Quin eyes ‘one-day-a-week limit’ on remote working

Cabinet Office minister is poised to introduce new guidance aimed at increasing office-attendance, according to report

By Jim Dunton

04 Sep 2023

Civil servants could soon be presented with fresh guidance on the proportion of their working week that should be spent in their official workplace, with the suggestion that ministers could push for a one-day-a-week limit on remote working.

A source described as being “close” to Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin told the Daily Telegraph that a new back-to-the-office drive was set to be launched by the government – three years after Michael Gove’s ill-fated drive to boost attendance after the first Covid lockdown.

Departments are currently able to set their own rules on office attendance, and in recent years many jobs have been advertised on the basis that remote working will be acceptable for at least two days a week.

The Telegraph said Quin had instructed departmental managers to draw up new advice on boosting office attendance and improving productivity. 

It said options being explored included introducing a new requirement for officials to work a set number of days a week in their main office, which it said would “probably be fixed at four”. A requirement for staff to seek permission to work from home was also said to be under consideration.

The Telegraph said Downing Street believed requiring managers to justify the way decisions on working from home were made could be a “quicker fix” and that making departments disclose all informal arrangements would effectively discourage remote working. 

Longer-term measures under consideration include changing contracts for new starters in the civil service to include a requirement to attend the office.

The Telegraph said its source reported Quin was concerned that working from home was currently being treated informally within departments, with decisions often taken on an ad hoc basis.

The source said the minister was “pragmatic” about the ability of some staff to fulfil their roles remotely, but believed most performed better at the office.

“This isn’t some fishing expedition against the civil service – it’s about delivering for the taxpayer,” the source said.

“We expect civil servants to be in the office wherever needed to drive delivery. The taxpayer forks out for government buildings and rightly expects them to be used. Equally, junior staff cannot be expected to learn from behind their desks at home.”

The Telegraph said Quin was expected to issue the new guidelines to departments in the “early autumn”.

Flexibility is ‘key’ to civil service offer, says union

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union – which represents professionals such as engineers and scientists in the civil service, said current arrangements on workplace flexibility were “sensible and pragmatic” in the union’s experience.

“Many Prospect members, through their operational and regulatory work, have responsibilities that take them away from their office,” he said. “In that context, the notion of 100% office attendance has always been a misnomer. Similarly, for some members, the operational nature of their work means it cannot be done from home.”

Graham said long-hours working was “endemic” in too many areas of the civil service and that he did not accept the proposition that hybrid working made staff less productive.

“I do hope that we are not returning to central edicts being issued in pursuit of cheap media headlines,” he said.

“The Cabinet Office has always sought to suggest that a key to the competitive advantage of the civil service as an employer is the flexibility it offers to staff and the trust it places in them.

“In a context where pay-satisfaction and competitiveness is at an all-time low, the last thing needed is a clamp down on hybrid and flexible working where it is working successfully in practice.”

Graham said working patterns and arrangements should reflect the operational demands of individual organisations and provide staff with the level of flexibility they deserve.

CSW sought a response from the Cabinet Office.

A government spokesperson said: “There is agreement across government on the clear benefits from face-to-face, collaborative working and departments remain committed to staff coming into workplaces for this.

“We are ensuring that buildings are being used so we achieve maximum value for money.”

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