Innovation for a nation
Public sector reflections on COVID-19
and the "new normal"
COVID-19 brought upheaval and disruption across the country, but also acted as a catalyst to enabling flexible and remote working in the private and public sector alike. There is a new appreciation for digital technology and its ability to enable communication across teams, wherever they’re working from.
According to research by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 30% of UK employees worked from home during 2019. Now, as a national health necessity, the UK government is encouraging 100% remote working wherever possible to reduce the risk of transmissions.
As remote working increases, our survey gauges UK public sector sentiments on technology to support new working practices. It also captures valuable insights as to how government and public sector bodies are currently operating and how they can pursue innovations to be fit for the future.
The survey engaged 724 participants, with central government, local government and the NHS representing 63% of responses. The survey explores how COVID-19 has impacted remote working, communication and the use of technology in government and UK public sector. It also identifies how public services are evolving to meet the changing needs of staff and citizens through working practices in "the new normal".
Senior Manager /
C-Suite / Director
Remote working is here to stay
85% said COVID-19 changed their organisation’s views on remote and flexible working.
Mental health takes centre stage
82% said staff well-being and mental health are a top priority for 2020 and beyond.
Renewed focus on customer experience
87% said COVID-19 has intensified focus on improving customer experience.
User preference for integrated apps
81% said integrating voice (softphone) into other business apps is preferred.
Device freedom is the future
82% said their apps are not unified across desktop & mobile.
Rebuilding citizen trust
It felt like yesterday the government was lifting stay-at-home orders, businesses started to reopen and government data signaled a plateau in unemployment benefit applications. Yet, in a matter of seconds, COVID-19 cases spiked again and our future was cast in further doubt.
87% of our survey respondents agreed that improving customer experience is a top priority across all public services nationwide. A renewed focus on examinations of citizen journeys and satisfaction metrics are prevalent. 65% of respondents said the pandemic increased their use of omnichannel platforms. As millions are furloughed and retreat into isolation, a primary barometer of their customer experience will be how their local authorities deliver public services that meet their new needs with empathy, care and expediency. 55% of respondents said that COVID-19 presented a challenge to their contact centre.
Now is the time for customer experience (CX) leaders to respond to the longer-term shifts in citizen behaviour that result from this crisis. Keeping a real-time pulse on changing preferences and redesigning crucial customer or user journeys will be key.
Did COVID-19 present a challenge to your organisation’s contact centre?
Has the current pandemic increased your use of omni-channel platforms with customers?
UK GDP declines whilst budget pressures heighten
Motivators to move to cloud
Barriers to move to cloud
of respondents said the use of offices and estates has experienced significant change as a result of COVID-19
of CIOs have IT cost reduction as one of their top priorities in 2020Many include investment in tech enabled business models and digital customer experience as a top priority 1
The UK GDP is forecasted to decline by 11.5% in 2020, resulting in fewer taxpayer-funded initiatives for the public sector. When asked on barriers to migrating to cloud applications, survey respondents said budget pressures (55%) and total cost of ownership (41%) were among the top 3 reasons. In fact, 63% of respondents said reducing costs is the top priority for the remainder of the year. While budget pressures was listed as a barrier to adopting cloud, it was also listed as a motivator to adopting cloud as 37% said changing to a pay as you go, predictable, lower cost model was a key factor.
Public sector offices and estates have been impacted by the pandemic; 46% of respondents said the use of offices and estates has experienced significant change as a result of COVID-19, compared with only 6% who say there has been no change.
Findings indicate there’s pressure to take financial action as a result of the pandemic. The contradiction of budget pressures motivating and inhibiting cloud adoption indicates respondents are not clear on how cloud is a cost optimisation tool. Maintaining investments in digital transformation and customer experience underscores how some civic leaders are prioritising business continuity, resilience and cost savings through cloud adoption.
Property management strategy also requires a complete redesign to optimise for the new normal and new agile collaborative working practices going forward. Many British institutions have adopted estate consolidation strategies pre-pandemic to slash budgets. Most notably, BT shut down more than 270 UK offices as part of a plan to carve out £1.5bn in expenses from their operating budget. Going forward we anticipate more of these consolidation efforts emerging to account for pandemic losses in revenues.
"The way organisations deal with their customers, their employees, and the broader community in a crisis is likely to leave lasting memories in customers’ minds."2 – McKinsey & Company
The new normal requires investments in digital
Digital delivery of information and services has become a necessity since the country was “sent home” in March. 50% of respondents said developing a digital service mode was a top priority for their organisation in the next year. Adoption of all digital government services has grown strongly, even among the most “digitally resistant”. For local authorities, the rapid development of digital functionalities are key to ensuring continuity of services. 48% of respondents also said the current climate has accelerated the adoption of cloud services within their organisations.
Organisations that make the shift to digital and deliver superior experiences have an opportunity to increase adoption and maintain good citizen relationships after the crisis. Digital provides opportunities for cost optimisation and service delivery channels that adapt to the new normal we live in today. The way local authorities deal with their community, their employees, local businesses and service providers in a crisis is likely to leave lasting memories in citizens' minds.
"Next to creating intelligent workspaces and accelerating e-commerce, it will be essential to digitise the primary processes, like rethinking the donor journey of giving blood or plasma, further digitising the pharma factory and the laboratory, increasing collaboration on research work."3
Is developing a new digital service model a priority for your organisation in 2020 - 2021?
Has the pandemic accelerated adoption of cloud services within your organisation?
Not applicable - all our platforms are in the cloud already
Public Sector ICT was fast to respond in the face of COVID-19
Does your current ICT infrastructure enable Staff Mobility?
Was the enablement of Remote Working a problem for your organisation?
Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19, the good news is that ICT organisations demonstrated remarkable flexibility in the face of this crisis. In our survey, a majority of respondents (85%) said their IT teams and infrastructure enabled mobility quickly in response to COVID-19. 67% said there were no issues with enabling remote working at all and 77% said they were using Microsoft Teams for messaging with colleagues. The data did indicate there were at least two chat apps or more being used at once in many organisations. 82% did say their communications tools are not available on both desktop and mobile, but rather on one or the other, and 81% said integrating voice into other business applications for click-to-dial functionality would be preferred.
These statistics show that investments in IT infrastructure and efforts to migrate to the cloud resulted in an effective response to the immediate business continuity needs from COVID-19. One point the public sector can focus on for an improved user experience is investing in unified cloud apps that work across any device (desktop, mobile, tablet). Lastly, to enhance their Microsoft 365 investments and optimise budgets, they can consider embedding voice capabilities natively into Teams through direct routing.
People are the priority: Concerns about mental health top the charts
As working practices, staff culture and technology change, an encouraging 82% of respondents state that staff wellbeing and mental health is a top priority. COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on many people, with isolation being a primary factor in significant mental health issues. The need for physical and social distancing has only intensified this struggle.
Communication with staff is key. It’s vital that leaders ask themselves whether they have a communications strategy in place and, whilst working remotely, to ensure that staff feel a sense of community, value and purpose.
Moreover, the financial benefits of spending money on staff health and wellbeing far outweigh the cost. Communications technologies can give staff the opportunity to use channels of communication to bridge the gap between physical connectivity and foster better morale, creativity and productivity.
Finding savings without sacrificing citizen experience
|Important||Moderately Important||Not Important|
|Data on what communication |
channels your customers prefer
|Data on what service improvements |
are needed from your customers
|Data on what services our customers |
think we deliver
|Data on the methods our customers use |
our services and their performance
state that understanding the communication channels customers prefer is important
Over half of our respondents say that COVID-19 has caused a new focus on improving customer experience
In a downturn, cutting costs is inevitable. But that does not have to come at the expense of a good customer experience, which can create substantial societal value.
When asked if COVID-19 has caused a new focus on improving customer experience, over half of respondents (55%) agree that it has. Moreover, 65% say the pandemic has increased the use of omnichannel platforms with customers, and 73% said understanding the communication channels their customers preferred is important going into 2021.
Often, the best ways to improve experience and efficiency at the same time is to increase digital self-service and to make smarter operational trade-offs, grounded in what matters most to customers and residents. In industries like public services, digital servicing is often less expensive than in-person and phone-based approaches. Migrating customers to digital channels is often a successful way to boost savings and satisfaction.
Data sovereignty confusion: Balancing security with innovation
When it came to data residency, 35% of respondents said their data absolutely has to reside within the UK. Since 46% agreed security concerns are a top inhibitor to cloud adoption, the anxiety over data storage is likely to form part of that reticence.
Meanwhile, 45% admitted they were not clear on their organisation’s policy on data residency. The data indicates a need for clear, realistic and forward-thinking policies to be decided and communicated throughout the public sector.
The dialogue surrounding data sovereignty is ongoing and complex. Boris Johnson has stated that, with regards to Brexit negotiations, the goal is for the UK to ‘restore data sovereignty’. However, questions persist over how this will hinder the UK’s competitive edge and ability to keep up with global tech innovations with restrictions of data flow.
As the Brexit transition comes to an end, every public sector organisation must navigate new rules around data. Clarity is required on the impact that Brexit will have on data laws which will, perhaps, cause a period of paralysis when it comes to adopting cloud technologies. While national sovereignty is important, we must not sacrifice innovation in the name of sovereignty and risk falling behind the rest of the EU and globe on adopting new technology innovations.
"After three years of internal focus, now’s the time for UK businesses of all sizes to look outwards. My bet is that those who can hold their nerve in the market and invest for the future, by committing to upskilling their people, embracing the opportunities presented by technology and wider disruption, and by making sustainability core to the way they do business, will be the ones who come out on top."4
Yes absolutely, the data needs to stay in the UK
The data can stay in Europe
The data can be stored in any secure centre globally
I don’t know our policy on this
Lessons from the year of discontent
Based on the insights of our detailed survey report, here's how UK public sector leaders can rethink their approaches, reconfigure service models and build capabilities in this fast changing environment.
1. Meet citizens where they are today
UK residents’ normal patterns of life have come to a halt. Simple activities like a trip to the grocery store or dining out with friends are now difficult, risky, or even prohibited. Overnight, demand patterns have shifted. Overall online demand has increased. Citizens need digital public services, at home, and low-touch options. Digital-led experiences will continue to grow in popularity once the coronavirus threat is mitigated.
2. Accelerate digital to drive cost efficiencies
Some public sector organisations have already quickly pivoted to digital services to help citizens. It’s likely that many residents who have converted to digital services will stick to them after the immediate health crisis is over. Organisations who make this shift to digital and deliver superior experiences have an opportunity to increase adoption and maintain positive community relationships after the crisis. The way public services interact with residents, their employees, and the broader community in a crisis is likely to leave lasting memories in customers’ minds.
3. Prioritise employee wellbeing
Employee wellbeing has been impacted across the spectrum. Employee mental health is suffering due to fear and anxiety around physical and financial health factors, as well as the disruption of social and community networks due to social distancing requirements. Surveying employees is a great place to begin to understand employee struggles. Employers should have a pulse on what external factors might be impacting employee productivity. Understanding what percentages of your workforce are caring for sick dependents or who may be experiencing financial issues from a partner’s employment status are all factors that may influence their mental health. During these times, employees appreciate constant and authentic communication. Employers should be transparent on the state of the organisation and focus on the present moment, rather than speculate for the future.
4. Invest in tools that sustain your resilience
It took a global pandemic for some organisations to jump-start their digital transformation, but there's no turning back now. They've seen how digitisation enables even the largest and most mature organisations to respond to crisis, whether it's standing up a remote work model or changing how customers interact with their services. A critical part of this transformation will be improving your organisation's information supply chain and building a world-class analytics capability, together with a deliberate approach to building digital workforce capabilities.