While doctors and health experts say citizens will have to learn to live with COVID-19 and move ahead, there are several new challenges that will come into play when more relaxations in lockdown norms are eventually introduced. One of the biggest will be maintaining social distancing during commutes to work, and while working in office spaces.
The large crowds seen queuing up for BEST buses, as well as in special trains run for essential service workers, are a serious concern as Mumbai looks to get back to work. The fact that an increasing number of people are stepping out of their homes for work are evident from the long traffic snarls on the Western and Eastern Express Highways.
To overcome the problem, government employees, who have been among the first to head back to work during the COVID-19 crisis, believe the government should aggressively push employers to adopt staggered work hours for employees in their offices.
G D Kulthe, chief advisor of the Maharashtra State Gazetted Officers Association said, "We will be in favour of staggered work hours if the government introduces it for our Mantralaya employees." He said that the concept has largely remained only a point of discussion so far, and that it has not been implemented successfully.
There are about 7,000 employees who work in more than 50 departments at Mantralaya. The duty hours for all these employees are from 9.45 am till 5.30pm.
"Due to coronavirus, only 15 per cent of the employees are coming to offices. However, this will increase whenever the government declares so, but staggered office timings in this critical situation should also be given a serious thought," Kulthe said.
Speaking to The Free Press Journal, State Election Commissioner UPS Madan, who formerly served as Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary, said, "Before the outbreak of novel coronavirus, the concept of staggering office hours was emphasised for reducing the traffic in the city. It was considered to be a solution. But now, it should be tried out at whatever extent it is possible for both government and private sector employees. During the current COVID-19 situation, it will help minimise the congestion in public transport as well as in offices.
“When I was MMRDA chief, I had a meeting with the management of offices located in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). A few also implemented staggered office timings at that time,” said Madan.
Asked why the idea had not failed to take off so far, Madan replied, "I believe it was not taken up seriously earlier. However, I believe now with the kind of situation we all are gripped with, the management of several offices will reconsider it and it will get the seriousness it deserves."
He added that there was greater scope for private offices to implement the idea, as government offices have certain limitations, and can go for staggering timings by only one or two hours. "In government offices, one department is interdependent on another. Therefore, staggered office timing for more hours is not possible unlike private offices. The private sector has more scope."