The serene & civil service

September 2020

Tim Salmon

Senior Consultant

Over the past 6 months or so, the world has been turned upside down – however that isn’t for me to rabble on about! I wanted to talk about how Covid-19 might change the way the civil service operates.

At Allen Lane, we locked down a couple of weeks before most offices I believe, and thus begun a long period of working from home full time. I had previously done one day a week from home – which I enjoyed – but having recently purchased my first flat at the time, I was stuck in a one bed flat in London during lockdown. Allen Lane quizzes, initiatives and zoom meetings kept me entertained and video calls with clients & candidates became the norm. Initially recruitment processes froze and candidates became understandably hesitant to leave stable employment.

Adjustments were made in organisations, life and therefore recruitment (to an extent), carried on / re-started. The civil service had to respond to the most challenging period in our lifetime, and the country’s, since World War 2. The heroic work of healthcare workers was rightly praised and civil servants across all areas of government were trying to respond to unimaginable and unprecedented challenges. The work civil servants do has arguably gone unheralded by the media but it is worth championing as, in a lot of cases, they have managed to somehow juggle their already challenging roles whilst simultaneously responding to this pandemic. Public services continued to operate, emergency funding was given to those most in need, and the most complex budgets in the country were managed by those in the government finance community.

This pandemic will change how the civil service operates – indeed how we all operate – and I believe it can be for the better. Government had led the way in offering flexible working but in some cases whole departments were operating remotely at the drop of a hat. There are clear benefits of having a flexible work force including being able to reduce office costs, attracting talent and increasing productivity for some people. However I do think this is different for everyone. For instance, I have many friends living in a flat share with only a spot on the sofa to work on; many colleagues thrive being around like-minded folk in an office; those who are introvert/extrovert; a short commute versus a long commute; video is here to stay but will it ever have the same effectiveness as a face to face meeting?

The safety of civil servants will and should always be the top priority but I believe for many an occasional return to the office will be positive. From speaking to my network, civil servants have reacted quickly and effectively in the most challenging of circumstances. I have hugely enjoyed being back in the office one or two days a week in my ‘bubble’ and chatting with colleagues at a safe distance.

There has been a push in recent years for more civil service positions to be outside of London, particularly at senior levels. This is positive as government works to serve the country and this pandemic will help / hasten that drive. This will undoubtedly mean civil servants considering moving outside of London due to both London property prices and also the reducing benefits of being in zones 1-5. Greater flexibility will be offered even in the most senior positions which will help government attract and retain the UK’s top, diverse talent.

As the government faces huge, varied challenges in the coming years, the way the civil service operates has never been more crucial and of course it will need to continue to adapt to this evolving situation. To maintain motivation, flexibility and internal opportunities / secondments should be encouraged. With the spending review looming and (in most cases) the majority of the work seemingly done, as well as the B word, government will need to continue to attract external talent to deal with this as well as retain the vast talent already at their disposal.

Despite such challenges, I genuinely believe there has never been a more exciting time to work in government, and I’m encouraged about the volume of those outside of the civil service interested in influencing key government decisions.

If anyone would like to discuss this further please do reach out to me by contacting me on 07921 335 786 or timsalmon@allenlane.co.uk.

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