HM Revenue and Customs has begun its return to the office, with staff across the department now back in the office for an average of at least one day a week,
In an all-staff memo sent last week, permanent secretary Jim Harra said more than 16,000 staff who had been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic had returned to offices by the end of September. They included 4,300 staff who had come into the office for the first time in the week leading up to the memo.
He said that by the end of last week, he expected “all colleagues in England and Scotland who have been temporarily working from home during the pandemic, will have agreed a plan with their line manager to return to the workplace for an average of one day a week, using the discussion toolkit”.
Those returning join around 4,000 HMRC staff who have been working from offices during the pandemic. Those civil servants are considered key workers and could not do their jobs remotely.
Staff in Wales and Northern Ireland should continue to work from home, he said.
His email, dated 29 September and seen by CSW, offered officials a “warm welcome back to our offices”.
“I trust that in the coming weeks many of you will have the chance to re-connect face to face with your colleagues and enjoy a taste of office life again,” he said.
Harra said the expected one-day-a-week return “won’t be the same for everyone”.
“Depending on your personal circumstances, you may need more support in making arrangements, so it’s really important that you talk to your manager about what is right for you,” he said. He said National Inclusion Week, which fell on the same week as his message, was a “real reminder to us all to continue to be respectful, kind and inclusive towards each other as more of us return to our offices”.
The perm sec said he expected there will be “teething problems” as the number of staff working from HMRC’s buildings increases.
“Please help your estates colleagues and location leads, who are doing an excellent job of coordinating all this for us, by reporting any issues that you see, and being patient as we move to our new arrangements,” he said.
The returns process and the toolkit Harra mentioned has been agreed with unions.
The PCS union has told its members they should only return if HMRC meets its agreed criteria to have a plan in place with their line manager, and if it is suitable for their individual circumstances.
“PCS's advice is clear: the discussions between jobholders and managers must happen, so that any concerns about returning can be identified. Where it is not yet possible to establish a set date when you will start working in the office, you can continue to work from home; and you should agree with your manager when during the coming weeks, the situation will be reviewed,” the union said.
It added that union reps have “reiterated to the department that any attempt to force members back to the office would be unacceptable”.
“For its part, HMRC has given a commitment to working with staff, to take reasonable steps to address their concerns and to support them to return. We’ve agreed with HMRC that any concerns arising from the agreed process and procedures will be escalated and resolved,” it added.
‘I am deeply proud of your dedication’
Harra’s email came the same week the coronavirus furlough, self-employment support scheme and sick pay rebate schemes came to an end.
“I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone for enabling the department to deliver these schemes so brilliantly, whether you have worked directly on the schemes or held the fort on our usual work,” Harra said.
He said civil servants’ “hard work and commitment” had helped to protect 11.6 million jobs and directly supported 2.9 million self-employed people across the UK.
“I am deeply proud of your dedication and the huge scale of what we have been able to deliver together for individuals and businesses – so, thank you,” he added.