‘Not everyone will get what they want’ – council employees will have to keep working from home after pandemic, meeting hears

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A senior Leeds City Council officer has warned employees they may not get “exactly what they want” when it comes to workplace arrangements once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The senior officer in charge of council’s estate of buildings, warned there could be “clashes” between the council and its workforce, should large numbers of employees wish to come back into the office full time instead of working from home.

The comments follow work from the authority to close and sell off a number of its office buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic, to encourage a greater number of its staff to continue to work from home, while saving money due to government austerity and further financial strain brought on by the pandemic.

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The authority says it wants to introduce “agile” workspaces once the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have ended.

Neil Evans has warned not everybody will be able to go back to the office full time.Neil Evans has warned not everybody will be able to go back to the office full time.
Neil Evans has warned not everybody will be able to go back to the office full time.

At a resources scrutiny committee this week, a question was asked by Conservative councillor Matthew Robinson around what would happen if an employee wanted to work from the office for five days a week.

The council’s director of resources and planning Neil Evans said: “I’m not sure we have the full answers yet. I suspect there will be clashes over what people want to do and what we might best need as an organisation.

“For example, if lots of people might think they want to mix work and home, and particularly like to stay at home on a Monday and a Friday – if everybody thinks that way, then you would need a huge estate to accommodate people on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and have empty buildings on Mondays and Fridays.

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“That would not be sensible for our services or our estate – there will have to be that balancing working out what will be the best compromise.

“I’m hoping some returning to work later in the year see they have a better balance than what they had in February 2020 even if it is not exactly what they want. Everybody should feel they win, the organisation wins and the public wins in terms of what we do, rather than being disappointed because it’s not exactly what every individual wants.”

A document updating councillors on the authority’s agile working and estate rationalisation work is set to go before members of the council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee next week.

It claims most staff surveyed were happy with the support they were receiving from the authority, and that the inquiry should be completed next year.

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The investigation was started as some members had been concerned at the effects working from home could have on the productivity and wellbeing of council employees.

It added that the council had spent £895,000 on 8,472 new pieces of equipment since the beginning of the pandemic to allow people to work from home – more than half a million pounds over what the council would normally expect to spend on such measures. The extra money spent helping people work from home, officers said, should be balanced against the extra money made from the sales of council buildings.

A survey which took place in October was said to show half of the staff “remain happy”, while 74 per cent were positive about the support they received from the authority.