Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Finalist 2015, The DTCC Best for Innovation Award

The Projects Task Force (PTF) was set up in 2012 in response to a need for greater flexibility in dealing with emerging priorities and a belief that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was not maximising the benefits of staff looking to work atypically (part-time or remotely). The organisation saw this as an opportunity to create a team that would work flexibly to better address its changing priorities. At the same time, the FCO wanted to demonstrate that staff who worked atypically (often so that they could balance family commitments with work whether in the UK or overseas) could perform successfully in a wide range of challenging and high-profile roles. The broader operating context was one of reduced budgets and headcounts, which meant making use of valuable talent even more crucial.

The formation of the PTF was communicated to staff by messages from the board and department leads, open days and guidance documents, including bid timetables and examples of bid forms and projects (as these built up) on the FCO’s intranet.

In just two years, the PTF has become a beacon of best practice and innovation in the FCO and throughout Government. The PTF is a team of 64 people (55 FTE) who work with directorates in the FCO to deliver high-priority projects across the entire range of policies and services. The PTF has a large number of job-share, part-time and remote workers. Over 60% of the team works flexibly, with only 13 members working five days a week from the London office. The PTF’s atypical workforce includes people who work from overseas, which is particularly important in a global organisation as it has helped staff develop their careers in tandem with those of their partners, whether in the FCO or other organisations. The PTF has enabled individuals to find the right work–life balance for them without sacrificing the opportunity to work on high-profile issues and priority areas.

One project carried out by the PTF involved looking at how the FCO could use better diversity data to track the impact of policies on staff.  The FCO had identified the need for this work, but its HR department didn’t have the capacity to take it on. Therefore two members of the PTF successfully bid for a project to identify, consult on and cost options to improve diversity data. Both worked remotely: one from an FCO office in Ankara in Turkey and the other from home in Northern Ireland. They reported to the FCO’s HR team in London and to a project board, which was also chaired remotely, ensuring that all members were able to contribute regardless of their location or time zone.  During the project, the team made two visits to scope and then finalise a paper setting out their findings and recommendations, but all the other work was completed remotely, via telephone, email and teleconferences.

The PTF successfully delivered the project, and it has made the single biggest difference in the FCO’s data handling for some years.

The PTF received the 2013–14 FCO Diversity and Inclusion Award for pioneering new ways of working across the FCO.  This was formal internal recognition that the PTF had made a difference.The FCO is sharing its approach with other Whitehall departments who are setting up their own flexible teams.