The move to introduce a Blended Working Policy across the Irish Civil Service represents the most significant change to working arrangements in decades. Building on the proven success of remote working in response to the pandemic, this shift in traditional working arrangements represents a major change. And it enhances the Irish Civil Service's positioning as an Employer of Choice to attract and retain a new generation of workers who prioritise flexibility, self-development, mobility, and work-life balance.
While a pilot scheme for e-working in the Irish Civil Service was launched in 2003, the numbers availing of the scheme were negligible and had reduced over time. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment published a research report ‘Remote Work In Ireland’ looking at the topic as part of the Future Jobs Ireland 2019 programme. However, it was the rapid introduction of working from home as part of the national response to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 virus that really heralded blended working as a viable alternative to traditional office-based working. This experience showed that blended working could work for the Irish Civil Service, offering increased flexibility to staff without compromising on high quality service delivery.
The Programme for Government published in June 2020 included a target of 20% blended working in the public sector and a subsequent report, Civil Service Reform 2030, listed implementation of a Civil Service Blended Working Policy as a key objective under the Core Theme of Workforce, Workplace and Organisation of the Future. The Civil Service Management Board opted for a flexible approach for Departments and Offices to tailor their Blended Working Policies to their own unique business needs, set within an overarching Civil Service Framework dealing with common issues such as eligibility criteria, application process, provision of equipment, health and safety issues, etc.
The Framework was co-designed by the Civil Service Sector Group on a highly collaborative basis with representation from Civil Service organisations and in consultation with Trade Unions and Staff Associations. The Civil Service Blended Working Policy Framework was published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in March 2022. Following this, individual Departments and Offices have developed their own tailored policies and are now at the implementation stage, many of them facilitated by the National Shared Service Office application portal.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The project aims to develop flexible and innovative ways of working while also seeking to:
- Ensure the Civil Service (CS) continues to deliver high quality services to Government, the public and business.
- Deliver on the Programme for Government commitment to move to 20% remote/home working.
- Enable tailored Blended Working approaches that best meet the needs of individual organisations and their employees, within an overarching Framework.
- Ensure the CS remains an Employer of Choice by widening talent pools and improving diversity by providing access to blended working options.
- Support employee engagement, innovation, and productivity by providing options for additional flexibility, alongside the other flexible working options currently provided and by offering options for reduced commutes, more affordable housing choices and improved wellbeing.
- Over time, leveraging digital technology in the way we work, alleviating accommodation pressures and potentially reducing office space costs.
What is the current status of your innovation?
- The Civil Service Blended Working Policy Framework was published in March 2022.
- The National Shared Services Office developed an online application portal and launched it in August 2022.
- Departments and Offices have developed their own local Blended Working Policies and are now in the implementation phase.
- As of September 2022 over 17,000 civil servants had used the NSSO online application portal to apply for Blended Working i.e. 50% of the overall NSSO client case of 34,000 with some organisations using alternative application methods and some yet to start accepting applications.
Collaborations & Partnerships
All Civil Service organisations were involved in development of the Blended Working Policy. Existing networks were leveraged such as: the Civil Service Management Board (CSMB), the People Subgroup of the CSMB, the Civil Service Sectoral Group (CSSG) and the Corporate Assistant Secretary Network. Additional groups were established to supplement the process including a Blended Working Secretary General Sponsor Group, a Blended Working Subgroup of the CSSG and a Facilities Subgroup of the CSSG.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Groups engaged on legal, health and safety, equipment & expenses issues, and the design of a NSSO central application portal, calling in additional expertise as necessary from the CSSO, the Attorney General’s Office, the State Claims Agency, the Health and Safety Authority, OPW, Revenue and DPER legal advisers Byrne Wallace, amongst others. Central IR negotiations were managed by DPER with an Employer Blended Working Advisory Group established to ensure rapid turnaround on policy adjustments.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
As of late September 2022, over 17,000 civil servants had used the NSSO application portal to apply for Blended Working this represents 50% of the overall NSSO client case of 34,000. Some organisations that have adapted the Blended Working Framework are using alternative application methods and some are yet to start accepting applications.
Challenges and Failures
The project faced many challenges such as divergent views on required office attendance levels, different approaches to flexi time accrual, health and safety matters etc. owing to the number and diversity of Government Departments involved in the project. These challenges were overcome by high levels of senior stakeholder engagement and leadership, through sectoral collaboration and often rapid response on proposed solutions to successfully deliver a new approach to modern day working with many associated complexities in a timeframe much more ambitious than would traditionally have been the case for such a major innovation across the Civil Service.
Conditions for Success
Key to success is to ensure high level senior sponsorship and a commitment to appropriate resourcing and deadline driven feedback from stakeholders. Blended Working offers more flexible and innovative ways of working across the Civil Service, within an overarching central Blended Working Framework setting out common principles. The Policy delivers on some key commitments under the Programme for Government, Civil Service Renewal, the Public Sector Decarbonisation Strategy, Ireland’s rural development policy and wider Project Ireland 2040 objectives for sustainable regional, rural and urban development.
The Civil Service Framework has the potential to be adapted and used throughout the Public Sector. In addition, it is a potential template for the development of Blended Working policies in private sector organisations throughout the economy with an overall positive cumulative impact on Government policies mentioned earlier and the UN policies mentioned later in this submission. The agreement of an umbrella framework, dealing centrally with many of the common and more difficult issues, whilst still allowing for local tailoring to specific business needs could be replicated across the Civil and Public Sector for HR and other policies.
While it is still early days for the Policy Framework, Blended Working should, over time, offer opportunities for accommodation cost savings and encourage greater diversity within the Civil Service workforce. The development of the Civil Service Blended Working Framework built on successful fast-track collaboration and networking frameworks already in place, some of them initially introduced to support consistency and knowledge sharing in dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, the Civil Service Management Board, Civil Service Sectoral Group, Corporate Assistant Secretary Network and subgroups formed by them were used to set out the case for change, research best practice, manage differences of opinion and build consensus.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
16 November 2023