When working from home is not an optionMonday, August 23, 2021
BY DAINA DAVY
SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — While working from home has repeatedly been stressed as one way to help curtail the movement of people in the battle against COVID-19, for some it remains a struggle because of the nature of the services they offer.
Some employees of Rickwill Maintenance and Cleaning Services in Savanna-la-Mar, for example, say they have to engage with clients in person even if some aspects of the job are done online. They sell tools and, even if orders are placed online, employees have to go to the company's physical location to pick up the items before delivering them to clients. “I do some paperwork from home from time to time, but most of the work is done here in branch,” said salesperson Dwayne Wolliston. They have a team of four employees.
“Not a lot of persons work here but we try to be as safe as possible. We follow protocols and sanitise and no one is allowed in [the office] without a mask,” Wolliston added during an interview with the Jamaica Observer one day before the Government's roll-out of tighter measures.
During Thursday evening's address to the nation, Prime Minister Andrew Holness again stressed the importance of working from home. Public sector workers have long been instructed to work from home where possible, and he renewed his suggestion for the private sector to follow suit in circumstances where their enterprises' operations allow.
Over the last 17 months, the banking sector has made a lot of headway in moving more of their operations online, thereby reducing the number of employees working from the office. Manager of FirstCaribbean International's Savanna-la-Mar branch, Wenley Wright, told the Observer that their in-branch numbers have decreased significantly since the start of the pandemic as they have been encouraging customers to utilise the available online systems. Two of their 10 staff members work only from home. They have plans to move even more services online, without any significant job cuts, but they may have pushback from some clients.
“I think the online systems are good for simple transactions but not for the larger ones. Sometimes we need to come in the bank for human contact,” said customer Dr Norbert Pinto, who has mixed feelings about the prospect of the institution going fully digital.
Meanwhile, the public sector is also facing its own challenges in having as many employees as possible work from home. The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), for example, has to often engage with customers face-to-face.
“We generate ID cards for applicants, meaning they would have to come into the office to fill out forms, have their picture taken, get their fingerprints [taken]... We wouldn't expect electors to go to individual homes to get all this done,” explained the EOJ's Acting Region Three Manager Denise Coley-Hines.
The importance of limiting movement is seen as a major tool in reducing transmission of the virus.