''Work from home'' may become a new normal post-lockdown for government employees to ensure social distancing norms till the coronavirus pandemic is checked.
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Draft guidelines in this regard have been circulated by the Personnel Ministry to all central government departments asking them to send their comments on it by May 21, failing which, it would be presumed that they are in agreement with the proposed draft.
Preparing for life amid COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry said that the steps were being initiated because the virus necessitated many ministries to operate from home to maintain social distancing.
According to the draft, the government may provide option for work from home to the eligible officers and staff for 15 days in a year as a matter of policy. There are 48.34 lakh central government employees.
"Many of the ministries and departments in government have successfully managed and rendered exemplary results in combat against the ongoing pandemic outbreak during the lockdown period by leveraging e-office and video conferencing facilities of National Informatics Centre (NIC). This was the first of its kind of experience in Government of India," it said.
It is quite likely that for the near future, the central secretariat will continue to go for staggered attendance and variable working hours to maintain social distancing at workplace, the ministry said.
"Therefore, a broad framework for work from home is important to standardize the operating procedure even post-lockdown situation and to ensure safety and security of information, while accessing government files and information remotely from home," it said.
The draft has given broad Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that will ensure smooth and seamless functioning of the government for continuity of the office works besides imparting resilience in the ecosystem even in post-lockdown situation.
Employees will be provided with logistic support in the form of laptops or desktops by the respective ministries or departments and employees will be reimbursed for Internet services that they would use while working from home.
"Department of Expenditure may consider reimbursement for data uses to the officers working from home and if required may issue separate guidelines in this regard," the draft guidelines said.
However, the draft makes it clear that papers marked "classified or secret" will not be processed while working from home for the time being till the NIC evaluates existing security protocol for remote access of classified files and information in consultation with Home Ministry and propose suitable guidelines and SOP for handling such material on e-office.
"Till the time classified files shall be processed on standalone computers only as specified in the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure (CSMOP)," it said.
The personnel ministry said the officers to whom official laptops are provided shall ensure that they do the official work on the official device only.
"The NIC shall ensure that their devices are well protected against malware and malicious websites. The officers who are working on their personal computers or laptops shall ensure installing regular updates, running antivirus scans, blocking malicious sites, etc with the help of NIC to ensure safety of their device against information theft," the proposed guidelines said.
It is also proposed to have an extra protocol for all VIP and Parliament matters that require utmost attention. "Therefore, SMS alerts be sent for all such receipts and files to the next officer in the channel," it said.
The draft guidelines said ministries and departments concerned, who are not yet using the e-office module, would make endeavour for its expeditious implementation in their secretariat, attached and subordinate offices in a "time-bound manner".
Presently about 75 ministries and departments are actively using e-office platform of which 57 have achieved more than 80 per cent of their work using this platform which includes digitisation and computerisation of office work.
Officers who are working from home shall be available on phone as per requirements and directions of their officers, it said.