Cabinet Office Minister calls for Government departments to accelerate the return to office based working to boost staff collaboration and help support local businesses
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, has tasked departments across government with ensuring their offices can return quickly to full occupancy following the lifting of work from home restrictions in England.
The Civil Service will lead the way in a return to office working, with Ministers working with their Permanent Secretaries and departments to put in place measures to monitor office use and get people back to normal, pre-pandemic arrangements, with clear Ministerial expectations put in place.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said:
Now we are learning to live with COVID and have lifted Plan B measures, we need to move away from a reliance on video meetings and get back to the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working.
I’m grateful to the Civil Service for managing the challenges of the last two years. It is important that we now see the maximum use of our office space being made from next week, as we build a strong recovery after the disruption of the pandemic.
The Civil Service has played a leading role in helping the country tackle the pandemic, with many front-line workers and office staff remaining in their places of work throughout the pandemic and many more working from home.
Following the removal of Plan B measures, it is the governments view that it is vital that more staff return to the office so they can once again benefit from collaborative working in their public service delivery – this is particularly important for the learning and development of new members of staff, who have joined the Civil Service during the pandemic.
The Minister’s call for government departments to enable a return to full capacity has been reiterated by the Cabinet Office’s Permanent Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Civil Service, Alex Chisholm, who has written to leaders across Whitehall asking them to support a significant and swift return of staff to the workplace.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will also raise the issue at Cabinet next week, where he is expected to urge Ministers to make sure their offices are working at full capacity at the earliest opportunity.
It is expected that Civil Servants and other office workers returning to the office will bring economic benefits for businesses across the country, with sandwich shops and the hospitality sector due to see a dramatic increase in footfall.
To allow the transition back to office working, measures have been put in place in government buildings to reassure staff. These include increased ventilation and improved cleaning routines. Department leaders are to ensure safety guidance are followed at all times.
There is no government requirement or recommendation for employers to limit capacity in the workplace.
The U.K. workforce has seen a significant cultural shift towards home-working. Many organisations who were sceptical of the benefits have surprisingly seen great adaptions achieved within their workforce towards remote working which has benefited both the business, individuals and their families during the pandemic. The utilisation of tools such as zoom and teams has increased dramatically.
Office space has reduced and new hot desk and meeting space environments implemented.
Will things return to the prior norm? I suspect the answer is no. However, there are gains to be made in face to face and being present working operations with the true benefits of team work to be restored and made.
What is the new normal? I’m not sure anyone yet knows. However, as we leave pandemic emergency measures, there are opportunities for closer collaborative working practice and progress. with the big resignation, many faces are changing, new job roles and new players in the team. And then we have are youth and children who will be looking to join the workplace following the ending of their education era.
Strategies for returning to the office are needed. But do we yet believe that to be true and that the pandemic is coming to an end!