‘Hybrid working’ will become the norm, predicts civil service chief

Written by Jim Dunton on 1 October 2020 in News
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Operations leader Alex Chisholm says that a model where civil servants work from home for part of the week is likely to become more common long beyond the coronavirus pandemic

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Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm has said he expects Covid-19 to embed working from home for at least part of the week – even when the pandemic is over.

Chisholm, who is also chief operating officer of the civil service, told MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that he did not expect to see an increase in the number of civil servants who worked from home exclusively, but believed that a new balance between office and homeworking would be found. 

Asked about what the civil service had learned from its operations in the pandemic, Chisholm said the experience had been a real-life experiment in new ways of working. 

“What we’ve shown is that the hybrid model of working with some people working in the office and some people working at home during the course of every week is actually very sustainable, and indeed very efficient, and works well for many staff and the lives that they have outside of the office,” he said. “I think the so-called ‘stack rate’ – the number of people we can get into a given building – will probably go up after the pandemic because you would probably not assume they would all be attending on the same days of every week. That will mean that we will be able to have a smaller, more efficient lower-cost estate across the UK.”


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Chisholm said he still believed there was a benefit in people spending time in a traditional workplace, even when they could work from home, and said he had sympathy for civil servants forced to work remotely from their bedrooms or shared homes.  

“The Cabinet Office, despite its ancient roots, is a relatively modern workplace and much better set up than most people have in their homes,” he said.

Asked directly whether he anticipated there would be fewer civil servants based in Whitehall in future, Chisholm said he did – but he noted there were already plans to move officials away from the capital under the Places for Growth programme.

“There will be fewer officials working in Whitehall, partly because we want to reduce the number of people working in Whitehall and the size of the Whitehall estate anyway,” he said  “But one of the positive impacts of this virus has shown the potential for this hybrid working, this mix of online and face-to-face. And I’m sure that will be a permanent feature.”  

Chisholm noted that property in Whitehall, and central London in general, was expensive and that departments were set to be charged a notional amount of “imputed rent” to reflect the economic cost of the space they occupied, even where the government was the freeholder.

 

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