By Sarah.Aston

03 Feb 2015

Julie Tankard, vice president for central government, police & security at BT (pictured), shares her thoughts on what the civil service can learn from BT’s smarter working initiatives and vice versa. Sarah Aston reports

BT is regarded as one of the main exemplars for smarter working and innovation in the workplace. Why?

I think it is partly because we have been doing it for so long. If I look at myself personally, I have been a home worker for 13 years. Thirteen years ago outside of BT you never met anybody who worked at home – it was almost unheard of!

What challenges has BT encountered trying to introduce smarter working?

Over time we have gone through the pros and the cons – because there are some difficult challenges as well, especially around employee engagement. 

You get that euphoria of suddenly giving everyone a flexible way of working and they can work at home, but two years down the line, they can become disengaged. They don't meet their colleagues anymore, they don't have that time have a cup of coffee with people, and to interact. 

You have then got to learn how to engage this workforce that is suddenly all spread out, and how to acknowledge it. 

Because of this, we have really stepped up our communication to our staff and I think we have gone through a cultural shift. 

What could the civil service learn from your journey?

Hopefully the civil service can learn from some of the pitfalls that we experienced so that they don't experience them too – I think that's one of the big things. 

Because we are helping others, such as the Greater Manchester Police, to implement smarter working, and not just in the UK actually, we are able to take their experience and impart it to the civil service. 

As a result, we are able to give not just a perspective, but a global perspective of what others are doing with smarter working. Therefore, the civil service can be at the leading edge.

Can BT learn from the civil service? 

Absolutely. I mean the private sector is not always the best at everything. 

There are lots of things that generally the public sector have done better than the private sector.  And we as a private organisation need to accept that, and vice versa. So I think you should never assume the public sector is behind in smarter initiatives because that is not always the case. So again, it is about knowledge sharing. 

What has been BT’s involvement with the TW3 programme?

Our involvement is more a voluntary activity. We got involved with the team as part of Civil Service Live and we designed the smarter working pod at the Civil Service Live event.

Public sector business is very important to BT, as we provide a lot of technology to the public sector. This is not a technology sell, it's actually about seeing our underlying technology and infrastructure, and indeed that of other suppliers as well, being used to the best possible way.

When you look at some of the things that we do in the health sector for example, where we are really changing the way people actually work – so that you can record operations and have consultations with patients using technology – I mean it truly is having an impact.

Plus, we were a public sector organisation and I think that is still in the heart of BT.

Julie Tankard was speaking at the TW3 Awards that took place on Thursday 22 January 2015. 

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