(version française) – (Versión en español)

 

The purpose of this article is to share some of the challenges, opportunities and “skills” that ILO staff in Europe and the Arab States have experienced and acquired while resisting  the COVID-19 pandemic and enduring its associated lockdown and confinement measures since mid-March 2020.

Generally speaking and despite the difficult circumstances the overall world is facing, ILO staff members in the above-mentioned offices have succeeded in staying safe and well, and have sustained a reliable and consistent productivity with a majority expressing their accommodation and total adoption of ‘teleworking’. To be more accurate, most staff appreciated teleworking although it was initially difficult to get the required buy-in to this new work modality. It is important to note here that fortunately colleagues had the necessary IT equipment and needed internet connection to allow them to operate effectively and efficiently. Some, mostly staff without children, even reported being more productive and efficient at home due to the absence of interruptions and the ability to concentrate for longer spans of time.

All offices conducted meetings using WebEx, Skype and Zoom to the extent that some colleagues had to keep updating their calendars and were difficult to reach given the “big traffic of meetings online”. It is not difficult to imagine, that while these online meetings ensured continuous and timely communication, they also unfortunately contributed to the near total disappearance of “work-life balance”. In the absence of a “working schedule”, staff found themselves, most of the times, unable to self-pace their work and impose a time to disconnect.

If work and productivity were seamlessly ongoing, so were the spontaneous talents and anecdotes!

For colleagues with families and children, the quality time spent as a family unit was very valuable and allowed stronger bonding among family members. True there were quarrels over sharing the internet connection but with time even that issue was organized and time was allocated based on urgency and priority. Some parents even had to walk down memory lane back to their old school days and remember their school programmes to take on the role of teachers for their children: a responsibility equally shared by ILO mums and dads who, we are assured, have been implementing a gender sensitive approach to home duties throughout the confinement.

There are also a few other untapped potentials that were unleashed during this confinement and that ILO colleagues shared. For some, spending approximately 2 months at home allowed them to discover ‘the kitchen’ and develop the skills needed to cook and survive in the absence of food delivery. It has, in certain cases, even become a passion they nurture regularly by connecting to Instagram to follow world-renowned chefs cooking on line. Needless to say that cooking competitions became a trend and with the level of creativity and innovation displayed it might be a good idea to review the staff’s BoCs to reflect this learning under the “Development Objective”.

 

 

Other trends were also shared namely:

  • acquiring and bonding with domestic animals that enjoyed extensive attention and care becoming the only ones happy to coexist with ILO staff for such a long period with no absences to travel on countless missions;
  • learning languages on-line and waiting excitedly for the lockdown to be lifted in order to practice and show off among colleagues before the busy work schedule erases the few words, sentences and numbers learned;
  • exercising alone with the help of YouTube and making the effort to persevere making it a daily routine to control the weight gains and ensure sanity of mind, a quasi-impossible routine to keep in normal times;
  • last but not least, ‘Netflixing’ has been taken up by a large number of staff who found an escape from hearing the sad news of increasing numbers of infected people worldwide and all the related social and economic consequences we would need to tackle urgently as we return to our ‘new normal’.

Offices in Europe and the Arab States started working and preparing the staff’s gradual return to the office with all the necessary precautions for the health and safety of all. The lockdown has been an unusual experience putting the staff’s resilience, patience and flexibility to the test. While we managed and adjusted, we all missed going to the office and interacting with colleagues. We hope this disturbing situation ends soon for us to get back to work together and embark on evaluating and drawing the lessons learned!

 

(version française)

(english version)

 

La región de América Latina y el Caribe se vio afectada por el COVID-19 en casi todos los países a partir del mes de marzo 2020. Al día de hoy todos lo están. La mayoría de los gobiernos dieron la orden de entrar en distanciamiento social (cuarentena).  Cerrando las fronteras y aeropuertos, cerrando las escuelas, universidades y comercios. Posteriormente las medidas se han ido intensificando decretando inmovilizaciones obligatorias, toque de queda por las noches dependiendo del estado de emergencia sanitaria que enfrentan. El uso de mascarillas se ha vuelto obligatorio en muchos países

La pandemia y el coronavirus están planteando una nueva realidad, con mucha incertidumbre, cambios constantes que nunca antes hemos vivido, esta situación la atraviesan todos los países.

Aún con las serias limitaciones de los sistemas de salud en nuestra región confiamos en los equipos profesionales de la salud y los estados, quienes están enfrentando esta pandemia con el mayor esfuerzo y coraje.  Aplicando planes de apoyo social para los sectores más vulnerables de acuerdo a las posibilidades de cada país.

El personal de las Oficinas y proyectos en la región de América Latina y el Caribe se encuentran libre de COVID-19 y estamos todos en teletrabajo.  El esfuerzo es remarcable pese a que las condiciones no son las mejores, sobre todo para los/las colegas que tienen hijos pequeños o familiares a cargo. Hay que trabajar, cuidar la salud de la familia, acompañar a los hijos con la tele educación, comprar provisiones y todo ello en una misma jornada. Y si el tiempo lo permite, disfrutar de los tan necesitados momentos de ocio.

Hemos convertido nuestros hogares en lugares de trabajo poder realizar las jornadas de trabajo y en muchos casos la ergonomía, el equipamiento informático inadaptado, la interrupción de los servicios eléctricos y de internet generan stress en los colegas por no poder cumplir con las entregas de trabajo en los tiempos establecidos.  A esto hay que agregarle un enfoque meramente productivista durante las primeras semanas de la cuarentena resultando en una sobrecarga excesiva y la falta de coordinación.  Hemos vivido días de trabajo muy largos pasando de una reunión virtual o webinar, respondiendo y rellenando múltiples encuestas, formularios.

No obstante, a ello, saludamos la profesionalidad y compromiso de todo el personal de la región que no ha cesado ni un momento de brindar su mayor esfuerzo para que el mandado de la OIT se cumpla de la mejor manera posible. También a los comités de cada oficina por el trabajo realizado y la coordinación con el delegado regional. Se han logrado cosas impensables en tan poco tiempo y en circunstancias muy poco favorables. El mayor reconocimiento es ver que nuestros mandantes aprecian nuestro trabajo y les resulta útil.

El Director Regional, el Jefe de los Servicios Administrativos Regionales y nuestra oficial de RRHH Regional se han reunido de manera virtual con la Delegada Regional para intercambiar el estado de situación del personal y los diversos escenarios que se están presentando.

Las condiciones de trabajo actuales sin dudas dejarán huellas y confiamos en que la Dirección y los trabajadores saquemos conclusiones y estemos mejor preparados para el futuro. Pronto volveremos a las oficinas y nuevos desafíos se nos presentarán, no solo relacionados con las condiciones de trabajo sino también con la carga laboral que nos espera. El COVID-19 nos ha agregado trabajo y requiere acciones rápidas sin descuidar lo que ya estaba planeado.

Mantenemos la firme esperanza que la crisis socio económica generada por esta pandemia se convertirá en una excelente oportunidad para que se den cambios a todo nivel, personal, social, económico, político y cultural.

Desde las Américas expresamos nuestra solidaridad con todos los infectados y afectados y enviamos el pésame a aquellos que han perdido a sus seres queridos. Cuidémonos todos para salir juntos de esta crisis y para convertirla en una oportunidad para un gran cambio.

 

Version française

 

Many countries in Asia-Pacific have been totally locked down or partially closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Also restriction of movement has been imposed to cities and provinces of many countries. With this unprecedented situation and challenge, our work and life style has been transformed to a large extent.

At the beginning, along with care for the safety and wellbeing of the colleagues, the Staff Union in the region also looked after other aspects, such as intern’s and DC staff’s contract period, welfare of staff with no direct contract with ILO, and medical services like hospital arrangements. Furthermore, coordination with other Staff Associations at national level has been effective to reach out to UNRCs and address staff’s requirements.

 

Majority of the staff are relatively coping well with teleworking and rather satisfied with the work from home modality. Nevertheless, the substantial numbers of the staff face hardships with the new work arrangements because teleworking is being performed in a stressful situation under a global health crisis. Pressure has increased with lots of demand for skype meetings and training, emails and instructions from the office and supervisors. Some colleagues’ workload has increased with irregular working hours. Unfortunately, some feel that they are closely monitored by the supervisors. Home workspace is not always ergonomically sound, but majority of the staff spend long hours in front of the laptop, responding to emails and delivering tasks. More than ever before, the staff’s family responsibilities, especially for women, increase with childcare and homecare. Children are attending online classes, so parents have to provide support for their online schooling. Anxiety grows about their parents’ health and children living apart from them. Poor internet connection in some countries testifies the staff’s patience. This unhealthy work environment causes the physical and mental concerns of the staff and requires proper psychological guidance to the staff. The good thing is that more SUC-Management joint initiatives take place handling such issues and COSH is active in some duty stations.    

The Staff Union has continued to communicate with its members at regional and national levels to consolidate feedback on their health concerns and the impact of teleworking. Virtual conferences between SU reps and the members and SU reps and Regional Titular have been held. Rapid surveys on the impact of teleworking were conducted by a few SUCs. Staff Unions also adopt different means to interact with the staff and enhance their wellbeing, as well as to support others. A staff union opens a virtual café where anyone can join and relax with chat and fun; a union organises a yoga class for strengthening heath; a union mobilises donations to assist the livelihood of non-contractual staff; a union collects a fund to support rural migrant workers who suffer from the lockdown. In this challenging time, friendships and solidarity have been an incredible source of eveyone’s good spirit and encouragement.

Some countries remain cautious as the virus still spreads, while some countries are improving the plights. We Staff Union in the AP region will keep vigilant to the situation and work on methods to ensure staff’s safety now and in times of their return to the office. In the meantime, I wish all of you and your loved one be safe, healthy and happy. In Solidarity.

Pong-Sul Ahn
Regional Titular for Asia and the Pacific