The COVID-19 pandemic has led to large-scale and rapid changes in work practices, including a dramatic increase in the number of people working from home. The pandemic has demonstrated that many jobs can be effectively done from home and it appeared likely that the number of people working from home in future will remain much higher than it was previously.
After Covid-19 lockdowns, governments, businesses and private firms across the globe grapple with the thorny question of continued remote working. Recently the Dutch parliament enacted a new legislation to establish home working as a legal right, setting the Netherlands as one of the first countries to enshrine such flexibility in the law.
At the same, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recently decided to allow public sector employees to work from home on Fridays in a bid to conserve fuel and electricity amid the deepening energy crisis facing the country making it the first province in Pakistan to introduce a policy of work from home on Fridays.
This blog post is aimed at elucidating the KP Govt policy of “Work from Home for Fridays” in the backdrop of the “Work from Home Policy” recently introduced by the Dutch Govt with its strengths and shortcomings. This post shall cover the following areas:
- An overview of the Dutch Govt “Work from Home Policy”
- The crux of the KP Govt “Work from Home Policy for Fridays”
- How to implement the KP Govt “Work from Home Policy for Fridays” effectively?
- Formation of a committee by the KP Govt to define modalities for implementation of “Work from Home Policy”
- Recommendations of a member of the committee
- What should the Govt do to help employees work productively from home on Fridays?
Now, these important areas are explicated in the following section of this post:
An overview of the Dutch Govt “Work from Home Policy”
Under the current (preceding) Dutch law, employers may reject workers’ requests to work from home without giving a reason. The new legislation forces employers to consider such requests and give a reason if denying them.
This new law allows employees to request changes in the number of hours they work, their working schedule and their place of work. The law represents an “important step” for workers. It allows them to find a better work-life balance and reduce time spent on commuting. For employers, this is also a good law. Because a happy employee is a happy employer. The Dutch authorities have combined the advantages of working in the office with the advantages of working from home, as the well-being of their employees is their top priority.
Dutch employees are currently working from home more than two days a week if they requested. The Covid crisis has shown that remote work can work and that workers are happier and more productive if they alternate working from home and in the office. During the pandemic, the Dutch government helped businesses to repay employees for additional costs of setting up home offices, offering reimbursements and tax exemptions. The majority of Dutch workers want flexible working to become permanent. The Dutch Govt adopts the “Work from Home Policy” to facilitate employees to work more productively and protect their rights.
Other European countries have implemented similar worker-protection laws in recent years, but none have explicitly stated that employees have a right to work at home. Legislation in Spain offers some protection to employees who wish to work from home and prohibits companies from promoting office-based employees over remote workers based purely on their work location. In Portugal, a law passed last year bars employers from contacting employees outside of working hours.
The crux of the KP Govt “Work from Home Policy for Fridays”
At the same time, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recently decided to allow public sector employees to work from home on Fridays in a bid to conserve fuel and electricity amid a deepening energy crisis facing the country. The work-from-home policy was inspired by the rising prices of electricity and oil. Under the policy, approved by the provincial cabinet, government employees will have the option of working from the office for four days and working from home for one day out of the five official working days. The move is a part of the provincial government’s efforts to cut its expenses. Previously, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa slashed the free fuel quota of the provincial government departments, institutions and organizations.
Taimur Khan Jhagra, the provincial Finance Minister, told the media, a day after presenting the budget to the legislatures in Peshawar that both public, as well as private sectors across the world, are incorporating work-from-home policy in their own respective ways, and his government has taken the initiative to introduce the policy in the public sector to deal with growing financial challenges and energy crisis.
He maintained that in a government of 600,000 people if half of them could essentially work from home, the fuel savings and the electricity savings they believed would amount in the area of 2 to 5 billion rupees a year which for a government like theirs would be a huge saving.
The provincial minister elucidated that the government departments shall identify the essential staff that essentially need to work in offices on Friday, however, crucial services such as police, schools, hospitals and rescue services will continue to run beyond four days a week.
If the policy is adopted in letter and spirit the government employees will have the choice of working four days from the office and one day from home out of the five official working days. Hence, the government employees will work in the offices Monday through Thursday and from home on Fridays.
How to implement the KP Govt “Work from Home Policy for Fridays” effectively?
It is learnt that the provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has implemented a one-day work-from-home policy for all of its workers. According to media reports, the Khyber Medical College is among the educational institutes that have employed the one-day work-from-home policy for all of its workers. It is further learnt that the administration department has constituted a high-powered committee to define modalities for implementation of the one-day work-from-home.
Formation of a committee by the KP Govt to define modalities for implementation of “Work from Home Policy”
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has constituted a three-member committee to deliberate and finalize modalities for implementation of the decision- ” Friday as Work from Home Day” as approved by the Provincial Cabinet in its special Budget Meeting held on 13th June 2022.
The three-member committee comprising of Ikram Ullah, Secretary Finance Department Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as chairman, Muhammad Abid Majeed, Secretary Environment Wildlife and Forest Department, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as a member and Shahid Sohail Khan, Secretary Administration Department Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as member-cum-secretary.
Recommendations of a member of the committee
According to media reports, one member of the committee, Secretary Environment Wildlife and Forest Department Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has submitted its recommendations to the chairman of the committee affirming that with the implementation of this decision “Friday as Work from Home Day” huge savings may be made not only on account of fuel but also power.
The recommendations of Secretary Environment Wildlife and Forest Department added that based on the assessment made of the expenditures incurred on various accounts including fuel, electricity during the last one year starting from first July 2021 to 30th Jun 2022, a saving of 20 % may be made if the decision of “Friday as Work from Home Day” is implemented massive amount of savings can realised, especially, on account of fuel in the face of its skyrocketing prices
The recommendations further read that to implement the decision of “Friday as Work from Home Day” all government departments, attached departments and field offices should be classified into various categories. In category-A, the most essential services/departments such as Health, Education, Rescue 1122, Prison and Interior should be placed while field offices should be placed in category-B. Meetings must be held on Zoom. The Federal Government should also be requested to hold meetings on Zoom instead of calling officers to Islamabad resulting in savings on account of Travelling Allowance/ Dailey Allowance (TA/DA), fuel and vehicle depreciation.
The recommendations concluded that in order to cause further savings on account of power, the office timings should be re-notified from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM for all public sector departments.
What should the Govt do to help employees work productively from home on Fridays?
In a country where government employees always feel overburdened and less motivated while commuting to the workplace, it is another off-day from work for many people. However, I believe if the concerned departments offer guidance to the employees on how to work productively at home, manage virtual meetings and lead teams from a distance through this time of fiscal challenges and energy crisis, the work from home ritual may take firm roots in our working environment as work from home is the new way of life.
The concerned departments have to make sure that the employees have access to the resources they need to do work productively. The Line Managers/ Directors have to ensure that every employee has full access, so no one feels left behind.
There’s ample research showing that virtual teams can work as effectively as co-located ones in terms of trust and collaboration. It just requires some sort of discipline. Developing an effective mechanism for implementation of “Work from Home Policy for Fridays” the KP Govt shall require a disciplined approach towards managing the whole scheme of arrangements.