Remote working council staff could pave the way for everyone else

Your councilman may be working by the pool… Don’t panic — that could be a good thing!

The mental image of a government official lounging in a hotel instead of getting to the serious business required of his, her or their respective office is enough to make anyone’s blood boil.

remote work UK

The debacle has raised untrue suggestions about remote workers being "lazy". (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels)

But this is the unfortunate imagery that was conjured up this week when a non-partisan group known as the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed that councils in the UK approved more than 1,358 requests for their staff to work remotely over the past three years.

Some groups, including TaxPayers’ Alliance itself, as well as other officials, have not minced words when sharing harsh criticism about the remote-working council staff members.

Many deliberately evoked the same tired, and mostly false, claims that remote work opponents have been saying for months now — words that suggest remote workers are “slacking” or incapable of doing their jobs, or that collaboration suffers amongst remote teams.

However, politics and public perception aside, the fact that even council staff have remote work opportunities could mean good news for everyone in the workforce — and especially for remote or hybrid workers.


Remote work is way up since COVID

According to TaxPayers’ Alliance, the requests for and subsequent approval of remote work for UK councils have significantly increased since 2020, around the time when the pandemic was just starting.

remote work UK

Remote work requests and approvals were up almost 900%. (Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Pexels)

For the period 2020 to 2021, there were only 73 of such requests received.

That number jumped to 440 for the period 2021 to 2022; and shot up even higher to 708 for the period 2022 to 2023.

This isn’t to mention an additional 137 requests that apparently were not attributed to any particular council office.

In a comparison between 2020 and 2023, that basically spells an increase of around 900% in remote work in just three years’ time.

We all knew by now that the pandemic had obviously brought remote work to the mainstream at an unprecedented level, but you almost can’t blame one for feeling shocked to see its popularity in such stark figures — and for public workers, too.


Flexible is the new normal, for everyone

remote work UK

If council staff can work from anywhere, why can't you? (Photo by RDNE Stock Project on Pexels)

But these numbers indicate that flexible working options like remote are becoming more normalised and increasingly becoming a legitimate way to work for everyone whose job can be done remotely.

Surely if your local council staff can work from a beach in Bali, that means you should be able to too.

One of the councils that approved the most remote work said as much in its own defence in light of the disparaging comments made by others.

Barnet Council, which approved nearly 300 remote work requests in three years, aptly noted: “Flexible working is crucial for recruiting and retaining the right staff.”

Its comments line up with dozens of independent studies on the subject that have been undertaken since the pandemic too, with most showing that businesses that fail to adjust to the new flexible work reality find themselves on the losing end of the spectrum for both retention and recruitment.

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