Any company not hybrid working ‘no longer competitive’ – says county council

One of Essex’s biggest employers has committed to a permanent system of hybrid working – with its human resources chief adding that any company which does not “is no longer competitive”.

Fewer than half of Essex County Council’s HQ in Chelmsford, known as County Hall, is being used compared to what the authority had expected two years after the pandemic struck.

However, other Essex County Council bases are being used more widely, councillors heard in a presentation from Pam Parkes, director of human resources at the authority.

It had been expected that around 1,500 people would be working at County Hall by March 2022. But in May 2022 just 703 were working at any one day from County Hall.

Of the more than 5,300 people working for Essex County Council, almost 3,000 are hybrid workers – albeit they have to come to the office at least once or twice a week.

The transition has led to Essex County Council evaluating options for its future office requirements – it may leave its headquarters after hybrid working left it “virtually empty”.

The authority said it could save £2.6m a year on its property bills by moving out of County Hall. Hybrid working was introduced in September, with workers’ time split between office, community, field and home bases.

Pam Parkes, director for organisational development and people at Essex County Council told the corporate policy and scrutiny committee on July 28: “Hybrid working is here to stay. If you are not an employer who embraces hybrid working you are no longer competitive for many of the roles that we employ.

“Let’s not forget we have a combination of workstyles – we have those community-based workers, fixed-based worker and field -based workers where they are required to come to work.

“It is the competitiveness of our policy around anywhere workers that is allowing us to recruit, attract and retrain staff and that is important.”

Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Chris Whitbread, said: “As an employer we have been really facilitating of the changes, particularly early on during the pandemic when we made allowances for furniture at home.

“And of course people working from home have the benefits of reduced costs as well. We are all mindful of fuel costs.

“There is a saving when you don’t have to travel into the office all the time which has a climate change benefit to it as well. We have to look at these things in the round.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter