Buildings empty in Northern Ireland as officials hold back on their return to office
Only 4 percent of the employees in a managerial department have returned to the office on a regular basis.
Only a small number of officials in the various departments are back at their desks, many still working from home more than two months after the last pandemic laws were lifted.
However, the policy of working from home where possible has not been changed, partly because the executive collapsed after Paul Givan resigned as First Minister.
Public service buildings across Belfast have remained nearly empty, even as private companies are encouraging staff to return to the office, at least part-time.
Management departments are largely following work from home policies.
The Ministry of Finance, which manages civil service staff, is developing a hybrid working model.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, around 4 percent of its employees regularly go to the office to work.
The headquarters on Adelaide Street in Belfast has remained almost empty, as has the Department of Infrastructure across the street, where the few workers and visitors enter the building through an underground car park at the back.
A supervisor at a cafe down the street said attendance has remained dramatically lower than before the pandemic, about 50 percent of what might be expected.
“Given the current public health advice, and in line with all departments of public services, the department continues to take a mixed approach to remote and home working, depending on business needs and professional role,” said a spokesman for the Department of Economics.
“Around 4 percent of all our employees are currently physically visiting the offices to carry out essential work, but this is still being verified.”
The department employs a total of 1,288 people.
The Communities Department, the largest with 7,244 staff and 1,900 contract workers, said: “Some staff continue to work in offices to ensure the continued delivery of critical services that cannot be provided remotely.”
In the week beginning April 11, 2,076 employees worked at the office — 23 percent of the total.
The Department of Health, which took the lead in drafting the advice, said staff were still instructed to stay home where possible.
“Given that business needs can change on a daily basis, the number of people working in the office can fluctuate. However, the majority of DoH employees work from home at all times,” said the department, which employs 1,150 people.
The Treasury Department, which has 3,601 employees and 251 contract workers, said “those employees who need to be on the job to deliver services work on-site.”
The executive office, which has 331 staff and 41 agency workers, couldn’t say how many are working from home.
The Justice Department said a “significant” number of its 3,341 staff and 163 contract workers “need to be on the job performing services that cannot be provided remotely.”
The Department of Agriculture had no response to questions about its numbers.
In England, where working from home regulations have been lifted, officials have been urged to return to the office to ensure government buildings are at full capacity.
Cabinet Office Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has written to fellow Cabinet members, urging them to send a “clear message” to the civil service about the return.
https://www.independent.ie/news/buildings-in-northern-ireland-empty-as-civil-servants-hold-back-on-return-to-office-41576322.html Buildings empty in Northern Ireland as officials hold back on their return to office