News Jensen sells it 38 minutes August
Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. File Photo –
The Ministry of Planning is currently drafting a national policy to keep one of the pandemic’s add-ons on permanently – working from home (WFH).
Since mid-March last year, the private and public sectors have been turned upside down by government-imposed restrictions to combat the spread of Covid19; However, the sectors have seen productivity gains from remotely working employees.
While significant parts of the private sector were closed, public servants worked on a rotation system, some working from home, while some services were put on hold for months.
According to Andre Blanchard, assistant director of statistics at the Central Statistical Office (CSO) for the second and third quarters of 2020, there have been small but notable increases in productivity while working from home. Blanchard said the data collected is all they have now.
“In the second quarter of 2020, productivity (all employees) increased by 2.2 percent compared to the first quarter and (in) the third quarter productivity (all employees) increased by 0.5 percent compared to the second quarter.”
He noted that a fall in production accompanied by a similar fall in hours worked will leave productivity unchanged, meaning that falling production may not lead to falling labor productivity. Based on the data collected, he added that the manufacturing and extractive industries remained largely untouched during the WFH era.
Sunday Newsday reached out to Planning and Development Secretary Camille Robinson-Regis for data on productivity levels during working hours from home to identify the pros and cons. In an email response, she said that a WFH policy would target both the public and private sectors.
When asked if WFH, which is now used in both the public and private sectors, could remain in effect after the pandemic, Robinson-Regis said, “My government is urgently looking at the best methodology that can be used to address the problem Increase productivity, stimulate the economy, improve the lives of our citizens and residents, while doing whatever is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading. To this end, at the Ministry of Planning and Development, we have started the process of developing a national work from home. A consultant will be employed to carry out the project and consultations will be held with various stakeholders, including public officials and their unions, in order to to determine the further path. “
She said the International Labor Organization (ILO) has pledged its support. Public Servants Association President Watson Duke said the union, as one of the main stakeholders, had a vital role to play in developing such a policy. Duke said that unless there is meaningful participation in the union, the directive will remain a useless document unless it is put into law.
“Working from home, as you can imagine, would require a robust digital environment, including infrastructure, redevelopment of skills, and redevelopment of systems. The recent creation of the Ministry of Digital Transformation will contribute to such a transformation of the working environment in Trinidad and Tobago, ”the minister said.
HR Services Chair and General Manager Diana Mahabir-Wyatt said that while a national WFH policy is a good thing, there is a need for supervisors to train on how to monitor productivity.
“What has to be developed is a system in which you work according to tasks. Qualitative and quantitative measurements must be carried out. There is now a technology that is a little expensive but can cover public services. “
She said that in addition to training on technology use during WFH, employers must ensure their employees have the devices and connectivity to make this happen.
Planning department officials said a more in-depth study needs to be done to calculate the loss of productivity from traffic that WFH will eliminate. Hopefully this will be revealed during research as policy evolves.
Blanchard said productivity had increased gradually over the years, likely due to changes in technology. However, this has to be confirmed by a specialized study.
When asked about the stress experienced by transport workers on the way to and from work and the impact on productivity, the Minister said: “The fact that we have engaged the ILO and are seriously starting to develop a home work policy , shows the government’s intention to take serious action. Explore this as an option to ease the burden on workers while increasing productivity in all sectors of the country.
“WFH has to be approached on several levels, politics, system development, changes to the law, cultural change, even working conditions.”
In addition to the WFH policy, the government has begun to put in place mechanisms to ensure consistent data collection and productivity measurement. Robinson-Regis said the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) had recommended the formation of a special unit to look at productivity and work ethics in TT.
“My government considers this initiative to be critical for the country, especially in view of the threat to livelihoods and production levels in all sectors from Covid19 and the negative effects on economic growth and the further development of the country.”
Last March, at the start of the pandemic, Mahabir-Wyatt encouraged employees to take up the WFH initiative. There is no “textbook guarantee” that WFH will achieve profitability and productivity.
Speaking to the Sunday Newsday on Saturday, the labor relations adviser said there were pressures with the WFH that the policy needed to address. This includes social interactions that can be decreased and lead to increased stress.
In May, business psychologist Ornella Wheeler warned that working from home is stressful. She then said that while it is becoming the new normal for many, it is blurring the lines between work and personal life. This, according to Wheeler, has resulted in some (unconsciously) working tirelessly, longer hours and rarely logging out completely, creating an atmosphere of burnouts.
Mahabir-Wyatt also warned against such scenarios and emphasized that some work longer because they are at home. Some skip breakfast and spend hours staring at a computer screen, both unhealthy habits that grew out of familiarity with being at home.
She suggested that workers take their own breaks and develop healthy work-home relationships while working at home.