Munro: Managed hotdesking for social workers can work

Eileen Munro outlines her fears for the impact of hotdesking and offers solutions for how the profession can retain the benefits of the expert team

Photo: Luckybusiness/Fotolia

by Eileen Munro

Local authorities, dealing with large funding cuts, are having to make changes to the traditional way of operating and reducing office space can produce substantial savings. Technological developments such as laptops and remote access to databases are also creating new ways of working, making it less necessary for a social worker to be in the office to do their work.

Change is inevitable but it needs to be managed in a way that doesn’t accidentally destroy a major asset that helps to improve the service children and their families receive.

My worry is that some choices will be made because people don’t realise the damaging impact it will have on the expert team.

Community Care is currently running a survey on how social workers feel about hotdesking and car parking which you can take here.

It is up to the profession to assert the importance of the expert team in strengthening the service that is provided to children, young people and families but also to find ways of managing the necessary operational changes to minimise the damage to team functioning. Hotdesking, for example, can be managed in ways that at least keep social workers in one part of the office rather than interspersed with other departments. Teams can have fixed times when they will be in the office.

Expert teams

Expert teams differ from teams of experts. Expert teams are more than the sum of their parts: the interactions between members strengthen what they can each achieve. A team of experts is just individuals who are grouped together for some administrative reason but operate independently.

Traditionally, as shown in several ethnographic studies, social work teams have operated as expert teams, using each other as a resource to help them improve their performance.

Informal exchanges in the office help workers make sense of the information they are gathering about a family, review their reasoning and draw on the expertise of others in planning how to manage the case. Colleagues also help if one worker is facing a particularly challenging time.

The team is also an important source of emotional support. Social work is emotionally demanding: a home visit can expose you to the extremes of emotions, to anger, anxiety, depression, fear. Being able to process these experiences helps workers cope and stay sensitive to families’ feelings.

Badly managed, it can lead to burnout where the worker copes by keeping a distance and depersonalising families. Biggart et al’s 2017 study found that workers value the team in providing a secure base to return to when life is stressful.

It offered availability – ‘people are there for me’, sensitivity – ‘my feelings are manageable’, acceptance – ‘I don’t always have to be strong’, cooperation – ‘I can work with others to find a solution’, and ‘team belonging – ‘I am valued, and I belong’.

I am aware that many in social work are striving to preserve their teams as they adapt to changes but we need to pool our ideas to avoid the lone social worker becoming accepted as the norm.

Eileen Munro is an emeritus professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics

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10 Responses to Munro: Managed hotdesking for social workers can work

  1. maria February 7, 2019 at 4:27 pm #

    lol! this article is a joke! hot desking is the least of our problems! She needs to outline her fears for the impact of management bullying & low staff morale & and offer solutions for how the SW profession can appreciate & retain experienced SW’s!

    • J February 9, 2019 at 2:21 pm #

      Well said- as ever same old preaching.

    • Ian Kemp February 11, 2019 at 9:09 am #

      Munro needs to be a bit more creative in her thinking. She has not been anyware near social work as it is practised in local authority for years.
      Radical reforms would require a revolution not tinkering with a failed system if social as any sort of profession is to gain any sort of respect from other professions.
      First take it out of Local authority . Set up a separate care system to include all care work homes support workers . It would be funded centrally by Government but independent . All staff would be trained and supported properly. There would no more purchaser provider nonsense. The care system or whatever you want to call it would be professionalised with proper training and support for all staff. There would be some bureaucracy but at least it would be manageable and under control of the new social services department.
      It would be very costly at the start but it would become more manageable ..
      the present system is top heavy with local gov bureaucracy delivering a very small service at great cost. Also the Local gov system of incrementalism creates little empires and encourages bullying and insensitivity re staff. As one climbs the local gov hierarchy, one becomes more distant from the reason for the existence of clients and indeed those at the coal face .Managerialism is a modern day disease which has infected many areas of life. The effect on a more humanitarian caring job that social work used to be as been disastrous.
      Our wonderful politicians would prefer to let sleeping dogs stay rather than do what is necessary. It requires a lot of lateral thinking sadly lacking in our politicians and indeed in social work it self.

  2. Manzar Iqbal BA Hons DMS.MBA February 7, 2019 at 6:04 pm #

    Munroe makes an important point. However in reality quite the opposite is happening in many local authorities.
    Micro management and over scrutiny of social workers and many practitioners in the public sector is accruing more and more by many managers who have very little or no training in management and leadership.
    This style of management creates a barrier for innovative problem solving especially on complex issues. Workers are tasked together like SARDINES and unable to breadth and do their job. Their is no such thing as working from home or trust and we then expect staff to provide good outcomes. Get REAL I say.

    Manzar Iqbal BA Hons DMS.MBA

    • north west February 7, 2019 at 9:19 pm #

      thank you for these comments, i agree with them, l would also state the implication of simplistic models to catch all situations SOS being one which LAs use to try and cover for the youth in the workforce having little experience of actually working with complex people over time, undertaking reports and the lack of management training and support.

    • J February 9, 2019 at 2:24 pm #

      Well said- sick to death of repeating myself at a child in care review and a adoption monitoring panel and supervision and then by the way put a business plan together- oh yes external placement panel. 😩😩😩😩😩😩

    • Ian Kemp February 11, 2019 at 9:12 am #

      True Manzar but it requires more than that , See my comment above for what it is worth.

  3. north west February 7, 2019 at 9:16 pm #

    Insepections should review the cohesiveness of teams and look at this as part of the Inspectorate Report:

    l am sick of being seen as a call centre worker, it’s not a great environment for them, numerous studies have shown the issues around this already for years, whilst the power inbalance in the workforce it can create in many stressed LAs impacts the morale, knowledge and insight avalible to the team which given the % of AYSEs in teams is not productive for the team to build coheision and encourages a culture of erroding skill and expertise on a national scale.

    All LA’s if promoting this model need to apply it equally to ALL STAFFING LAYERS if its such a great model then the Director and AD will be happy to join in this model.

  4. A Man Called Horse February 8, 2019 at 2:53 pm #

    Eileen Munro Translated. Yes you know hot desking is a response to Austerity, but get over it. No change is planned so take it or leave it.

    The Social Worker’s champion has spoken.

  5. jules February 9, 2019 at 6:36 pm #

    Bla bla bla, same old same old. When I see upper management hot desking and having to wait for 40 minutes for parking and then getting tickets from the private parking company used to ‘patrol’ the car park, I might be more inclined to think they will do something about this. It is a paper exercise and nothing will change unless we all decide to make a stand against poor working practices.