6 Planning and arranging work

How work is planned and arranged is critical for aligning business, workforce and customer needs and priorities for the immediate and longer-term future. This includes creating a culture that supports strategic workforce planning and collaboration across internal and external boundaries to deliver better results for customers, and adopting flexible ways of working that benefit organisations and individual employees.

Flexible working works for everyone

Flexible working is about rethinking where, when and how people work, in ways that maintain or improve service delivery for the people of NSW.

In December 2017, the PSC released a strategic framework to guide agencies in making all government sector roles flexible on an ‘if not, why not’ basis by 2019, in line with the NSW Government’s policy commitment. This framework recognises that, given the diversity of work in the sector, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and different types of flexible working will suit different roles and operating contexts. Each arrangement will be unique to the workplace, the individual and the work required.

Flexible working arrangements provide significant benefits for both organisations and individuals. For organisations, it can reduce office space costs (in some circumstances), promote greater diversity and create a more compelling employee value proposition to attract and retain top talent. For example, the ability to rethink where work takes place can attract and retain employees beyond the typical geographic constraints. This becomes a powerful tool for agencies in meeting the commitment to boost the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees at every salary level to 1.8% and double their number in senior leadership by 2025. Currently, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees are located outside Sydney, yet there are few leadership opportunities outside the Sydney metropolitan area.

Rethinking how work is done, through arrangements such as job sharing, can help attract potential female leaders or employees with disability who may be capable of holding a senior role but need to consider other commitments or their health. In both instances, the sector needs to improve its job application rates, and more effectively convert its pipeline.

Finally, analysis shows that agencies that offer more flexible working opportunities have fewer unscheduled absences (see Figure 6.1). For agencies seeking to manage their input costs, this can drive efficiency when combined with potential office space savings.


Sources: Workforce Profile (2018); People Matter Employee Survey (2018)

Note: Each data point represents an agency, and the straight line is the trendline.

For employees, flexible working leads to better work–life integration and improved wellbeing. Analysis of 2018 People Matter Survey data shows that employees working flexibly are more engaged than those who are not (67.3 vs 62.7). They are more likely to be motivated to contribute more than what is normally required of them at work (75.2% vs 68.4%), and more likely to be able to keep their stress at an acceptable level (64.7% vs 53.5%). Even just having a manager who supports flexible working is enough to boost engagement, including for those who do not work flexibly for whatever reason (see Table 6.1).

Table 6.1 Relationship between flexible work and employee engagement

  Manager supports flexible working within team
Work flexibly Employees who disagreed or were unsure Employees who agreed
No 53.8 73.6
Yes 53.6 71.7

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2018)

Note: Values in cells are employee engagement scores.

A self-assessment completed by agencies in March 2018 indicates the sector still needs to work on moving from its current, largely ad hoc approach to flexible working towards embedding this practice in the way agencies arrange their work. Although policy is in place, agencies report that processes remain largely reactive and focused on compliance. Agencies are only now getting their programs of work underway, which is reflected in the static scores for responses to questions about flexible working in the 2018 People Matter Survey.

The use of flexible work practices in the government sector barely changed between 2017 and 2018, moving from 60.7% to 60.2% (see Figure 6.2 for a breakdown by service for 2018). However, there was a small increase (1.4 percentage points) in satisfaction with access to flexible working, to 58.7%. This suggests that promotion of the ‘if not, why not’ approach may be beginning to gain traction.


Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2018)

Consultations with the sector revealed the following challenges that need to be addressed before flexible working becomes the norm.

  • Communication and engagement: Employees are not hearing managers and senior leaders promoting flexible working beyond ‘flex time’ or part-time work arrangements. To counter this, managers and senior leaders need to be exemplary role models of flexible working, by doing things such as discussing flexible working options with their teams.
  • Manager capability: Historic biases perpetuate the idea that flexible working is only for certain people or roles, a perception compounded by managers’ concerns about how best to build trust and ensure policies are applied fairly and equitably. While senior leaders generally agree that work should be outcomes-focused, some managers have historically been rewarded for managing by time spent at desk as an indicator of productivity, rather than by measuring outcomes.
  • Systems and processes: Limited access to technology, and dated policies and processes can impede flexible working opportunities. Many employees find ways to work around these limitations, but the workarounds are not well known or promoted by HR teams.
  • Accountability and management: Agencies have yet to introduce clear metrics and monitoring systems to measure their progress in implementing flexible working.

To assist with transitioning to a culture where the benefits of flexible working are realised, the PSC is undertaking work across the sector to support agencies to effectively meet this policy commitment, with a program work focused on four key areas: engagement, policies and tools, people leader capability, and measurement and governance. Agency progress toward this policy commitment will be monitored through a cross-sector governance committee.

Collaborative approaches help deliver on outcomes but are not yet widespread

Sharing resources and know-how between sectors and between agencies within the public sector enables the delivery of better citizen-centric public services. When executed well, the pooling of knowledge, ideas, skills, networks and assets can help use resources more efficiently, reduce risk, develop strong relationships, and encourage greater social trust and engagement.19

The public sector operates in a complex environment and must engage and work with partners and stakeholders from the private and not-for-profit sectors, other jurisdictions and the community. The drivers of cross-sectoral collaboration have been given impetus by the NSW Government’s commissioning and contestability agenda. The shift of service delivery from the government sector to other sectors makes collaboration more important, and the required capabilities more complex.

However, collaboration remains a challenge for the sector. While 78.9% of 2018 People Matter survey respondents felt their workgroup works collaboratively as a team to achieve its objectives, only 48.7% felt there is good cooperation between teams across their agency. Employees’ perceptions of how well their senior managers promote collaboration between their organisation and other organisations they work with was only slightly better, at 52.3%. These results are telling indicators of a broad need to strengthen collaboration capability and culture across the sector. For this to occur, leadership and management must recognise and promote the value of collaboration; support and enable cooperative efforts and initiatives; and design key systems and processes to support collaborative working. The transfer and secondment provisions of the GSE Act go some way in supporting agencies to move people to where they are most needed, but agencies will need to be increasingly creative in planning and arranging work to ensure that the workforce is best positioned to deliver on outcomes for the people of NSW.

Collaboration works: The Royal Commission response taskforce

The NSW Government took a collaborative approach to responding to recommendations from the five-year Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It put together a taskforce of representatives from various agencies to determine how the Government will acknowledge and act on the recommendations, which were handed down in the Royal Commission’s final report in December 2017.

The Royal Commission’s 409 recommendations covered a wide range of policy areas including child safe institutions, support and treatment, reporting and record keeping, and information sharing.

Adopting a highly collaborative, cross-sector approach, the NSW Government established a multi-agency taskforce that delivered a comprehensive response within a very tight time frame of six months. The collaborative approach was adopted from the most senior level down, with the Attorney General and the Minister for Family and Community Services sharing responsibility for delivering the response.

The taskforce was coordinated by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. It consisted of seconded representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian, NSW Department of Justice, NSW Department of Education, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, NSW Ministry of Health and NSW Treasury. The taskforce also sought advice and consulted with a wide range of stakeholders across government and non-government sectors to inform the response.

The NSW Government Response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was delivered in June 2018. This was thanks to a successful collaboration that unfolded as described below.

  • The project was underpinned by good leadership, coordination and team planning. For example, work was divided into streams, each with an allocated lead from the line agency likely to steer the implementation.
  • Taskforce members were supported by a robust governance framework that helped to clearly define roles, responsibilities and expectations. This allowed the taskforce to operate smoothly and report to relevant governing bodies including Ministers and the Council of Australian Governments.
  • Taskforce members with a variety of skills and perspectives were seconded from home agencies to ensure a strong, comprehensive response. Their expertise ranged from service delivery and regulation to policy development and stakeholder engagement.
  • Flexible secondment arrangements allowed taskforce members to work from various locations and remain connected with executive sponsors in their home agencies. This ensured that line agencies were kept abreast of activities and could review the work before executive sign-off from directors and ministers.
  • Seamless communication and the free flow of information and data between different members of the taskforce helped to streamline the response process.

The success of the taskforce and its quick turnaround time highlight the benefits of collaboration in government. The approach helped build mutual trust, break down silos and foster joint ownership of the response.

Workforce planning is yet to shift from operational to strategic

The scale of change in workplaces in general requires us to think differently about sector’s workforce and the future needs of its stakeholders and citizens. Technological advances, changing customer and citizen expectations, and demographic shifts are just some of the forces affecting the evolution of the nature of work. Strategic workforce planning is key to an organisation’s ability to plan for the future and deliver on its goals.

Strategic workforce planning is about understanding and planning for the effects of strategic and operational business imperatives on the workforce, including the organisation’s strategic plan, environmental impacts and social dynamics. It typically covers a three- to five-year horizon to ensure that an organisation has the right people in the right roles at the right time at the right cost. It can be contrasted with operational workforce planning, which looks at the day-to-day, short-term demands of the business to determine resource allocation.

The maturity of workforce planning varies across the sector. In the Recruitment Review survey of 45 Public Service agencies, 32 agencies said they had an operational workforce plan for their whole agency or for pockets of the agency, but only 20 said they had a strategic workforce plan for the whole agency or pockets of the agency. Agencies said that the limited extent of workforce planning was due to a lack of resources, workforce planning expertise and data to inform the planning process.

Good strategic workforce planning is well integrated with business planning and used as a strategic business tool. It requires good stakeholder engagement across the organisation. Business units and functional areas should take a collaborative approach to monitor progress and revise as needed.

However, workforce planning is not without its challenges. It can be difficult to do if there is a lack of recognition or support among senior management; if an agency tries to do too much at once or focuses too much on day-to-day operational requirements; if accurate workforce, business and customer data is unavailable; or if siloed HR and business units restrict collaboration across the organisation. Evidence shows that these challenges are experienced across the sector, meaning that considered effort is required to ensure workforce planning is done well and consistently.

Strategic workforce planning at Fire and Rescue NSW involves all levels of the agency

The key to successful workforce planning at Fire and Rescue NSW has been in getting the buy-in and involvement of all levels and areas of the organisation. Even though HR facilitate the planning process, business areas are involved at every stage. Fire and Rescue’s corporate workforce plan (nearing completion) is a living document that focuses on actions – the what, how and why. It has a three-year outlook and will be reviewed annually to ensure it is current and continues to align with the overall strategic direction and priorities of the agency.

Leaders of the agency view workforce planning as critical in delivering a round-the-clock, decentralised and diverse emergency service. The agency covers fire, rescue, hazardous materials, environmental protection, counter-terrorism, natural disaster and humanitarian relief, medical response, and prevention and education.

It has a varied workforce, comprising firefighters, and administrative, trade and professional personnel, including psychologists, engineers and logistics specialists. To ensure the perspectives and needs of all areas are considered, Fire and Rescue takes a three-layered approach to workforce planning:

  • The executive layer, which is the Workforce Planning Focus Group, comprises key Fire and Rescue executives. It reviews workforce indices and trends, considers workforce needs and commits to strategic directions at the outset, to inform planning requirements and priorities. It also assigns accountabilities and monitors progress, revising strategy as needed.
  • The cross-functional layer, which is the Workforce Planning Action Group, is made up of middle management, subject matter experts and frontline workers. They come together following Focus Group meetings to develop an integrated approach to implementing the workforce priorities, actions and strategies handed down by the Focus Group. The Action Group discusses workforce issues, identifies potential remedies, and passes on advice and recommendations from frontline and support services to the Focus Group. While the Action Group has a core membership, including workforce data analysts, specific business owners and other experts can join meetings based on current and emerging needs. For example, IT experts may attend when technology is at the centre of a discussion.
  • The localised layer is made up of directorate heads and management teams. Local management teams take ownership of local workforce issues and solutions, forecast local workforce needs, and communicate the agency’s plans and strategies to workers. Management teams complete a workforce analysis questionnaire and simple planning template for analysis and endorsement.

Fire and Rescue is achieving a high level of engagement with workforce planning. Shared involvement has meant that its planning is contemporary, detailed and linked to business objectives and the Fire and Rescue Commissioner’s strategic priorities. Shared understanding and ownership is bringing the agency’s workforce strategy to life.

Sector leaders need to position the workforce for the future

Strategic workforce planning is only one tool of many that organisations need to cope with the unprecedented rate of change occurring in workplaces in NSW, Australia and around the globe. To be prepared to meet this challenge, the NSW public sector workforce must remain dynamic, flexible and agile. As the sector continues to operate in an increasingly complex and uncertain environment, senior leaders and HR will need to take an active role in preparing the workforce for the future. They will need to think strategically about sustainable, long-term solutions to challenges, and innovatively to maximise opportunities – all with an awareness of the environment shaping our future. Following are some of the megatrends affecting the way the sector works.

  • People: Changes in the demographic makeup of NSW and Australia will have significant long-term effects on the NSW public sector workforce and the makeup of the public it serves. Australia’s population is ageing, so the workforce is getting older.20 The country’s population growth is resulting in more people moving to urban centres.21 These and other demographic changes will directly affect public sector portfolios, such as by increasing the prominence of aged care and health planning for an ageing population, and transport and infrastructure planning for an increasingly urban population. As the demand for, and delivery of, government services change, the public sector will need to redesign roles to cater for these changes.
  • Modes of work: As technology rapidly progresses and disrupts the landscape in which the sector operates, innovations such as the Internet of Things, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation will influence government service delivery and affect the skills workers need for the future.22 Evolving technology will mean that public sector employees can spend less time on repetitive, menial tasks. However, the sector will have to guard against marginalising members of the community who are less digitally connected, including the elderly and some people with disability.
  • The operating environment: Many changes are occurring in our increasingly globalised and interconnected world. Some natural resources are becoming scarce, and environmental changes are resulting in challenges for urban planning. Further, citizens’ and businesses’ needs and expectations of public service delivery are being influenced by their interactions with the private sector.23 As the pace of technological and digital change accelerates, public sector customers expect higher levels of convenience and responsiveness, and more adaptive services at reduced cost.

Distance not a barrier at Australia’s first virtual school, Aurora College

Aurora College is a virtual high school that gives students in rural and remote schools in NSW the opportunity to be part of a selective school. Many of these students had fewer educational options than their urban peers. But they can now access personalised and future-focused learning without leaving home. This benefits the students, their families, communities, and even the teachers from Aurora and the students’ home schools.

Before the NSW Department of Education established Aurora in 2015, high-potential rural students faced several challenges. These included lack of access to challenging learning via the state’s selective schools during the critical early high school years and a limited curriculum when studying for the Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Previously, many students would either miss out on these opportunities or be forced to relocate – either on their own to boarding schools or with their families to regional hubs.

Now, teachers from across the state use flexible working models, web and video conferencing, and other technology solutions to deliver a broad and extensive curriculum in real time. This is supplemented by residential school classes where students can come together with their cohort to meet and connect. Those establishing Aurora worked closely with principals, teachers and parents of rural students to build a strong academic environment that can adapt to each student’s development and learning needs.

Teachers in rural and remote locations have also benefitted, directly and indirectly. They can find it difficult to gain professional experiences, such as teaching HSC courses, and miss out on the expertise and mentoring of experienced peers. They also have fewer professional learning opportunities. Even though Aurora’s teachers are physically separated by hundreds of kilometres, flexible working practices, teamwork and collaborative technology platforms can be used to plan learning and teaching at Aurora. Aurora’s teachers also share their knowledge with other teachers at their home schools, collaborating with them to co-design lessons for students.

Aurora has produced material outcomes for students, their families and teachers across the state. One parent said, “Aurora College has encouraged [my children] to strive for greater heights with their school work”, enhancing their work ethic and motivation to achieve.

The 2017 NAPLAN results for years 7 and 9 show the percentage of Aurora students who achieved a result in the top two bands at Aurora was significantly higher compared with all other NSW Government schools.

Educational opportunities are a key factor in families’ decisions whether to live in rural areas. Given this, Aurora is providing wider benefits for members of rural communities, including employers.

The digital.nsw accelerator enables new ways of working in the public sector

As its name suggests, the digital.nsw accelerator (DNA) aims to increase the use of digital technologies to rapidly deliver high-value, high-impact, citizen-facing government services and projects. The DNA’s emphasis is on driving systemic change and building new capabilities and skills within government.

The DNA was established in February 2018 and operates out of the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. It focuses on co-designing public services by understanding the needs of citizens and solving problems that occur at any point in the customer journey. To achieve this, key stakeholders and subject matter experts from across the sector co-locate with the DNA’s project delivery experts for between three and six months.

The DNA project teams use human-centred design, and lean and agile methodologies to compress the time taken for a new digital service or product to go from the idea stage to implementation.

While the digital components of the projects are important, the process considers end-to-end service design. The DNA and embedded partners undertake discovery research to find out about user needs and pain points, and the barriers to efficient and effective service. Team members then together conduct further user research to define problems, identify the best solutions and build the minimal viable product. Product releases are made as early as possible to allow further iterative testing with citizens.

Importantly, the home agency continues to own the service or product. The benefits of the DNA model include bringing the skills, capacity and experience gained through the agile service design process back to the home agency, enabling and supporting a local digital reform agenda. The approach also allows for cataloguing reusable components in the NSW Digital Design System, so they can be easily used in similar functions within other departments.

The DNA recently partnered with NSW Fair Trading to digitise the strata mediation application form. Through this project, a once manual, paper-based process that took three months from application to mediation is now available online. This makes the system far more efficient for applicants, case managers and mediators. As a scalable solution, the system may be adapted and enhanced for other mediation and case management applications. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It now takes minutes to apply for mediation, and the process from application to finalisation takes just weeks.
  • Mediators save two hours per day because they no longer have to manually enter applications.
  • Case managers save time previously spent printing, scanning and saving applications.
  • More accurate data capture has reduced the number of follow-up calls to applicants.
  • Mediators and case managers use accurate real-time reports, allowing them to more effectively manage cases.

While the rate of change, the impact of new technology and citizens’ future expectations of the NSW public sector are subjects of ongoing debate, there is no doubt about the importance of a considered and future-focused mindset to the public sector. The sector, as the single largest employer in Australia, can and should take steps to minimise threats and maximise opportunities. It must plan and prepare for emerging and as yet unknown changes and challenges. Leaders will need to think strategically and work as a collective to motivate employees and guide them through change. They will need to pair efficient recruitment and mobility processes with outcomes-based performance management and targeted development. This will become increasingly important, not only as new types of jobs emerge but also as the needs and expectations of citizens and businesses evolve and become more complex. Investing in capability, fostering a culture in which diversity and inclusion are paramount, and promoting flexibility and collaboration will help keep the workforce engaged and productive, enabling everyone to deliver their best work for the people of NSW.


19 PSC (2013)
20 AIHW (2018)
21 Infrastructure Australia (2015)
22 CSIRO (2016)
23 CSIRO (2016); Government Skills Australia (2015); OECD and Shaping Future Governments (2017)