The government has leased temporary office space in 10 cities to support hybrid working and the Department for Work and Pensions’ temporary jobcentres, according to reports.
The agreement with IWG includes private office space in 10 cities, as well as access to the company’s co-working spaces across the country for any civil servants involved in the scheme, The Telegraph reported this weekend.
Sources told the newspaper that the move would support the establishment of a new tranche of temporary jobcentres to support people who are unemployed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The department revealed last month that it had secured locations for 80 temporary jobcentres, adding that “dozens more” would follow.
Employment minister Mims Davies said at the time that the move was separate to DWP’s estate rationalisation programme, which identified more than 130 jobcentres and service centres for closure in 2017.
She said securing the new sites was a “temporary measure” and was “not about reversing previous decisions on the broader renewal of the DWP estate”.
IWG is one of the world’s biggest flexible working companies and has seen business boom in the last two months, with more employers looking to save on office space while offering employees a "hybrid" approach
The deal comes after it was reported that ministers were looking at a phased approach to bringing civil servants back to offices beginning on 12 April – the date that some coronavirus restrictions will lift.
Civil service unions have been meeting with the Cabinet Office about workplace and remote-working arrangements, but CSW understands the discussions are in the preliminary stage and no decisions have been made.
A spokesperson for the PCS union said it would be “extremely premature” to consider a 12 April return date.
“We are only just starting to ease lockdown restrictions across the UK, and we would want to ensure that full safety measures were in place in every workplace before such measures were proposed, especially given many of our members will be working face to face with members of the public,” they said.
The spokesperson said talks will cover blended working options, which they said would include a shorter working week given civil servants’ work to keep the country running during the pandemic and the pay freeze in place.
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said discussions had so far been “positive”.
He said employers recognised that setting arbitrary targets and timescales – such as last year’s target for 80% of civil servants to return to their offices by the end of September – would be “exactly the wrong thing to do”. Last year's target was heavily criticised and later scrapped.
“Any return is likely to be phased over a period of time with the focus on operational tasks which need to be undertaken as well as staff wellbeing,” Graham said, adding that many staff are likely to continue using a blended approach to in-office and at-home working longer term.
“Building confidence and ensuring workplaces are Covid secure and staff feel safe will be absolutely crucial as we move through the next phase. Proper trade union engagement both nationally and locally will be critical to ensuring the confidence of staff and the civil service continues to deliver,” he added.
Asked about plans for more officials to return to their workplaces last week, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “Different departments will have differing numbers of civil servants in depending on their business requirements but the civil service is abiding with the work from home guidance as we have done throughout the pandemic.”