By working from home during the COVID-19 response, Public Service employees did their bit to prevent community transmission. Many agencies will be reflecting on the lessons learnt from working remotely during the COVID-19 response. Indications are that this experience will increase demand for flexibility in where and how people work. We know we will be returning to an operating environment that is different from the one before COVID-19.

It is also important to remember that:

  • demand for flexible working has been building for decades, and regardless of its scale, the impact of the COVID-19 response is part of a longer-term trend
  • agencies have told us that the main elements of a successful shift to flexible-by-default remain the same as they were before the COVID-19 response
  • flexible-by-default encompasses all forms of flexible working and the full range of benefits for employees, teams and agencies
  • because the experience of remote working during the COVID-19 response was coupled with heightened stress and additional caring responsibilities it is not representative of remote working in general.

On the other hand, we do not want to return to the pre-COVID-19 state of ad hoc and reactive approaches to flexible working, in which employees working non-traditional hours and/or remotely may be perceived as less committed to their work, their team or their agency. Agencies can use the experience of remote working during the lockdown, along with this guidance, to develop proactive and sustainable practices around all forms of flexible working.

Flexible working requires give and take on both sides

Emma Taylor, Director, Agriculture, Marine & Plant Policy

I have an informal, flexible working arrangement where the start and finish time for my working day varies depending on my childcare needs. In my role a degree of flexibility is required in return, especially when it comes to fitting around the Ministers’ diaries.

It’s essential when working flexibly to set clear boundaries, and that works both ways for the business and the employee. I’m not sure I would be able to manage a job this size in a government agency that didn’t offer flexible working options. I’m very lucky to have worked under two very supportive DDGs who understand the benefits of flexibility in the workplace. The only time that this can create a challenge is the availability of staff to attend meetings with Ministers, but we always find a solution. It does require a change in mindset to get used to new ways of working, but as a directorate we’re committed to making the extra flexibility work for everyone.