‘Hubs’ a halfway house between office and homeworking
Some users would just need shared remote workplaces occasionally, while for others quiet and confidentiality are top priorities – Stephanie Ellis reports on the latest CDPS research
6 April 2022
The pandemic has fast-forwarded a revolution in working patterns but, as many people depart the office – temporarily or for good – what’s evolving in its place?
Working from home is fine if you have a quiet sanctuary. Yet lack of space, lively kids or too much time with a co-working partner can make the new version of domestic labour imperfect for many.
Enter the remote-working ‘hub’ – a kind of halfway house between office and… house that’s fully tooled up for modern, online working. It’s bookable by the hour or day and shared with other digital workers who are often complete strangers.
A third of workers out of the office
The Welsh Government is encouraging remote working – its long-term ambition is for 30% of the Welsh workforce to work away from a traditional office. Vaughan Gething, Minister for the Economy, said recently:
“Working remotely brings with it a multitude of benefits…helping people escape the commute and develop a better work-life balance… Working locally also pays a vital role in regenerating our town centres… as well as reducing congestion and cutting carbon emissions”
Hubs, then, extend such benefits to more people, and a good booking system will encourage more people to use them. The Welsh Government is considering buying or building a service that would allow people to book publicly and privately provided hub space online.
The Centre for Digital Public Services recently completed an 8-week discovery (the early, research phase of Agile service design) to find out users’ and providers’ needs for such a service.
The discovery team interviewed 14 potential hub users in rural, urban and suburban areas across Wales. They were male and female, and some spoke Welsh as a first language. Some were disabled, and some had mental health needs. Most participants were unaware that a network of remote working hubs already existed in Wales.
The team also spoke to 10 hub providers in the public and private sectors.
What hub users said
Potential hub users told us about:
- why they would use a hub – for online meetings, to work during school holidays, to avoid other distractions at home or because of weak home wifi
- their language preference for booking online – all participants preferred to use English
- crucial factors in deciding which hub space to use, like location and transport links – closeness to home was the most important factor
- facilities they needed at a hub – potential hub users mentioned access to a printer, scanner and photocopier most often and said that charging sockets for devices were essential
- their need for privacy and a quiet space to work – public sector workers said they needed to keep their work confidential, including for meetings and displaying sensitive information on their screens
How often people would use a hub varied. One potential user said:
“Being able to use a hub would be useful for me when I’m in-between home visits with clients, I don’t want to travel all the way home and I have two hours spare to do my paperwork… I could book that into my working week”
What hub providers said
Hub providers told us about their:
- facilities – private hubs tended to offer more sophisticated facilities, with a combination of hotdesking, individual desks, meeting rooms and private offices and, often, an in-house cafe
- booking process – most private hubs used commercial booking software, while those that did not took bookings by email and phone
- expectations of a new booking process – some hub providers would prefer to use a Welsh Government owned booking website, if it existed, to manage bookings, while those who had invested in booking software wanted to keep theirs
One hub provider found current booking arrangements inefficient. They said:
“It would be really good for people to go online, see what’s available, book the space and get all the information that they need. At the moment… it’s… 5 or 6 emails back and forth and then a booking for £9”
What we’ve done with the findings
Based on our research, CDPS has given the Welsh Government guidance about what it should consider when choosing an online hub booking provider – including how accessible the platform is – as well as the layout and facilities the hubs themselves should have.
We’ve also recommended that hub users and providers fully test any booking tool before the Welsh Government buys or builds it.
What happens next?
The remote hub team is now exploring the best approach for setting up an online remote hub booking system for Wales, based on the needs we’ve identified.
Stephanie Ellis is a user researcher on CDPS’s Public Sector Hubs squad.
How do remote hubs work best? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.