By Rathindra Kuruwita
The public and private sectors should encourage their employees to work remotely, even after the pandemic, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Management Consultant Dr. Sanjaya Perera said yesterday.
Dr. Perera told The Island that one of the main reason why COVID cases had increased after the lifting of the lockdowns was people returning to work. Not only did people travel in congested buses and trains, but also spent eight hours or more in enclosed spaces, most of which were air-conditioned.
“This is a recipe for disaster. If the public and private sectors put in place systems to facilitate work from home, millions of people will not be exposed to the virus and it will have a significant impact on the pandemic prevention,” Dr. Perera said.
Dr. Perera said that remote work had also made a lot of economic sense. In the EU, companies were increasingly closing down physical offices and encouraging people to work from home. Companies had given people a subsidy to convert a room at home into an office space.
“This would also work here. A company must spend a significant amount of money to rent an office in Colombo or any of the main cities. It is also obvious that except factory workers, marketers and a few such categories, most people in any company can work from home. This will not only save millions on rent, but companies can save a lot on utilities, etc.,” he said.
Dr. Perera said that encouraging people to work from home also had a number of positive externalities that would positively impact the environment and the country’s economy. Working remotely reduced private vehicles on the road and congestion in public transport, making travelling to and from work a more pleasurable experience.
“Sri Lanka spends a lot of dollars on importing fuel. Fuel imports can be drastically reduced by having people work from home. There will be less emissions that reduces the impact on the environment and it will reduce congestion, which is a major problem. I consult for a number of hospitals and one of the biggest complaints is that the ambulances get stuck in traffic,” he said.
Working from home also boosted productivity, Dr. Perera added. Research from the US had shown that productivity doubled when employees worked from home.
“Some people have told me that government servants are not working properly when they are at home. That’s because we have not set systems and protocols in place. There are many ways of ensuring that people work, from high tech solutions to just setting targets. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa comes from a computer science background, I think he is the ideal leader to promote remote working,” Dr. Perera said.