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Brazilian government achieves multimillion-dollar savings with remote working

New rules for public sector workers have been introduced this month, where expenses relating to remote working are paid for by employees who choose to operate from home.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

The Brazilian government estimates it has achieved savings of more than 1 billion reais (US$ 180 million) with remote working since the start of the pandemic, and a new framework has been introduced this month with rules that include employee responsibility for expenses such as electricity.

According to the report released on Friday (25) by the Ministry of Economy, the figure considers 859 million (US$ 154 million) in fixed expenses relating to the maintenance of physical offices. The savings reported also take into account a reduction of 161 million reais (US$ 29 million) in benefits to workers between April and August 2020.

Part of the public sector workers has been operating remotely since the start of the pandemic. According to Cristiano Heckert, secretary at the Special Secretariat for Debureaucratization, Management and Digital Government at the Ministry of Economy, expenses have been monitored on a monthly basis since these public servants shifted to the home office set-up. A decrease in spending has been achieved in items such as expenses with transportation as well as electricity, water and sewage. "The resources saved in administrative expenses can be used to directly serve the population", the secretary noted.

The breakdown provided by the Ministry of Economy outlines savings with expenses such as travel, which reached 471.2 million reais (US$ 84.9 million). Savings with electricity have reached 255.5 million reais (US$ 46 million). The government has also reported it is spending 89.5 million reais (US$ 16 million) less with communication services, while savings with water and photocopying has reached 32.9 million reais (US$ 5.9 million) and 9.7 million reais (US$ 1.7 million) respectively.

According to an update published by the Brazilian government in July 2020, 95% of the teachers working at schools run by the federal government were operating remotely, while 49% of public servants across other federal government bodies were working from home.

At the time, the Ministry of Economy released the rules for remote working for government employees, which took into account the experiences seen in the private sector. According to the framework, enforced on September 1, each government agency defines, based on its needs, the activities that can be performed remotely.

After public servants are authorized to work from home, the institution in question is required to issue their own rules for remote working. The document should include information on the number of employees that will adhere to the format and what are the activities to be performed remotely, as well as whether workers will operate in that regime partially or fully.

The rules must also include a work plan with specific goals and a working schedule to be monitored by line managers, which public sector employees must sign and comply with. Under that framework, remote workers across Brazilian federal government agencies have responsibilities and duties to perform, such as, for example, remaining available for phone calls and checking e-mails within a certain timeframe, as well as physically coming into the office whenever the need arises.

According to the framework developed by the Brazilian government, expenses relating to internet, electricity and phone calls, for example, are paid for by the public sector worker who chooses to operate from home. Extra hours worked outside the working schedule that is established in the rules set out by the government agencies are not accounted for.

The Ministry of Economy intends to consolidate the information on how remote working is evolving in the Brazilian government and make it available, with dashboards with information including the percentage of public servants operating remotely, in addition to the average number of activities performed remotely in each government agency, as well as performance and savings generated by each agency.

The secretary also stressed that, in a post-pandemic period, the adoption of remote working cannot impact the quality of public service provision negatively. "Remote working has to be understood as an alternative to the work that is carried out in person, but has characteristics that we define as back-office, that is, people who work in serving the population through the agency", he noted.

"That would be the person who does internal analysis work, usually from the office desk, so that work is done from home, it has the ability to generate the same result, with some possibility of [financial] gain, due to the time that is saved mainly in travel", the secretary added.

According to Heckert, there is no going back to the way things used to operate before the pandemic, and the Brazilian government is taking note of the efficiencies gained so far. "It may be that after the pandemic - and we are getting ready for this - [the previous] consumption of airline tickets will no longer return to pre-pandemic levels because most of the trips, events and meetings will be replaced by meetings intermediated by virtual platforms," he pointed out.

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