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Working Conditions in Time of Pandemic : Story of the Czech National Agency for International Education

At the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, all organizations were dealing with the dilemma of how to continue functioning. This was also true for the Czech National Agency for International Education (hereafter, DZS). After a month of working in the emergency state, we can say that the situation inside the organization has settled down and cooperation among individual units is effective. Key to success was a full support of home office and digitalization in the largest possible measure. Although it is not possible to work on-line in case of every single profession, two major measures have been crucial in helping us to tackle the situation successfully:  speedy shift to on-line tools and provision of the needed technical environment for all the employees. 


Immediately after the emergency state announcement, a preparation for the complete transition of DZS to home office work started, with the goal to move the maximum of activities to virtual space and the homes of the employees. A great advantage we had was the fact that before the outbreak of the Coronavirus crises, DZS was using - in a pilot regime - Office 365 platform. The situation which followed only strongly accelerated the onboarding process within the organization. Key to successful transition to home office mode of work was the creation of on-line teams in the MS Teams application – an integral part of Office 365 – and the provision of mentoring and technical assistance from the IT unit. A shared table was created where every employee entered his/her technical needs and requirements and this was followed by the distribution of requested equipment directly to employees’ homes during the first week of the emergency state.  Fixed telephone lines in DZS were re-directed to employees’ work cell phones. IT unit ensured that all the employees have access to their remote desktop, prepared detailed instruction manuals for various IT tools and mediated an on-line course on Office 365. At the same time, we quickly managed to establish electronic document circulation for the whole organization and ensured that documents are being signed with qualified electronic signatures. A system of regular on-line unit meetings of individual teams was introduced so that all the employees remain engaged. Urgent and ad hoc matters can be tackled through individual and group chats in the MS Teams application. Thanks to these measures, only a few activities remained that have to be solved only by an occasional visit to the DZS building.


In connection with the transition to long-term home office and more intensive use of on-line tools and applications, within three weeks of the beginning of the emergency state, an internal satisfaction survey among employees took place that was to uncover how they were handling the current situation. Data collection was done through an on-line questionnaire and the majority of the DZS employees participated in it.


Despite the fact that two thirds of the employees care for relatives, the majority (87%) managed to achieve work/life balance and all claim to have at their disposal technical equipment needed to cover at least the basic work agenda (84% whole of the work agenda). The overall satisfaction with the use of Office 365 tool and the resolution of the actual situation is close to 100%.


Quick adaptation of employees to newly introduced measures finds its reflection also in their feedback on the exchange of information within the organization. Four fifths of the employees declared to be satisfied with the speed, completeness and intelligibility of passed information. The majority (90%) perceives the current on-line meeting of their teams as effective. Employee awareness of what is going on in the organization is ensured through e.g. immediate records from the management on-line meetings that are made available to everyone in the MS Teams application. A number of planned seminars and courses has also been moved on-line in the form of webinars and new support activities and courses have come into existence. As far as promotion goes, DZS focuses on the sharing of positive stories told by the current international programs’ participants, propagation of on-line activities and the coming up with best practice examples.


The employee survey has shown that, in the emergency state, it is possible to handle on-line the majority of the work agenda. Nearly three quarters of employees can imagine working in such a regime long-term. It seems, then, that home office can be a suitable alternative to the ordinary functioning of the organization, but that it also entails some difficulties. On-line cooperation, for instance, is not able to fully substitute for in-person interaction. At the same time, it is also necessary to beware the working hours’ organization and to clearly separate the time for work from the time off, since when working from home, “the door to your office” is practically open non-stop.