Public vs. Private: The fight for talent

Zoe Price 3 February 2021 / By Zoe Price

As we continue to inch our way forward into the new year and move on from the last, there is little argument that this period will go down in history as one of the lower points of the 21st century – and for good reason. However, it is also a time for reflection and re-evaluation on workplace behaviours and how we can evolve. It also demonstrates that employers have a responsibility to listen to what their employees want to ensure they are creating the best possible environments to enable people to thrive in their roles.  

We recently conducted a UK-wide study that captured workplace sentiment at the end of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and then again in September 2020, after many had worked exclusively from home exclusively for a prolonged period. It revealed many shifts in workforce behavioural patterns and how this year has accelerated certain workplace trends – from the move towards a blended office/home working week, to what facilities and amenities individuals will require in the future workplace.

Perspectives from public sector respondents were particularly interesting, where it was found that on average, they are significantly less inclined to work from home full time. Findings showed public sector workers benefitted the most from in-office interactions, yet on average are offered lower quality workspaces compared to their private sector counterparts. Additionally, nearly two thirds (64%) of those working in the private sector rated their workplace quality as good or excellent and 57% saying they have a good or excellent home working environment. Meanwhile under half of public sector workers said they have good or excellent workspace either at home (47%) or in the office (48%).

Furthermore, almost two thirds (64%) of public sector respondents said they believed they would not have the same sense of team or friendship with colleagues if working remotely and stated the primary functions of the workplace were for socialising with colleagues and access to training and learning facilities. The war for talent is being fought on multiple fronts, but it’s clear from our survey that the quality of office space is, and will continue to be, a critical factor in the attraction and retention of high-quality staff as we move through the pandemic.  

Over recent years we have witnessed a shift in how the public sector approaches workspace, with central government bodies seeing the necessity to act today to retain the workforce of tomorrow and invest in their workspaces. For example, projects such as the UK Government Hub in the Arena Central area of Birmingham looks to bring staff together in a purpose-built facility, with the flexibility and advanced technology infrastructure to support the government agency’s future workspace demands. This project follows a similar scheme we have been working on in Cardiff, also procured via the Government Hubs Fit-Out Framework programme. Though these are positive steps, local authority and regional councils will need to invest to match growing expectations for quality workspace to avoid falling behind in the talent attraction and retention race.

It doesn’t all start and end with the in-office experience, however. Whether the catalyst can be attributed directly to the Covid-19 pandemic or is merely an acceleration of an existing trend – location is becoming an ever-important factor. Respondents shared their desire to be closer to home or not wanting their commute to be too far. Many private sector organisations are thinking about an even more decentralised structure and the development of increasing regional hubs, with interest growing in co-working spaces located in suburbs and smaller towns. There could be profound implications here for the public estate and indeed opportunities to enrich town centres through a more agile and decentralised structure.

As we move forward into 2021, with a nationwide vaccine programme in process, we expect to evolve into a post-pandemic era. Yet our data suggests these workplace trends are here to stay and the public sector must embrace the expectations of a workforce that is now normalised to remote working practices. Collaboration is one of the public sector’s strongest attributes and it will need to listen carefully to the aspirations of its people to create working environments and the flexibility that will ensure the retention and attraction of the sector’s best talent.



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