Date: 3rd February, 2021
A recent joint national report prepared in collaboration between the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bahrain, and the Bahrain Institute of Public Administration (BIPA), recommended Bahrain’s public sector shift to remote work for some occupations in a sustainable manner where the jobs are more suited to this scenario, such as education, client service, and IT, with flexible intervals in which employees could specify their remote work days in agreement with their employers, without compulsory permanent options for in-office or remote work days. The report called for devising comprehensive regulations that account for the interests of employees and employers, limiting drawbacks such as assigning work outside official hours.
The report is one of the outcomes of a Derasat-UNDP partnership project to assess national-level socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bahrain. The UNDP-funded project is part of a global programme to assess the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in over 100 countries around the world. More studies are expected to be produced in the upcoming weeks and months to assess the impact of the pandemic.
The report was prepared by Ghada Abdulla, Associate Researcher, Derasat and Dr. Omar Al-Ubaydli, Director of Studies & Research also at Derasat.
Dr. Al-Ubaydli said, “The pandemic largely accelerated the shift to remote work, and Bahrain was largely prepared due to the availability of an advanced ICT infrastructure, based on early and pre-emptive preparation by broad official sectors and individuals in society.” He added, “The pandemic forcibly contributed to the discovery of the advantages and impediments of this transformation; adopting the former and addressing the latter for the future.” Ghada Abdulla saw, “a large segment of staff preferring remote work when the nature of their jobs did not require office presence, on the condition that a system is formed to measure results-oriented productivity.”
The report found several benefits for working from home, among which were reducing time lost in commuting, morning anxiety, unnecessary meetings and socialising. Gains were made in general mental wellbeing and productivity, improved and more flexible time management, and adoption of technological solutions that increased staff productivity in some professions.
The report also monitored the accelerated digitization process of government services; the classification of staff as high, low or as hindering productivity; the reduction of organizational operating costs; and identifying transitional period difficulties. The latter included the lack of devices required to continue work from home; and the initial lack of know-how on use of remote work software and applications. Some staff had higher in-office productivity, while others saw work-from-home as time off. Administrations had higher expectations during the remote work phase, assigning many tasks outside official work hours.
BIPA’s contribution to this report was summed up by Dr. Mohammed Amin, Director of the Institute’s Master’s Program in Public Administration. “This study reflects our shared aspirations for management, by creating a network of organizational efforts that result in a scientific study based on solid research foundations.” He added, “This scales up the government sector in Bahrain.” Dr. Amin pointed to BIPA’s role in, “providing a suitable research environment, in the form of a sample of Master’s students from the Public Administration Program, who comprise civil servants from different areas of the public sector.”
The report also addressed the psychological impact of reduced office work. Social interaction in the office is an essential and positive aspect of the social nature of human beings which, when replaced by on-screen communication, can lead to a sense of professional and social alienation from colleagues. Nevertheless, the report predicts that remote work will continue to be adopted by organizations in the long run, particularly in jobs most suited to it, even after recovery from the Coronavirus crisis. This calls for the development of regulations to monitor this type of work.