In Oct 2020, Folkestone & Hythe District Council caused dismay among local residents by announcing it would consider spending millions on a new office at Otterpool Park. The current office on Castle Hill Avenue has been deemed environmentally unfriendly due to its age and inefficiency.
Rather than occupy the empty space at Debenhams – which is owned by the council and costing taxpayers’ money to keep empty – the Tories, backed by Green & Lib Dem councillors – voted to consider a new state-of-the-art replacement office at Otterpool Park. A go ahead or no go decision was to have been tabled in Jan of this year, but this hasn’t happened as promised.
Critics have pondered how the council can justify spending millions on a new office when it hasn’t stumped up to build any truly “affordable housing” – though that’s a question for another day.
But there could be an even easier and cheaper solution. The council could take its lead from a tech giant.
Back in May 2020, Twitter announced that from then on its staff could work from home “forever”. Twitter will still maintain office space, but on the back of a successful working from home trial, staff will have the option to make their new working arrangement permanent.
Twitter said: “The past few months have proven we can make that work. So, if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.”
If the council allowed its staff to do the same, and only maintained a small infrastructure for meeting rooms and face-to-face appointments, there would be no need for a new office at Otterpool Park.
There is ample space in Debenhams to house a slimmed-down customer-facing staff.
Fewer staff coming into the office would mean less traffic on the roads. It would mean less pollution. It would mean the old offices could be sold off and the proceeds put towards new social housing – or bolstering the council’s finances.
Some will argue that it wouldn’t work, and that staff need to be present on site. We and others can tell you for a fact it would work fine.
The call centre telephone lines can be diverted to mobiles or home landlines. Outgoing calls can be made by Skype or VOIP services, preventing the staff member’s phone number becoming public.
Whether it’s planning, licensing, environmental health, council tax or managing the civic team, 90% of the work is done from behind a computer. Most meetings can be done by video conferencing, and the few that can’t could be held in Debenhams owned by the council.
After all, much of this is what’s happening at the moment during lockdown.
Historically the biggest barrier to widespread homeworking is the employer’s distrust of the employee. Despite studies showing that people working from home tend to be more productive, suffer less absenteeism, and are generally happier in their jobs, there is an ingrained prejudice among some managers that ‘working from home’ means lying in bed all day watching Netflix.
As some of the Shepway Vox Team are managers themselves we’ve often found that a lazy staff member is perfectly able to waste plenty of time online shopping and checking social media from the office. Working from home puts more of an impetus on workers to demonstrate that they are in fact being productive – which is why studies show people working from home often perform better.
So, here’s our advice to Folkestone & Hythe District Council. Cancel your plans for your new office at Otterpool. Sell the existing site or develop it into social housing. Set up a basic provision for meeting rooms and front desk staff in Debenhams, and allow your staff to work from home from now on.
You’ll save millions, you’ll help achieve your carbon emission reduction targets, you’ll ease town centre congestion, and you’ll have a happier workforce with a better work life balance.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime