Change in working environment lifts IT staff and user satisfaction

Open-plan culture boosts user approval rating.

Open-plan culture boosts user approval rating.

The IT department at East Lothian Council reinvented itself after an internal review highlighted dissatisfaction among end-users about its performance and a high staff turnover.

The shake-up in working practices and the office environment helped the council win the Best Places to Work award in central and local government.

East Lothian's IT department has 36 staff members and prides itself on being a friendly place to work where staff are encouraged to develop a range of skills.

"We are reasonably informal and highly centralised," said Colin Shand, head of IT at East Lothian Council.

"All the IT staff are in one unit, we are all multi-skilled and there is no room for deep specialisation - we all muck in. That is very much an ethic for myself and my three senior managers."

However, only a couple of years ago East Lothian Council's IT department was not such a happy place to work, according to Shand.

"I have been here two and a half years. I came in as a user from the finance department and the IT department was perceived as being cliquey and unhelpful.

"There was an expectation of getting poor service. The IT department did not get much feedback from users and everything was very hierarchical. Everyone had their own little areas - it was very divisive."

The council tested the performance of its IT department using a benchmarking service from local government IT managers' association Socitm.

It used various methods to rank the performance of the IT department, including questioning end-users and independent analysis. The department came second from bottom in the service's ranking.

Staff turnover at the IT department was also quite high at the time but Shand was determined to turn the department around. "I loosened things up and put customer service at the forefront, not procedures," he said.

Shand focused on improving the service to council staff and encouraging an open working culture that avoided cliques.

"It was not difficult. It was already there and the staff just needed some encouragement," he said.

"Although the IT department was housed in one space, staff were separated by dividers. Everyone had their backs to each other. Now it is one open-plan room and there is nowhere to hide. It may sound trivial, but it has a clear psychological impact."

As well as going on away days and team-building exercises, IT staff at all levels meet regularly. "We give responsibility to staff to get buy in. They come up with the ideas and it becomes their achievement," Shand said.

User confidence in the IT department has grown markedly as a result of the new ethos.

"We have just repeated the Socitm user satisfaction survey and satisfaction has increased significantly in every category. But we still have some way to go."

Satisfaction in the workforce is also increasing, said Shand. In the past two and a half years, no one has left the department.

If you would like to enter your organisation for the Best Places to Work in IT 2005 awards, click here >>.

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