Empty desk syndrome – scores of desks sit empty at council offices

By Katy Jenkins   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Thursday 30th June 2022 8:31 am
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Canfolfan Rheidol
Cyngor Sir Ceredigion’s office in Canolfan Rheidol (Ceredigion County Council )

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SCORES of desks in Ceredigion County Council offices in Aberystwyth and Aberaeron remain empty as staff continue to stay away amid hybrid working trials.

Figures reported to a meeting of the council’s corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee on 21 June, show that a total of 100 desks have been made available to staff - 76 in Aberystwyth’s Canolfan Rheidol and 24 in Penmorfa, Aberaeron - but that the usage of those desks by staff is “well below availability.”

The committee heard that a draft hybrid working policy and interim hybrid working policy has been developed following the “abrupt enforcement” of the national lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 saw changes to how staff worked.

Two years on, and many staff remain away from council offices despite the complete lifting of restrictions in Wales.

Ceredigion County Council “responded well to the initial challenges posed by the pandemic” a report the committee states and the “new remote working practices have been reviewed and developed in the new policy.”

Staff consultation was undertaken the council and 75 per cent of workers responded, the committee heard, although this was not considered enough by some councillors - with suggestions that engagement should have been mandatory.

“Protecting the wellbeing” of staff able to work from home was a “key consideration”, and a dedicated officer for the council was available for those having issues, the committee heard.

Other concerns raised at committee was ensuring there was no pressure to respond to emails at “unsociable hours”, staff were being distanced from the public, and that recruitment is not solely carried out virtually because “getting the idea, nature and personality” of an applicant is easier face to face.

Some members also warned of the “economic impact on Aberystwyth and Aberaeron” - where the two largest council offices are based - if fewer staff are going to physically work in those offices.

Members heard that there will be desks available at both Penmorfa and Canolfan Rheidol for those that are hybrid working that did wish to work in the office.

Corporate lead officer Russell Hughes-Pickering said that since the end of May there have been 76 desks available to book at Canolfan Rheidol and from Monday, 6 June there had been 24 at Penmorfa, with “usage well below availability of desks, if staff want to go in there’s no problem finding a desk.”

This is the first phase, he added, with more desks and meeting spaces to be added, with the policy “trying to build on the positives.”

The committee recommended that senior councillors be asked to review the hybrid working policy for staff in six months rather than the 18 month trial proposed.

The new hybrid working strategy will go to Cabinet for further consideration and final decision, including on amendments to shorten the review to six months, to include face to face interviews, and protection from anti-social hours.

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