THE STATE’S move to explore a permanent work-from-home policy for public servants is to be welcomed, not only because remote work can boost productivity, but also because it could well become a key ingredient in our economic recovery.
Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis this month confirmed her ministry is giving serious attention to the development of a national policy on the issue and will consult with stakeholders, including unions and labour experts.
There are many reasons why working from the office is not completely indispensable at the moment. Some services, obviously, require face-to-face interaction and engagement with members of the public.
Additionally, while strides have been made in our technological infrastructure, there are still many who do not have access to the equipment, skills or training needed to work remotely. A robust digital environment will have to be in place to function efficiently.
However, the available data suggests there are many compelling reasons to get workers to work from home.
While the planet is still battling covid19, it remains the case that the origins of the current pandemic are poorly understood. Given this mystery, there is concern that further waves of viral diseases could occur, forcing work from home to become truly “the new normal.”
But even if this were not so, the boost to productivity brought about through remote working is enough to justify its being implemented on a permanent basis.
According to the Central Statistical Office, the productivity of TT workers increased by as much as 2.2 per cent during the second quarter of last year.
While undoubtedly this boost is subject to diminishing returns, international studies have long found working from home dramatically improves productivity over very long periods. Various papers place the increase between 13 per cent and 77 per cent.
But the benefits are not limited to safety and productivity.
Having public servants work from home could save the State billions in recurrent expenditure. Ministries might no longer have to rent large office premises. The cost of maintaining large state-owned properties could also be substantially reduced. Some of these properties could possibly be leased or sold to the private sector. Huge government building projects could be paused.
In the context of a treasury struggling to balance its books, these measures could substantially cut state expenditure and divert funds to more productive uses, such as supporting Government’s stimulus projects and relief measures.
Naturally, any such policy would have to deal with the downside of remote work. Working via electronic devices all day, possibly in solitude, and the removal of the division between home life and work life, can create their own stresses. However, such stress can be managed by effective guidelines.
Not only can working from home work, it is an idea whose time has come.