HMRC 'confident' it has enough space to implement 60% in-office rule amid desk concerns

PCS says officials will likely have to work from break-out areas and pods under altered hybrid working regime
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By Tevye Markson

14 Feb 2024

HM Revenue and Customs has insisted it has enough space in its offices after PCS raised concerns that officials will have to work alone, away from desks under the department’s plans to implement the 60% in-office rule.

The hybrid working stipulation was announced in November, with ministers directing senior officials to ensure that civil servants based in offices spend a minimum of 60% of their working time face to face with their colleagues either in offices or on official business, rather than at home.

PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, said HMRC is calculating how offices can safely meet the 60:40 policy based on staff using a wide range of work areas, including break-out areas and pods.

An update on the union’s website read: “Since the end of 2023, HMRC has repeatedly said that their ‘return to office’ plans would be predicated on the capacity of the various offices; and in our latest meeting with the department, they showed us some nice bar charts based on 60% occupation, complete with a big red line showing the ‘safe’ capacity of the office.

“However, when we did a bit of digging, it transpired that these bar charts weren’t based on the number of desks, they were based on staff utilising a wide range of work areas, including break-out areas and pods. So clearly, when we get to the point where two-thirds of us are back in the office, the prospect of everyone actually having a desk to sit at is suddenly looking a bit more remote.”

Under the policy change, some civil servants are expected to spend "more than 60%" of their time in the office, including senior managers and early-career officials.

PCS said HMRC is still working out which two days different staff will need to work from home to avoid offices being too busy on certain days. The union said HMRC is sticking to its 2 April deadline for implementing the new regime despite having “so many key things still to be worked through”. It said other departments have targeted May or later.

“So, in a couple of months’ time, if you’re working on your own, in a pod three floors away from the rest of your team, and they’re still calling it “collaborating”, you’ll always have the satisfaction of knowing that HMRC have stuck to their deadline,” PCS said.

A spokesperson for HMRC said: “We are confident there's enough space in our offices with the flexibility hybrid working provides. The technology within our regional centres means we can work throughout the buildings, using different workspaces to work from, and selecting the right space to be most effective for the task at hand.”

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