the NICS will be of great importance. Line managers also tend to be better at dealing with sickness than central Human Resources (HR) teams. The NICS needs to build greater capacity and expertise at a line manager level and allow HR to act as an enabler - giving advice, bringing the evidence base, identifying the issues and undertaking the analysis. Line managers need to have the confidence to make their judgements regarding their own teams.

Encourage knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer between older and younger employees should also be encouraged in the workplace. The use of training techniques and mentoring programmes can help bridge generational divides and facilitate knowledge transfer. Organisations can ask more experienced staff to mentor younger employees, sharing their depth and breadth of institutional knowledge and soft skills expertise with these younger employees.

Reverse mentoring can also be a successful strategy. Here, younger employees provide informal learning sessions to help older employees use digital tools and absorb the business impact of digitisation. Younger professionals can help senior leaders learn new application development approaches, including how to move from an older, waterfall-based project management style to a newer one (an agile or DevOps model).

Revamping talent processes, staffing models, wellbeing initiatives and performance management practices may seem daunting to public sector talent leaders. But when faced with the converging trends of a formidable talent gap and a spike in the number of older employees, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, difficulty recruiting and retaining younger employees, it seems a logical and smart choice. 


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Key contact

Marie Doyle

Marie Doyle


Marie is a Partner based in the Northern Ireland Public Sector Practice and is an Economist by background. Marie specialises in large scale technology enabled public sector transformation. Marie has led the development and implementation of transformed operating models for public sector organisations in policing, health, education and social security. Marie is also an expert in the development of Green Book business cases for public sector clients. Marie is a member of the CBI Northern Ireland Regional Council and Chairs the CBI NI Economics Forum representing the views of business across Northern Ireland. She is also on the Board of Directors of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.