97% of civil servants want work from home option in future – survey

Union poll signals "permanent shift in attitudes to working practices"
Most civil servants have been working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

The vast majority of civil servants want to have the option of working from home after the coronavirus crisis ends, a survey has revealed.

Of nearly 2,400 officials polled by the FDA trade union at the end of last year, 97% said they would like the option of working from home in future.

The vast majority of civil servants have been working from home either since the first March lockdown came into force, or for part of that time – including 97% of those who responded to the FDA survey.

Union members said remote working has affected them in different ways – with 41% saying they work more effectively from home than in the office, and 15% saying less.

Just over two-thirds said their working patterns have changed during the pandemic. Of that group, around one in three said they are starting work earlier; a similar proportion said they are working later; and the remainder said their working patterns vary.

The poll found that while almost all officials want to spend some time working remotely after they are given the all-clear to return to the workplace, only 13% of those people want to work from home all the time.

The most popular option among those favouring a flexible pattern would be to work from home for 60% of the time, or three days a week for full-time employees – with 32% choosing this option. Twenty-six percent said they would like to work from home four out of five days, and 20% for two days a week. Just 9% said they want one day a week at home.

The poll also revealed the strain the pandemic is having on civil servants, with nearly three-quarters of respondents saying their workload has increased during the crisis. Only 4% have seen a reduced workload.

Meanwhile, seven in 10 of the union members who responded said they are working longer hours than they were before, and nine in 10 that they are using all or some of their previous commuting time to work.

But while 37% of respondents said their work-life balanced had worsened, 48% said it had improved.

“The fact that 97% of respondents would like to continue to work from home at least some of the time in future shows there has been a permanent shift in attitudes to working practices. The FDA will therefore be using these findings to build a case for a future of working across the civil service that promotes flexibility and ensures a better work-life balance for all our members.” 

The survey results signal that there has been a “permanent shift in attitudes to working practices”, FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said.

She added: “The pandemic has clearly exacerbated problems in departments around the working of excessive hours, and it is deeply worrying that just over half of respondents feel that their mental wellbeing has suffered since March. Clearly, departments must do more to ensure staff are properly supported while working remotely.”

Thirlby said the union will use the findings to build a case for more flexible working across the civil service.

Writing for CSW, the union's general secretary, Dave Penman, said: "Clarity and meaningful engagement will be needed to harness the benefits for employers and employees and this is work that needs to start now as we look more hopefully towards the second half of 2021. Our survey makes it clear that there is a huge demand for greater flexible working.

"Making this a reality is inevitably going to shape a large part of the union and employers’ agenda over the coming months and years."

Responding to the findings, a government spokesperson said the civil service is “committed to flexible working and it has long been the case that staff are able to work remotely if they need to”.

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