11 June, 2021
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Paul Willmott, Chair, Central Digital and Data Office

Government after COVID: a digitally enabled Civil Service

For many business and individuals, the pandemic has dramatically altered the way they work. Overnight, large swathes of the population became home workers, attempting to do everything they would have done pre-COVID, but online. This was no different for government, with tens of thousands of civil servants delivering and maintaining public services, developing policy, and supporting ministers from their lounges, kitchens and, if lucky, home offices.

Many have found the shift to home working liberating, enabling them to be more productive whilst also improving their work-life balance. In one FDA union poll, of their managerial and professional members, 97 per cent wished to continue working from home after the crisis. However not all jobs can be home-based, and not everyone has the space or desire to work from home full-time. This means a hybrid model will be needed – as Alex Chisholm, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary, highlighted.

This brings with it both opportunities and challenges. In such a model, Whitehall as the geographic centre of government becomes less important, civil servants can be located across the country, and there is the potential to rationalise the public sector estate. However, maintaining team cultures and wellbeing, as well as creativity, will be more difficult, as will developing new starters – particularly those at the start of their careers, when role model observation and network-building is so important. In addition, there is a risk that those based at home have a different working experience – and opportunities – to those attending in person.

The role of technology will be essential, from ensuring security in an age of increasing cyber threats, to enabling collaboration, to supporting employee health and wellbeing and monitoring engagement. New tools will be needed to replicate ‘water cooler’ moments and maintain team morale and connectivity, as well as to track progress. And the reliability of this technology will be paramount.

With the end of lockdown in sight, this is the perfect moment to discuss lessons from this remote working experiment and identify next steps for digitally-enabled hybrid working in government.

The roundtable will be held under Chatham House rule. This event is kindly supported by Fujitsu.