Work-from-home is likely to become the new normal for government offices in the days to come, with departments and ministries already staggering working hours and rosters to ensure a minimal number of employees (only 33 per cent at any given time) at their offices during the coronavirus lockdown.
The centre has released a draft version of rules governing work-from-home protocols for its 48.34 lakh employees and several offices. These draft protocols have been sent to all ministries for consultation and feedback, with guidelines likely to be finalised by the end of the month.
"The central secretariat will continue with staggered attendance and variable working hours to maintain social distancing at all times. So, a broad framework, or SOP (standard operating procedure) for work-from-home is being drafted," a memo from the Personnel Ministry said.
"All departments have been asked to send comments by May 21, failing which it will be presumed that the department is in agreement with the draft," the Personnel Ministry said.
The memo also said the draft version released by the ministry should be considered "sacrosanct" for employees working from home even after the end of the lockdown.
"A broad work-from-home framework is important to standardise operating procedures even in a post-lockdown situation, and to ensure safety and security of people and information while accessing government files from home," the draft states.
According to revised SOPs, government employees working from home are to be provided with logistical support - in the form of laptops or desktops - by the ministries or departments concerned, with all government work to be processed on these machines only.
Employees will also be reimbursed for broadband services used while working from home.
However, as per Home Ministry orders, "classified papers/files" cannot be processed from home.
With reference to such documents the NIC (National Informatics Centre) will evaluate existing security protocol for remote access, in consultation with the Home Ministry, and propose guidelines.
Until then, such documents can only be processed on standalone computers. Access of key documents will also be logged with messages sent to the next officer in the channel, it has been proposed.
The NIC has also been tasked with ensuring all work-from-home machines are "protected against malware and malicious websites". It has also been asked to facilitate video conferencing facility to organise key meetings while working from home.
Under orders issued by the government in March, officers working from home will be required to available on phone during working hours.
At present around 75 ministries/departments are actively using e-office facilities, of which 57 per cent conduct around 80 per cent of their work online.