So far in this series of blog posts on the evolution of policing as we coexist with COVID-19, I’ve examined the impacts of the ‘never normal’ on public safety agencies, and then explored how the pandemic has dramatically accelerated agencies’ move to digital service delivery. In this third blog, I shift focus to the changes that the pandemic – combined with new technologies – has triggered in the nature of work.
These changes are nothing short of dramatic. In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 forced many – probably most – public safety organisations to embrace new ways of working. As well as happening at an unprecedented speed, the shift was made more complex by competing priorities: continuing to deliver services to the public, providing an effective and stable working environment for employees, taking account of the government-imposed restrictions and maintaining a focus on employee welfare.
For agencies involved in critical frontline service delivery such as public safety, this meant introducing a wider range of employee welfare measures. It also meant taking a fresh look at the ability to manage and deploy the workforce tactically to support remote working, as well as rapidly respond to changing patterns of demand and threat. As such, looking strategically at longer-term capability and capacity planning has grown in importance, as has exploring new virtual ways of delivering services and enabling the workforce.
Remote working is here to stay…
Many aspects of the workforce change we have seen are likely here to stay for the long term, as they provide value to both the organisation and employees. The increase in home (or at least remote) working – coupled with the creation of new digitally-enabled workplaces, is a welcome development for most employees, and will be an enduring legacy of the pandemic.
The workforce changes seen in recent months will also impact the employee training approaches used by public safety agencies, triggering increased usage of distance and digital learning. Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will play a greater role in the training of officers, which will be carried out both remotely and within new training environments designed to enable participants to remain physically distanced.
…and more flexible workforce models are coming
At the same time, I believe the changes in work practices ushered in by the pandemic will intensify the focus on developing new and more flexible workforce models for public safety organisations. These will be aimed at enabling them to access new and different talent pools as and when needed. This ability will be especially important when they need to respond in an agile way to fast-moving changes in demand or threat, and/or when their current workforce comes under resourcing pressure.
Achieving and sustaining this higher level of agility will require policing organisations to adopt new and more flexible approaches to workforce and talent management. But to me, the effort will be worth it. As well as allowing public safety agencies to access new skills and capabilities on-demand, the new approaches will also increase the existing workforce’s resilience and ability to respond at pace.
Workforce wellbeing comes to the fore
Alongside more remote working and more agile workforce models, I believe another lasting legacy of the pandemic will be a heightened focus on workforce wellbeing. This will manifest itself in two ways. First, immediate actions to enhance the protection and safety of the workforce. And second, ongoing longer-term measures, as we gain a greater understanding of how dealing with the pandemic impacts the health and wellbeing of officers and staff. To support these measures, we’re likely to see rising adoption of a range of tools and technologies to help foster and sustain wellbeing in the workplace and out on the streets.
It’s likely that we’ll continue to see public safety agencies adjust their working practices as we continue to navigate the need for flexibility and managing uncertainly. What do you think will be the lasting impact on the public safety workforce as a result of COVID-19?
In my next blog, I’ll explore how public safety organisations face the difficult challenge of maintaining trust and confidence whilst enforcing new, often complex and poorly understood government measures as the pandemic and their role within it continues to play out.
An earlier version of this blog was first published as an article in Policing Insight magazine.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this document are meant to stimulate thought and discussion. As each business has unique requirements and objectives, these ideas should not be viewed as professional advice with respect to the business.
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Driving rapid digital adoption and virtualisation in policing
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