Phased return begins but numbers of civil servants returning to the office will be limited
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images
The number of civil servants returning to government premises in the coming weeks will be “low”, the Cabinet Office has said, as it unveils some of the measures departments are taking to protect staff returning to work.
The vast majority of civil servants have been working from home since coronavirus lockdown measures were introduced in March. As of 1 August – from which date the prime minister has said employers will have “more discretion” to ask staff to return – civil servants will begin a phased return to the office, with some continuing to work from home for several months.
“There will be some staff who will need to return to the workplace, but the number of people in the workplace will initially remain low compared to our normal capacity numbers,” Cabinet Office guidance published this week stated.
“The civil service supports the ability of all our staff to work as safely as possible, whether remotely or in the workplace,” the document, which summarises the government’s Covid-19 workplace risk assessment for departments, said.
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Any employees coming into work will be expected to follow government rules on social distancing, staying two metres apart at all times. Where this is not possible, mitigations have been put in place to allow them to follow the new “one metre-plus” guidance, including plastic screens at reception areas.
The guidance tells officials not to share workstations, unless absolutely necessary – in which case they should be shared by the “smallest possible number of people”.
Meetings are to be held virtually where possible, or in designated meeting rooms that allow social distancing. Visitors will be allowed “by exception and only by prior arrangement”.
All measures are intended to ensure all officials, visitors and contractors that need to work in government buildings can do so safely.
Workplace assessments are in line with a requirement, set out in guidance by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 11 May, to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment and consult with trade unions or workers on their health and safety measures.
“The relevant BEIS guidance has been considered in the preparation of this document, to reflect the diverse nature of the government estate,” the document says.
Civil service HR and the Government Property Agency have developed further internal guidance to support the implementation of government guidance, which departments can use to develop plans to increase workplace capacity safely.
Each department will carry out its own risk assessment and share specific guidance for its staff.
“Civil service departments should consult with employees on how they can work safely and ensure that workplaces are Covid-19 secure to manage the risks of transmission in line with the [government] guidelines,” it said.