Most department staff have remained onsite during pandemic, although some ‘ad hoc’ arrangements have been made
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The Department for Work and Pensions will shortly begin trialling a partial remote-working system that will see staff split their time between working from home and from the office.
A pilot that will run across more than 20 sites will give DWP staff the option to work from home in a planned way, following the ad-hoc remote-working arrangements it has adopted during the coronavirus crisis.
At the end of April, when DWP was seeing its biggest surge in applications for welfare benefits as a result of Covid-19 measures, around 20% of its staff were working from home. This was while most other departments had at least 90% of their workforce performing their duties remotely.
The pilot will run for a few months at a mix of DWP locations handling Universal Credit, legacy benefits and pensions, as well as some run by the external Child Maintenance Group.
Volunteers will be asked to put themselves forward for the pilot, which will see them work in one of four ways: one day a week in the office and four at home; two days a week in the office, three at home; one week in four in the office, three at home; or alternating weeks spent in the office and at home.
A partial work-from-home system will also enable the department to accommodate space restrictions in its offices under the current social-distancing rules.
“In light of the need to socially distance, this pilot will enable us to build a network of colleagues working from home while we maintain an effective service in our jobcentres,” a DWP spokesperson said.
The scheme will also look at how to build a network of staff working from home to ensure they do their jobs well, as well as to ensure their wellbeing. The department said it wanted to maintain a “feeling of inclusive leadership” to ensure staff are treated fairly whether they are working in the office or at home, and that decision making is consistent.
It said more than 21,000 items of equipment had been provided to staff working from home during the coronavirus crisis.
PCS, the civil service’s biggest trade union, welcomed the pilot, which it said would help DWP to meet the union’s goal of maximising the number of its members allowed to work from home during the pandemic.
The pilot has been agreed with trade unions nationally, and union reps will play a local role ensuring the key criteria are followed.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the pilot was “good news: for DWP staff.
“The union has had to work hard to secure this agreement,” he said. “Health and safety of all civil service staff should be paramount in the minds of ministers. And when management works with the union, staff can minimise the risk of contracting Covid whilst still supporting claimants.”