Civil servants set for two-days-a-week homeworking cap

Letter distributed by ministers to senior officials outlines that staff will soon be expected to spend 60% of their working lives in the office to help boost ‘collaboration and innovation’

Ministers have directed senior officials to “set and implement an expectation of increased office-based working” among their staff, according to a draft letter sent to some senior civil servants earlier this week.

“We have together agreed, therefore, that across the civil service, 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,” says the letter, seen by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World.

To provide “strong visible leadership”, senior managers will meanwhile be expected to spend “more than 60%” of their time in the office, along with early-career officials and those on development schemes.

However, the change will not affect reasonable adjustments or contractual changes, according to the letter – which also promises to retain “flexibility” to adjust working hours and locations.

The letter is dated 15 November, two days after Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin, who had responsibility for civil service reform, resigned and was replaced by former chief secretary to the Treasury John Glen in a cabinet reshuffle.

CSW understands the Cabinet Office had been preparing to broadcast the change to staff this week, but that the official announcement has been delayed.

Until now, it has been up to individual departments to determine how much of their time staff should spend in the office – and how rigidly to enforce guidelines on working patterns.

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Rumours have been circulating for some time that a shift towards a more centrally determined approach is on the way. Sources in three government departments told CSW they had been told by high-ranking colleagues to expect an announcement mandating the 60% threshold around the time of the upcoming Autumn Statement.

The letter – which was shared with senior officials “under embargo” and is signed “heads of departments” – notes that not all departments will be able to accommodate staff spending the equivalent of three days a week in their offices because of limited space.

Working patterns are therefore subject to “estate capacity”.

“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.

The change is driven by consideration of the “significant benefits” arising from working in-person with colleagues both within the same departments and in other parts of government, according to the letter.

“These include collaboration, innovation, and fostering a sense of community. 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 stresses that the changes will not affect reasonable adjustments that have already been agreed based on disability, specific caring responsibilities and “other similar temporary flexibilities” agreed with line managers, including phased returns to work following sick leave.

Existing contractual arrangements will also remain unchanged.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We do not comment on leaks.”

Read the full story on Civil Service World

Beckie Smith and Jess Bowie

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