Public institutions not ready to work from home

In that situation it is hard to talk about solid and efficient work. That is why, despite the fact that the number of infections was growing, the lockdown was extended and operation bans covered subsequent professional groups, working from home was less and less common in the audited institutions. Besides, the institutions were not prepared for a potential order to work from home. Therefore, according to NIK, system measures are essential to make sure the public administration undergoes digital transformation. NIK stands in a position that the failure to implement changes may pose a serious and real threat to the quality of public services provided on a remote basis, even for the business continuity of institutions rendering those services.

The NIK audit covered 40 public institutions from March 2020 to June 2021: tax administration chambers, branches of the Social Insurance Institution, social welfare facilities, poviat employment agencies, district prosecutor’s offices, district courts, commune offices, tax offices, provincial branches of the National Health Fund and regional branches of the Agricultural Social Insurance Fund.

Equipment shortages and technical barriers

According to Eurostat data, in 2019 only a bit more than 5% of employees in Poland worked from home. However, after the epidemic started to gain strength in March 2020, relevant measures proved essential to stop the virus from spreading. One of them was remote work. In 2020, the number of employees working from home reached nearly 9%, which placed Poland in the 15th position among 27 European Union countries.

Remote work across the selected European countries, including Poland, in 2020 and remote work in Poland compared with the period before the COVID-19 epidemic (2019)
Opis grafiki

Remote work across the selected European countries, including Poland, in 2020 and remote work in Poland compared with the period before the COVID-19 epidemic (2019).

Percentage of employees working from home:

  • Finland: 25.1%
  • Luxembourg: 23.1%
  • Ireland: 21.5%
  • Austria: 18.1%
  • Netherlands: 17.8%
  • Belgium: 17.2%
  • Denmark: 17.0%
  • France: 15.7%
  • Malta: 14.8%
  • Germany: 14.8%
  • Portugal: 13.9%
  • Estonia: 12.6%
  • EU-27: 12.3%
  • Italy: 12.2%
  • Spain: 10.9%
  • POLAND 2020: 8.9%
  • Slovenia: 7.4%
  • Sweden: 7.3%
  • Czech Republic: 7.2%
  • Greece: 7.0%
  • Slovakia: 5.7%
  • Lithuania: 5.4%
  • POLAND 2019: 5.4%
  • Cyprus: 4.5%
  • Latvia: 4.5%
  • Hungary: 3.6%
  • Croatia: 3.1%
  • Romania: 2.5%
  • Bulgaria: 1.2%

Countries most often using remote work: Finland, Luxembourg, Ireland.

Countries least often using remote work: Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria.

Source: NIK’s analysis, based on data of the European Statistical Office

In the institutions audited by NIK, where the remote working mode was implemented, proper internal procedures were put in place, and working time was properly recorded in most cases. However, equipment shortages and technical barriers as well as the way of providing direct customer service made it difficult or even impossible to properly organise remote work.

As many as 29 institutions had few laptops at their disposal, nearly half of them did not have digitalised data and in case of 17 entities, IT systems could be used only in the office, which made remote access to documents impossible.

Regional branches of the Agricultural Social Insurance Fund, local government units and district prosecutor’s offices had the lowest level of hardware. Even a year after the epidemic was declared (during the third wave), the laptop to employee ratio did not exceed 10% in those entities. In other institutions it ranged from 17% to 60%.

Although the majority of the audited institutions (60%) tried to upgrade their equipment, the remote work capacity of most of them did not change within one year. Tax administration chambers and provincial branches of the National Health Fund had the most equipment at their disposal. Even before the epidemic was declared, those institutions were relatively best prepared for remote work. The nature of tasks performed by them was not without significance, either: they did not have much in common with direct customer service.

Nevertheless, despite the increasing capacity of the audited institutions and the remote work order introduced on 3 November 2020, the number of employees who were ordered to work from home was going down with every subsequent wave of the epidemic. From March to May 2020, 65% of employees worked in that mode and from March to April 2021 it was less than 30%.  

Organisation of remote work during three main waves of COVID-19 epidemic
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Organisation of remote work during three main waves of COVID-19 epidemic:

11519 employees covered by the survey

  • 65% of employees working from home during first wave from March to May 2020*
  • 44% of employees working from home during second wave from October to December 2020*
  • 29% of employees working from home during third wave from March to April 2021*

* employees working from home = all persons who worked at least one day from home

Source: NIK’s analysis, based on audit results

As a rule, remote work was more common in institutions where employees had more laptops at their disposal and which had fewer technical and organisational barriers, e.g. in tax administration chambers and provincial branches of the National Health Fund. There were some exceptions, though. It happened that remote work was organised for a relatively big number of employees, despite poor infrastructural and technical base. That was the case in some district prosecutor’s offices and regional branches of the Agricultural Social Insurance Fund.

Self-education and training instead of work

Initially, despite the lack of proper equipment, remote work was ordered to employees of 90% of institutions audited by NIK (only in two poviat employment agencies it was not introduced at all). It turned out quickly, though, since the required infrastructural and technical base was not in place, employees could only perform tasks that were not key from the employer’s perspective and which did not require access to IT systems. As a result, in case of nearly 50% of employees of the audited institutions, remote work consisted in self-education or participation in training programmes.

Nearly all employees who worked from home could do so thanks to private internet access. According to NIK that should not be a standard especially that employees did not have the internet connection costs returned by their employers.

In case of employees who had to work from home from March to December 2020, on average every seventh hour of their working time was covered in the remote mode. It depended on whether a given institution applied eight-hour remote work, or e.g. one-and-a-half- or two-hour work from home, as a supplement to work in the office (that was the case in district prosecutor’s offices and part of local government units). It also depended if it was permanent or temporary work.

Benefits and problems

Over a year of the epidemic in Poland showed that the audited institutions did not look for solutions to streamline remote work, particularly working methods enabling direct customer service. Besides, no comprehensive changes were made to the law dealing with the remote work. Also, no programmes (such as the Digital Competence Development Programme) or strategies defining goals, indicators and expected values of digital transformation in the audited institutions were implemented.

NIK auditors also showed that as a rule no audits or inspections were carried out there to pinpoint barriers and good practices related to remote work. Nevertheless, the heads of those institutions diagnosed both benefits and problems. The benefits included an improvement of employee safety. In some areas there were fewer sick leaves, especially among employees with chronic diseases, susceptible to seasonal diseases. Remote work also fostered concentration, which translated into higher efficiency, for instance in case of employees reviewing complaints or settling agreements. In other areas remote worked helped reduce costs related to business trips, use of facilities and organisation of trainings. It also made work in multi-person offices more comfortable.

As for the barriers, the auditees’ heads said that some types of work could not be done from home. Another problem they referred to was the lack of proper equipment.

The NIK audit results showed that the auditees were not properly prepared for remote work and that required system measures. Due to financial dependence on dominant entities these institutions lack proper instruments to carry out essential digital transformation on their own. According to NIK fundamental changes are needed, particularly in the financial and organisational areas, to equip public institutions with laptops and provide them with technical and legal solutions to facilitate remote access to documents.

Recommendations

To the President of the Council of Ministers to:

  • file a draft act to the Sejm adding remote work provisions to the Labour Code, also providing a precise definition of that working mode, as well as specifying rights and obligations on part of employers and employees, also concerning the method of settling costs of working from home,
  • implement solutions to support the process of remote work development in entities performing public tasks, in line with the recommendations of the European Union Council of May 2020,  
  • take efforts to introduce regulations to oblige entities performing public tasks to keep electronic documents, which is vital to work from home effectively, to ensure business continuity of those entities in case it proves essential to work from home.

To heads of entities performing public tasks to:

  • take or continue efforts to provide laptops to entities, implement data digitalisation and enable the use of IT systems as part of remote task performance,
  • establish the actual capacity of individual entities for remote work and obtain reliable data concerning demand for hardware and essential technical and organisational solutions, enabling remote work and preparation for digital transformation,
  • identify and verify risks – when conducting a periodic security audit - related to using private resources in remote work for business purposes and taking original documents outside the entities’ registered offices and settling those issues in internal procedures on information security.

Article informations

Date of creation:
14 December 2021 17:42
Date of publication:
14 December 2021 17:42
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
14 December 2021 17:43
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A man working from home on his laptop © Fotolia

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