Working from home and social distancing should not affect service delivery: RCSC Chairperson
One impact of the COVID-19 situation in Bhutan is a noticeable slowing down of service delivery from the civil service.
This drop was noticeable from after the first case of COVID-19 in Bhutan, but it has become especially significant after RCSC instituted work from from guidelines for civil servants from 30th March.
Complaints are coming in from people that work that used to take a few days earlier now can even take a week or more.
Two examples are bill collectors and journalists who keep visiting government offices.
According to some bill collectors, bills that normally would get cleared in two to three days by government agencies now can take up to two weeks or more as either one person or the other involved in clearing the bill or signing cheque are missing or not available.
Journalists are also facing more difficulty collecting information as when they visit offices quite a few of them are shut or the people are not there. These people may also not necessarily be in the working from home list.
This reporter himself visited some ministries and agencies and noticed locked offices and staff missing with exceptions like the Ministry of Health among others.
A senior government figure who is also a Red Scarf officer, on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged the service slow down and said the problem is two fold.
He said the first issue is that civil servants are used to working in an office setting and are not flexible or even digitally well trained enough to work from home or a mobile office.
He said the other issue is a general mood that has set in among some of not working or reducing work due to COVID-19 and this applies to people who are not working from home.
The implications of reduced service delivery come at a time when the government and agencies have to implement not only a speeded up 12th plan but also the Nu 30 bn National Resilience Fund activities.
RCSC Chair explains
The RCSC Chairperson, Karma Hamu Dorjee, said, “Working from home is to keep civil servants safe and in no way should it undermine service delivery. They have to ensure smooth service delivery but while RCSC has given the broad guidelines the civil service management of different agencies have to come up with their own plans.”
The RCSC Chairperson said that around 3,600 civil servants of around 18,000 civil servants are following either work from home or are taking turns to come to office.
She said though there are around 30,000 civil servants. The 18,000 figure excludes around 9,000 teachers as schools are not in session and MoH, JDWNRH, all hospitals, BHUs etc. working to full capacity.
She said six bordering southern Dzongkhags and some other agencies are also working to full capacity given the work load and sensitivity.
ESP and GSP personnel who are not counted among the 30,000 civil servants also cannot work from home as their physical nature of work requires their presence and it cannot be done on a laptop from home.
The Chairperson said that the 3,600 are from agencies which do not have as much pressure and can implement work from home, but there are agencies who want to continue working with staff in office.
The RCSC Chair said that certain activities like like training programs and workshops cannot be held since it requires people to gather together and so the RCSC has handed back Nu 30 mn to the government from its training program for agencies. So she said in such cases people should not expect services.
“However, it is not at all okay for other normal services to to be affected,” she said.
She said that in such cases people should find out from the civil service executive or management why the person is not there as the BCSR has delegated responsibilities to individual management.
The Chair said that the executives the and HR committees are empowered to take decisions on such issues.
She said that in case a citizen is not satisfied with the action or non-action of an agency on such cases then they have the option of writing to and putting in a complaint with the RCSC.
She said RCSC has its own due process and it will be looked into and investigated.
The other issue is also on how critical services will be ensured incase Bhutan enters the red zone from the current orange zone and there is a lockdown.
The RCSC Chair said that the RCSC has already sent instructions to the agencies to identify critical services that need to be kept functional in case of a lockdown.
She said that it will be left to the agencies to identify these services since they would know best.
The RCSC Chair said the Individual Work Plan (IWP) of the civil servants will go on but the force majeure (unavoidable circumstances) of the COVID-19 will also be taken into account.
The Chair said that the government policy is to reduce contact and the RCSC has aligned to it.
RCSC Guidelines to work remotely or from home
She said that the RCSC on its website has provided broad guidelines on working from home, dos and don’ts while working from home and also the technical parameters that the RCSC secretariat itself is following which others can customize according to their requirements.
In the do and don’t guidelines from RCSC for civil servants working from home, RCSC advises such civil servants to stay home and limit the number of visitors, be updated on organization’s activities and be on stand by. It advises civil servants against taking up alternative employment or businesses, taking part in social gatherings or leaving a station without informing the supervisor.
RCSC’s ‘Guideline for remote-working in Civil Service as a measure for continuous delivery of service during the COVID-19 outbreak,’ is an eight-page document going into objective of working remotely or working from home, ground rules for remote working or working from home, management processes for remote working, use of remote toolbox and accountability and productivity measures.
It says the objective in case of a certain events like social distancing and lockdowns is that the health and safety of staff as well as clients should be accorded the highest priority. At the same it it is about building an effective remote team which would enable agencies to operate beyond the confines of a physical office and facilitate continuity of essential services.
In terms of the ground rules, managers are to sit with their team to come up with an agreed “Remote Working Office Hours and rules of engagement” document. This must be shared through a common folder that everyone can easily refer to. There are also to be set ground rules for team communication to ensure the team is productive and happy.
In the case of management processes, the steps that employees need to follow to complete a certain task have to be documented and supervisors should make themselves available for virtual hangouts, to guide, coordinate and motivate team members and provide a conducive environment to brainstorm and make work from home productive.
There has to be weekly one on ones with team members to chat about how work is going.
ICT Teams should make themselves available to support the other team members and provide technical support.
Agencies should institute protocol for document movement between the office and home.
Remote tool box is about using the right technology communication tools like WhatsApp, Google sheets, Skype and protocol around it for effective team communication.
In terms of accountability it is about blocking time to do specific tasks, jotting down or recording minute meetings in a shard document or file so that other can catch up and keeping teammates and supervisors updated of one’s daily activities.
Agencies in discussion with their staff must ensure that they have the necessary facilities like computers/laptops to work from home but agencies are also requested to be conservative in allocating and the use of Government resources.