Since the start of the pandemic the majority of workplaces which could move online have done so. For civil service departments with bases in London and across the country, this move has brought with it challenges but also some key advantages especially when it comes to our ability to recruit and foster talent from across the country in an inclusive and supportive environment.
Important advantages for the individual and organisation include saving time and money on commuting (and in future potentially office space) and moving between meetings, improved work-life balance, increased connection to local community, increased productivity especially for those who work best when they are in control of their own space (especially the neurodiverse or anyone who finds open-plan uncomfortable), and the ability to recruit in a location-agnostic manner opening up great jobs to national talent. The move to all-online meetings has also meant that those colleagues (from other regions or working from home) who used to be stuck on a dodgy phone line and subordinate to those in the room are now equally able to contribute and everyone can be judged on their contributions rather than appearances/perceptions.
Important disadvantages include productivity and mental health impacts especially for those living in crowded accommodation without suitable workspaces or who thrive in busy office environments, increased thought and effort needed for onboarding, training and ongoing management in some cases, the potential lessening of social bonds, and the loss of serendipitous meetings and network effects which can contribute to innovation and career advancement. However, this is not a new problem, and tech companies are at the forefront of this kind of working. The public sector should seek to adopt creative and more inclusive tools and techniques to enhance collaboration, innovation and wellbeing, rather than reverting back to all in-person by default.