New technology heralds age of the remote social worker

First it was the paperless office. Now advances in technology could
be ushering in the era of the workerless office, writes
Derren Hayes

And social care staff are in a strong position to take advantage of
the changes.

More than five million people – one-fifth of the workforce –
already spend time working at home or on the move and researchers
from the Economic and Social Research Council and Tomorrow Project
say mobile working is set to boom.

The advent of laptops, mobile phones and e-mail has driven this
change. And social workers will be at the forefront of it,
especially considering the drive to get fieldworkers away from
their desks more.

John Beer, social services director at Southampton Council, says
the latest technology lets social workers update files immediately,
reducing the need to go into the office. This, in turn, is leading
councils to reassess the need for every social worker to have their
own desk.

When Liverpool Council introduced hotdesking to its children’s
services last year some workers complained they had insufficient
space and had to take client files home.

It may be that social workers will simply have to adjust to the
changing environment.

Beer says: “It is madness to pay for a desk and computer that is
used for a quarter of the day. It is inefficient to keep coming
back to your desk and there are other council premises you can pick
up your e-mails from.”

Jan Miller, director of the Scottish Voluntary Sector Social
Services Workforce Unit, says mobile technology is helping social
workers become more efficient, but warns it would be a mistake for
this to undermine team working in social work departments.

“There will always be the need for social workers to meet to
discuss difficult cases and offer each other advice and emotional
support, particularly in child protection,” she says.

Bridgend Council’s head of adult services, Gordon Jones, agrees
that field social workers still value feeling part of a team and
keeping in touch with colleagues, but that they could retain this
and be more efficient through remote working.

He says: “We’re piloting remote working to encourage a better
work-life balance and we’re also looking at equipping staff with
Palm Pilots [handheld computers] and laptops to input and access

Bridgend care teams input information straight on to laptops when
doing assessments in clients’ homes, but Jones says there is “great
potential” for social workers to send data on to case files in the
same way.

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