Customer Story

Hackney Council: Empowering 4,000 staff to keep serving their community from home

Crowd of people in Hackney

To simplify processes, foster collaboration, and enable flexible work practices for employees in and out of the office, Hackney Council has migrated its workforce of 4,000 to Google Workspace.

Google Workspace Results

Helps 279K+ citizens get the council services they need

• Supports real-time collaboration across departments
• Helps to ensure consistent delivery of services even with 90% of employees working remotely
• Enables remote, secure access to applications via a single set of credentials using Google Cloud Identity single sign-on
• Supports flexible work practices to help employees collaborate closely with their local community, partner organizations, and cross-departmental teams

“Google Workspace releases our colleagues from being rooted to the workplace. They can now access the tools they need online, even when out of the office and closer to the community.” —Henry Lewis, Head of Platform, Hackney Council

Ask a Londoner about the trendy East side of the city, Hackney, and they’ll give you a description of colorful streets teeming with artists, tourists, and street markets, and a bustling nightlife that contrasts with quiet residential areas and parks along a water canal. Hackney’s diversity is a crucial part of this, and the borough is open to people from all over the world with 89 different languages spoken across the borough.

There are also huge challenges with poverty and inequality. Alongside the economic success that Hackney has seen over recent years, there are also communities that are struggling with rapidly rising housing costs and challenges posed by dramatic changes in the employment market. The Council’s work is vital to help make sure that all of Hackney’s residents benefit from the changes taking place across the borough and that Hackney remains a place for everyone.

4,000 council staff are working hard behind the scenes to help this cultural hub continue to thrive and to deliver a wide variety of essential public services to local residents and businesses, from waste collection, housing, education and school meals, to road safety and social care.

Hackney Council, the local authority responsible for delivering these services, coordinates the hive of activity required to serve a population of nearly 280,000 with simplicity and collaboration in mind. “We deliver a broad range of services to local residents and businesses. To do that well and effectively, we try to keep our processes as simple as possible, so they are also simple to support,” says Henry Lewis, Head of Platform at Hackney Council. “To simplify our processes, we realized that we needed new work tools that could help us work differently, rather than simply upgrading the tools we already had in place,” Henry explains. With this in mind, the Council decided in 2018 to migrate its entire workforce to Google Workspace.

Modernizing work tools to enable flexibility and collaboration

“Chromebooks are simple-to-use and cost-effective devices that do everything that our staff need them to do, which is mainly accessing Google Workspace online. As soon as the Grab and Go Chromebooks were available, they were well used every day.” —Henry Lewis, Head of Platform, Hackney Council

One of the forces behind the migration was the need to support employees to work from wherever they needed to be in order to better serve the local community: be it collaborating with other teams around the office, or on the ground around the neighbourhood. Having traditionally relied on a legacy document management system which can only be accessed from its local area network, this kind of flexibility was technically challenging for the Council before its move to Google Workspace.

“Google Workspace releases our colleagues from being rooted to the workplace. They can now access the tools they need online, even when out of the office and closer to the community,” Henry explains, adding that for true collaboration, the Council realized that it needed to go beyond simply upgrading its systems. “We needed to consider our people, and how to encourage behavior change, rather than just changing the tech.”

With a diverse workforce of 4,000 people covering a wide range of different roles and working styles, the Council’s team decided on a stage-by-stage migration process over two years, to account for different tech comfort levels and experience with cloud-based working.

First, it partnered with cloud services provider Ancoris, which provided technical support to deploy Google Workspace across the organization. Together, they started migrating the Council’s employees to Gmail, then gradually introduced them to Docs and Sheets, as well as video conferencing tools such as Google Meet. The Council enhanced its service desk functions to provide continuous access to training on how to operate and deliver virtual services, through a range of approaches to suit different peoples’ needs and learning styles. This was especially helpful for those who had never worked from home before and would otherwise have struggled to log in to Council systems remotely. Next, the Council began supplementing all of this new software with Chrome Enterprise devices, which are cloud native running Chrome OS and seamlessly integrate with Google Workspace. This helped to further facilitate the work of its teams in and out of the office.

“Against the backdrop of a pandemic, it’s crucial for the community that we’re able to keep delivering key services. Google Workspace gives us the flexibility to collaborate in real time, online, and continue serving Hackney citizens from home.” —Henry Lewis, Head of Platform, Hackney Council

“We didn’t want to provide a one-off offer to all users come what may, because we know that with the variety of services they offer, people require different types of support. But we also didn’t want to have a chaotic variety of tools that would be difficult to manage and maintain,” Henry explains. To provide the appropriate solutions for each team, the Council conducted a profiling of its services and identified three different ways of working across the organization: desk-based, flexible, and highly mobile. To support teams working predominantly in the office, Hackney provisioned Acer Chromeboxes, which can be attached to the back of a monitor for comfort, and implemented Google Meet hardware in 40 council meeting rooms. For those who need to move around more often, 800 Acer Chromebooks were made available via Grab and Go with Chrome Enterprise for employees to take whenever needed, requiring no reconfiguration between users.

“Chromebooks are simple-to-use and cost-effective devices that do everything our staff need them to do, which is mainly accessing Google Workspace online,” says Henry, adding that the devices were an immediate success: “As soon as the Grab and Go Chromebooks were available, they were well used every day,” he says.

Henry shares that once the Council was able to provide the devices to its staff, he noticed a real transformation starting to unfold in the workplace. “Combined with Google Workspace, Chromebooks gave people the opportunity to work in a much more flexible and mobile way, so we started noticing some behavioral changes. Teams started moving around the office more, using touchdown spaces and exploring other creative ways to work together. Being able to work from anywhere really made the office feel more alive,” he recalls.

Hackney has also used the advanced security features of Google Workspace to enable staff to use their own devices, giving great flexibility while also making sure that the Council’s data is secure. “Google Workspace security features mean that we’re able to give our users choice in the kit they use and make a huge contribution to the organization’s flexibility and resilience, without compromising on security,” says Lewis.

Supporting more than 4,000 employees to deliver services remotely

When the city of London went into lockdown in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Council’s new collaboration suite and flexible work practices became indispensable for continuing to serve the Hackney community in the face of challenging times.

“In the space of a week, 4,000 of us started working remotely,” he says, emphasizing how important it is for the organization to be able to work closely together against the backdrop of a fast-changing situation. “Every day we complete situation reports and other documents that help us keep track of our services and the community. As new challenges emerge, teams are eliminating departmental silos by getting together to address issues and get things done quickly, online. I don’t think this would have been possible if we weren’t all using Google Workspace to access documents and communicate in real time. In the first week of working from home, we saw a 700% increase in the use of Google Meet, which staff were using to work collaboratively in teams, even when apart,” he says. Teams are able to jump on a video call via Google Meet and quickly sort out issues “face to face,” instead of having several separate conversations, which can lead to communication silos.

To further assist employees in this unprecedented situation, Henry’s team managed to repurpose 400 old Windows laptops that the Council had set aside, installing the Linux operating system on them so employees who don’t have a device available at home could continue to work. “The circumstances in which we are working during the pandemic are very unusual, but thankfully Google Workspace is all we need to operate, so any laptop is adequate to enable our work to continue,” he says.

Additionally, the Council has started to implement single sign-on with Cloud Identity to authenticate access to Google Workspace and a variety of other applications remotely, such as HR and IT systems. “The more people can authenticate to our systems using Google Cloud rather than on-premises infrastructure, the more we can reduce the strain on our local network and benefit from the scalability of Google Cloud,” says Henry, explaining that previously it would have been difficult for the Council’s network to cope with this new surge of remote users all trying to access it at the same time.

“Against the backdrop of a pandemic, it’s crucial for the community that we’re able to keep delivering key services,” says Henry. “Google Workspace gives us the flexibility to collaborate in real time, online, and continue serving Hackney citizens from home.”

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*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.

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Ancoris is a cloud services provider and Google Cloud Premier Partner helping organizations accelerate their digital transformation with cloud, data, and mobile services.