Civil servants in office-based roles will be required to spend 60% of their time working face-to-face with colleagues.
According to reports, the Cabinet Office has sent senior civil servants a letter stating that they should “set and implement an expectation of increased office-based working” to realise the “significant benefits” of working with colleagues in person, including “collaboration, innovation, and fostering a sense of community”.
Senior managers will be required to provide “strong visible leadership” by spending more than 60% of their working hours in the office – equivalent to three days per week for a full-time employee.
Early careers staff and people on development schemes will also be told to spend the majority of their working week in offices.
“We know that in particular, junior colleagues benefit from having time face to face with senior leaders and that those early in their careers find working face to face with their peers and managers makes them more effective more quickly,” the letter, seen by industry title Civil Service World, says.
It is the latest office working mandate to be issued in the civil service. Last year, former minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg came under fire from unions after attempting to force more Whitehall staff to return to offices.
Back to the office
Rees-Mogg allegedly left notes on empty desks that read: “Sorry you were out. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon”. He also claimed that civil servants were using flexible working arrangements to “skive off”.
Former cabinet office minister Jeremy Quin had also reportedly been considering plans to limit home working to one day a week before he resigned from the cabinet earlier this week.
Signed by “heads of department”, the letter issued this week says: “Those based in offices will spend a minimum of 60% of their working time working face to face with their colleagues either in offices or on official business, rather than at home.”
However, the letter notes that not all government departments will be able to accommodate increased office attendance because of limited space.
“While most departments in most locations have enough space to implement this new expectation, we know that this is not the case across the board,” it says.
“So while the 60% expectation is common to us all, we will each be consulting following our normal processes and communicating with our own departments as in some cases, there will need to be other arrangements put in place due to lack of office space to accommodate a 60% expectation.”
It says the change in policy will not affect reasonable adjustments that have already been agreed based on disability, caring responsibilities and “other similar temporary flexibilities” agreed with line managers.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union said civil servants have been working just as effectively from home as from the office.
It has entered into discussions with HMRC in particular about the department’s plans to require more staff in offices, despite HMRC having relinquished some of its office capacity to other government departments.
“We’ve also reminded HMRC in particular, that our Pay and Contract Reform (PaCR) collective agreement allows more than 40% working from home where the business can accommodate it; and should allow the department enough leverage to push back on any arbitrary ‘blanket’ office attendance figure,” PCS said.
A recent Hays survey found that only 39% of workers across the economy are are now hybrid working, while slightly more (43%) say they are working fully in an office setting.
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