Three days in the office – Rotherham Council’s new work policy

ROTHERHAM Council’s hybrid working policy has introduced a recommendation that staff spend at least three days at work.

New changes also include renaming it the Working Location Policy, as RMBC says “hybrid” is too binary and implies that home and the office are the only options.

A lack of staff spending their time at Riverside House has been criticised by the authority’s Conservative opposition.

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But the council says the main HQ is currently about 40 per cent occupied – and was intentionally built with fewer desks than staff to accommodate flexible working arrangements.

When employees moved to Main Street in late 2011, the “hotdesking” arrangements were approximately six desks to every ten employees.

Council leader Cllr Chris Read said: “It’s worth noting that ever since the council has moved most of its office-based staff to Riverside House, there has been a degree of flexibility. There never were enough desks.

“For over ten years now, there has been some degree of working from home and other locations. From that moment, there has always been a balance.

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“Covid then creates this huge disruption in the way everything works. There’s Microsoft Teams, new communications in place. Some people said they spent more time talking to colleagues when working from home in the first lockdown.

“But there is something absolutely fundamental in that we are about the place – the clue is in the name Rotherham Council, so it’s really important that staff are in the place and connected to it.”

The three-day recommendation – pro-rata for part-time workers – means staff are expected to spend the majority of their working week within the borough boundaries.

The hybrid working policy review heard that some staff found flexible hours a key benefit, while others admitted feeling isolated when working from home, with mental health and wellbeing impacted.

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Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 new starters have begun work at RMBC – more than 40 per cent of the total workforce. Newcomers were more likely to feel left out or not supported, a staff survey found.

Lee Mann, assistant director for HR, said: “‘Hybrid’ feels a bit binary. It’s not just that work is at home or in the office; we know we have a range of locations.

“We have seen the advantages of being back around face-to-face, but we’ve also had feedback on how staff on Teams can collaborate and problem solve virtually.”

The review took into account the staff survey, as well as discussions with trade unions and elected members.

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Assistant chief executive Jo Brown added: “The policy remains focused on the first principle that customers and residents are at the heart of the service being delivered.”

The new arrangements were approved by RMBC’s staffing committee on July 10 and will be reviewed in six months.

A report to the committee said: “A key benefit of having more flexibility in terms of working locations is to provide an engaged, diverse and skilled workforce who feel empowered to adopt new ways of working to meet the needs of all customers.”