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Coronavirus: remote working has positives and negatives, says digital policy minister

Remote working is possible in Cyprus as long as it is the result of social dialogue, preparation and a change of culture, deputy minister of research, innovation and digital policy Kyriakos Kokkinos said on Wednesday.

Telecommuting has been around before the coronavirus and is a practice often followed by multinational companies, Kokkinos  told CNA adding at the same time it was not a substitute for the physical presence of workers in the office.

“Telework takes place on a voluntary basis, the right conditions must be in place and it must be an arrangement which benefits both sides,” he said.

There are two dimensions to remote working, the deputy minister explained. One has to do with organising the way employees and businesses operate.

The other one has to do with people’s experiences during the pandemic when working from home became a necessity in order to have operational continuity.

He explained that in both instances, remote working must be on a voluntary basis and all provisions relating health and safety at work, as well as the security of the documents to be handled should be guaranteed.

“In order for this to take place in Cyprus and particularly in the public service, social dialogue must take place and there must be a change not just in technology but also in the contractual relations and even in culture,” Kokkinos stressed.

Asked whether as far as he knows there were thoughts of implementing remote working partially in the public service, he said his area of responsibility would be “to implement the technological part.”

This should happen, he added. “If another pandemic or the same one resurfaces and we are obliged to work from home we need to be ready.”

Even if the need does not arise, now that we have witnessed the benefits of remote working, he continued, “I believe that under the right conditions this dialogue must take place.”

According to the deputy minister the benefits are huge. “Some research has shown an increase in productivity between 22 and 24 per cent and other research from 60 to 70 per cent.”

Kokkinos also referred on the flexibility it offers since employees would not have to work during a specific timeframe but rather the focus would be on the results of their work.

The deputy minister warned about the dangers involved. One of them was that people working from home may risk destroying the balance between their work and social and family life.

Another matter which should be given attention would be the right balance between employees’ physical presence in the office space and teleworking.

“Physical presence in the office means that colleagues socialise with each other, problems can be resolved face to face and people have a sense of physical cooperation which cannot be replaced by telework.”

He also referred to the next steps in achieving the digital transformation of Cyprus, saying the deputy ministry is working hard on small projects which will be of great value to people such as the electronic registration of students in schools, the electronic submission of applications at them town planning and housing department and the electronic submission of documents in court proceedings.

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