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The Public Service Commission (PSC) has completed a study on the impact of hybrid work arrangements on service delivery in the public service.

PSC Commissioner Anele Gxoyiya says the COVID-19 pandemic forced most organisations, including government, to consider alternative working arrangements in order to limit human and physical interaction.

“This resulted in the introduction of hybrid workspaces and the working from home (WFH) option that was new for most employees, as only a few private companies offered this option pre-COVID-19,” Gxoyiya said at a briefing in Pretoria on Monday.

The study focused on the shutdown period from March 2020 and the subsequent lockdown levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gxoyiya explained that the purpose of the study was to investigate the actual and perceived impact that the introduction of hybrid work and work from home arrangements had on service delivery in the public service in selected departments, with a view to formulate recommendations that could assist the public service to adapt.

He said the study focused on six service delivery departments/institutions in the public service, which are Education, Employment and Labour, Health, South African Social Security Agency, Home Affairs and the South African Police Service.

The report of the study makes the following recommendations:

•           The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) should benchmark with other countries to determine how the hybrid work arrangement was managed during the pandemic and how it is being taken forward as a basis to review relevant legislation, regulations, directives, policies and conditions of service for different categories of occupations and/or employees.

•           The public service, led by the DPSA, National Treasury and the Department of Communications and Digital Services, must take the lead in digitising government operations and prioritising access to tools of trade that will enable the effective implementation of hybrid work arrangements, where feasible.

•           Departments, in collaboration with the National School of Government, should incorporate continuous training programmes on new technologies that are necessary to facilitate remote work arrangements, online collaboration and remote access to centralised systems as well as other emerging innovations for employees to stay abreast of the new developments.

•           National Treasury, in collaboration with departments such as the DPSA and  Public Works and Infrastructure, must conduct a cost-benefit analysis of implementing hybrid work arrangements for selected non-essential service departments in order to identify possible cost-saving measures and possible once-off cost drivers as a basis to generate resources to fund critical areas of need, including the rapid adoption of technology-enabled solutions and provision of other essential services to the public.

Gxoyiya noted that the findings of the study suggest that existing primary legislation and policies were and are still silent on the practice of working from home or hybrid work arrangements.

“During the lockdown period, the gap had to be addressed through the passing of new regulations, directions and guidelines to enable departments to put measures in place to comply with the COVID-19 regulations whilst still ensuring work continuity.

“The study documents a combination of positive and negative practices/experiences, including notable innovative measures that were put in place by public service departments, as well as the commitment of many employees who put their lives at risk in order to provide services to the public,” Gxoyiya said.

Gxoyiya said there were challenges noted with regard to the implementation of the hybrid work arrangement which included, amongst others, capacity constraints; additional expenses that were not budgeted for; inaccessibility of some service sites when some staff members tested positive for COVID-19; inconsistent practices in granting employees permission to work from home between and within departments, and lack of appropriate tools of trade for some employees.

“Performance was managed differently according to the different departments and in some instances, it varied within the different units in the respective departments,” he said. –

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