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Does the call for a ‘rapid return’ to in-person office working reflect a wider UK economic trend?

Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for all civil servants to make a ‘rapid return’ to in-person office working. How far does this call reflect a wider trend across the UK economy?

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Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for government efficiency, has called for all civil servants to make a ‘rapid return’ to in-person office working. How far does this call reflect a wider trend across the UK economy?

The minister’s comments, according to reports, were contained in a letter to the heads of government departments in which he asked them to review departmental guidance on the minimum number of days per week that civil servants were expected to come into the office rather than work from home. Figures showed that average daily office attendance across all departments in the week of 04 April was at 44%.

Mr Rees-Mogg is said to have argued that ensuring higher office attendance would boost value-for-money for buildings funded by the taxpayer and be of benefit to staff in the early stages of their career who need in-person interaction to boost their learning and development. However, the main civil service union argued in response that the government was out-of-step with practice in the private sector, where flexible and hybrid working patterns have been embraced as part of the new normal as the immediate threat from the pandemic recedes.

There is certainly some evidence to support the view that hybrid or remote working has been adopted wholeheartedly in some sectors. A survey run by the Chartered Institute of Management and reported by the BBC earlier this year found that 84% of managers surveyed said their companies had adopted some form of hybrid working. Of course there are many jobs and professions where remote or hybrid working is not possible or much harder given the particular requirements of the role. However there are benefits to be gained from flexible working where it can be implemented.

Many workers value the time and money saved on commuting and the demise of ‘presenteeism’. Greater flexibility in working patterns can reduce barriers faced by many in the workplace and can allow for a better work/life balance, particularly for people with care responsibilities for example, and can reduce inadvertent discrimination. Many also report the benefits of flexible working to their mental health.

However some commentators do agree with the argument that lack of face-to-face contact poses particular challenges for those at the start of their career, who may miss out on ‘organic’ learning opportunities that arise more naturally in an office environment – being invited into meetings last-minute, for example, or unplanned conversations with senior colleagues. Remote and hybrid working can pose other problems too, such as the lack of boundaries between work and home, possible productivity issues and feelings of loneliness.

Whatever the government’s position may be (and it is not clear that they are in fact suggesting that civil servants need to be in the office 100% of the time), it is apparent that organisations of many different types need to get to grips with the new challenges of hybrid working – and quickly. In our webinar on 12 May 2022 our Employment team will be discussing some of the key issues that businesses need to tackle – please do join us to hear more.

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Rhiannon Thompson

Trainee Solicitor

rhiannon.thompson@collyerbristow.com



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