It would be safe to say that anyone alive today could not possibly remember the last pandemic vividly because it happened over 100 years ago. Mankind in these 100 long years made incredible progress in medical sciences and healthcare. So, it was natural for everyone to think that we would be able to tackle a simple flu-like virus like the back of our hands. Entered the Coronavirus to the court of humanity, challenged the numero uno species of homo sapiens, and brought it down on its knees with its gift of COVID-19. We have no cope-up mechanism, cannot learn from the past pandemic, or ask our ancestors to share survival tips.
The reality is rather grim, at least, in comparison to the verse used above, especially for the world economy that is seeing a faster meltdown than the arctic glaciers. All sectors and industries saw a downfall barring a few like e-commerce and those providing gaming and virtual meeting platforms. Companies were forced to rethink their working models to keep employees safe while enabling them to work. The debatable cultural shift from on-site work to remote work changed overnight. According to a report by Gartner, only 11% of companies or organizations were equipped to adopt the remote working model in less than a month of the COVID outbreak. This number has been steadily growing and becoming the new normal. The norms of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness have changed and the corporate pundits recommend this working model for the long haul. A similar trend has been seen in the government sector.
The government sector required crucial support from employees to keep operations going, especially when countries came to rely on their agency frameworks to keep them running amidst the crisis. Countries like the United States introduced telework a decade ago but the majority of roles were still carried out from agency offices and headquarters. Only 78% of federal employees were eligible for telework constrained by several factors. This changed overnight and so more and more government workers started working from the safety of their homes. United Kingdom, in a similar fashion, introduced programs to aid employees and organizations that were thinking of downsizing by providing more flexibility in the form of voluntary furloughs, compensation aid, and part-time options with mandatory telework.
While enterprises struggled with putting everything on the cloud for better collaboration of employees, hunting tools to aid and track more productivity, some government agencies around the world have been shy of adopting this model. Of course, essential services like healthcare and supply chain, etc. couldn’t help physical presence, practically everything else could. But work in the case of government employees is met with some skepticism as not every government agency is welcoming telework beyond the lockdown periods. Some of the reasons are discussed below:
• National Security Issues – People still don’t trust their data would be safe outside of agency or governing body premises even as the world is moving to cloud.
• Employee Intention and Commitment – Another major reason is the question mark on the motives of employees seeking telework. Whether productivity increases or decreases with work-from-home is still debatable, especially when your kids are running around or there are chores being carried out on the government’s time.
• The Optics of Public Servants Working from Home – Another reason is simple optics. The optics aren’t in favor of any public servant working it off from their couch—not an entirely reassuring visual given how we perceive government work gets done and how we associate government employees with honorary public service.
• Administration and Leadership – A lot of it also depends on administration and leadership. Framing policies around telework is hard given the need for approvals through the web of bureaucracy.
But this is at best a skeptical viewpoint as most private enterprises are already on their way to changing policies and working models to accommodate telework and government, as it did with emerging technologies, will follow suit. The year 2020 will decide if the culture of teleworking in the government sector will thrive or wither. Positive outcomes are awaited.