QUESTION POSED BY Tom KRIEPS
"The Tonicités Project, the Luxembourg section of which is housed in the Saint-Jean building in Belair, is an organisation whose membership comprises the cities of Metz, Thionville, Longwy, Arlon, Luxembourg and Esch-sur-Alzette. Although Quattropole – with its rotating presidency – is quite active, there is little public awareness of the Tonicités Project. Could you please tell the Municipal Council a little more about this project, in particular its past activities and those planned for the future? Who came up with the idea for this European project involving French-speaking cities?"
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY Mayor Lydie POLFER
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to your letter dated 18 March 2021, in which you asked a question about the Tonicités project. Further to a meeting of the Tonicités steering committee in September 2021, it was agreed that the member cities would continue working together, and that the presidency would be assumed by two cities and would change every two years according to the following schedule:
- 2022–2023: Luxembourg City and Esch-sur-Alzette
- 2024–2025: Metz and Thionville
- 2026–2027: Arlon and Longwy
This response is being provided pursuant to Article 25 of the municipal law, and Article 9, paragraph 6 of the City of Luxembourg municipal council's internal rules and regulations dated 13 May 2013 (article 25 de la loi communale, ainsi que de l’article 9 §6 du Règlement d’ordre intérieur du conseil communal de la Ville de Luxembourg du 13 mai 2013) and, as such, shall be considered as equivalent to a written reply to the question that was asked. It will be published in the minutes of this meeting and on the City of Luxembourg website."
QUESTION POSED BY Guy FOETZ
With the public health crisis, more and more people have been working from home. According to the eighth Quality of Work Index survey, conducted jointly in Luxembourg by the Chamber of Employees, the University of Luxembourg and the social research institute infas between June and September 2020 among 2,364 Luxembourg employees,
- 52% of the respondents reported that they had worked from home, and of these 57% had never worked from home before;
- 33% of the respondents reported that they had worked from home on a regular basis;
- 36% of employees in administrative jobs had already worked from home, up from 10% in 2017;
- 8 out of 10 respondents who reported that they had at least sometimes worked from home in 2020 said they were in favour of continuing to work from home occasionally once the public health crisis was over.
Given that there are many jobs that are incompatible with remote working, and that an employee's presence at the workplace is often essential for providing good service and maintaining good relations among employees, and that the employee's consent to work remotely is a necessary condition, I would like to learn more about remote working at the City of Luxembourg during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. As such, in accordance with Article 9 of the municipal council's internal rules and regulations, I would like to put the following questions to you:
- Which City of Luxembourg departments and which jobs were impacted by remote working in 2020?
- Were workers provided with the required IT equipment and software?
- For what proportion of the City's staff were remote-working arrangements implemented, and what was the feedback like?
- Did the remote-working arrangements apply equally to both male and female staff?
- Were any lessons learned from the remote-working arrangements implemented during the pandemic?
If so, could you please elaborate?
- Does the City plan to encourage staff to work remotely once the public-health crisis is over?
If so, why? If not, why not?"
RESPONSE PROVIDED BY Mayor Lydie POLFER
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to your letter dated 2 February 2021, in which you asked several questions on remote working at the City of Luxembourg during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Based on what I have learned from the Direction des ressources humaines (Human Resources Department), I can tell you the following:
Since 2014, the City of Luxembourg has had a framework providing for remote working for people in positions that are compatible with this arrangement, subject to special conditions. The framework was drawn up by a working group comprising several administrative heads, as well as representatives from the Direction des ressources humaines and the two staff delegations.
At the beginning of 2020, these framework regulations were amended to also allow staff residing in neighbouring countries to work remotely, subject to compliance with the tax and social security laws in force.
To ensure the continuity of our services during the lockdown from mid-March to late June 2020, however, remote working was used on a massive scale.
This period proved to be a significant source of useful information and feedback to further explore the challenges and opportunities of remote working, and in June 2020 the college of aldermen commissioned the City's crisis response unit to carry out a survey among the City's staff to gauge their experience in further detail.
The results of the survey – which was conducted in July 2020 and to which 343 people responded – provide the answers to most of your questions.
1. Departments and jobs impacted by remote working in 2020
The survey found that, in 2020, there was at least one remote worker in 49 of the City's 54 departments or directorates. The Service Technologies de l’information et de la communication (TIC) (Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Department) had set up a VPN connection for at least one user in each of the City's departments.
As for the types of jobs that were done remotely over the period from 16 March to 24 June 2020, this included all administrative jobs, as well as social workers, educators, coordinators, department heads, managers, switchboard operators, IT support staff, secretarial staff, analysts, front- and back-office staff, accountants, translators, network administrators, coordinators, software developers, etc.
2. IT equipment and software provided
According to the results of the survey, during the lockdown period, 77.6% of the respondents reported that they had been provided with a VPN connection; around half of them had a computer provided by the City, while approximately 50% used their own computer. 38% of the respondents had a mobile phone provided by the City; 9% used a softphone. Most of the respondents – around 54% – reported that they had to used their own private mobile/landline telephone while working remotely.
It is worth mentioning that, since the survey, the pool of laptop computers maintained by the City has increased considerably and most users now have a computer provided by the City.
In 2020, the City distributed some 260 laptops for COVID-19-related remote-working purposes.
Before the pandemic, 330 VPN connections had already been set up, not only for remote-working purposes, but also for remote access by IT system administrators and operators, especially those on stand-by duty. During the first two weeks of lockdown, the Service TIC's IT Security Unit configured a further 400 connections. By the end of June 2020, there were 820 additional connections.
Before the pandemic, there were up to 25 users connecting simultaneously to the City's VPN infrastructure during the day; these were staff who were already working remotely before the pandemic. During the lockdown, there were approximately 450 user connections per day on average, with a peak of 400 simultaneous connections, as opposed to 25 before the pandemic. This clearly shows that there was a considerable increase in traffic and in the number of users. In the second half of 2020, after the lockdown, the daily number of user connections was around 80.
3. Proportion of staff working remotely
During the lockdown, the number of users increased to around 280 a day, with up to 450 simultaneous user connections during peak periods. These numbers started showing a gradual decline in May 2020, reaching a low in August and September. In late October/early November, the number of user connections increased significantly to around 200 a day.
4. Feedback from City of Luxembourg staff on working remotely
According to the results of the survey, approximately 78% of users reported that they were comfortable, or quite comfortable, with working remotely. The most frequently mentioned positives were the benefits derived from not having to commute (gains in time; less stress), fewer interruptions leading to better concentration at home, greater flexibility in organising one's work, and a better work-life balance. The most frequently mentioned negatives were the lack of physical contact and social interaction with colleagues, and poorer communication within teams.
As regards remote work and job performance, department heads and team managers expressed the following points of view:
- The aspects of remote-worker performance that department heads and team managers were most satisfied with were worker responsiveness and availability. The aspects they were least satisfied with were creativity, followed by productivity...
- Importance of having clear guidelines on accessibility, working hours, standing in for absent colleagues, etc.
- Availability of performance-monitoring tools and procedures
- Availability of IT equipment and appropriate training.
As regards users' views on the most important factors for better remote-worker performance, the following were reported:
- Appropriate IT equipment
- A quiet, separate work area (where they could focus without being interrupted)
- Internet and VPN connectivity
- Attitude and organisation of work adapted to remote working (discipline, clearly defined working hours, commitment to and accountability for one's work)
- Good communication with co-workers, departments and department heads, and ease of access
- Clearly defined tasks, objectives and work procedures.
5. Proportion of female vs. male staff working remotely
According to the survey, approximately 40% of the respondents identified as "female" and 60% as "male". Considering the proportion of men (61.5%) and women (38.5%) in the total workforce, it was not possible to detect a significant difference in terms of gender.
6. Initial lessons learned from remote-working during the pandemic
An analysis of the survey results conducted by a working group concluded that the experience was positive overall. Remote working is a work arrangement that is generally welcomed by staff (less commuting, better work-life balance), so much so that there is likely to be an increase in the number of requests to work remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of technical and organisational items requiring improvement have been identified (performance, ease of access, communication and teamwork, rules governing office attendance, etc.).
A feature that should not be neglected is the impact on team cohesion, team management and creative processes: in terms of these aspects, remote working constitutes a sizable challenge. The survey showed that these negatives were clearly acknowledged by respondents across the board, whether department heads or staff without managerial duties. Several recommendations were made by the working group that analysed the results of the survey, including increasing the maximum duration of remote work to two days a week, establishing the applicable conditions, tracking processes and rules beforehand according to the types of jobs to be done remotely, technical training on the use of equipment and tools that are specific to working remotely (videoconferencing systems, softphones, Sharepoint, VPN connections, etc.), and adapting staff clock-in/clock-out systems.
Last, for the City of Luxembourg, remote working was a key factor in ensuring continuity of service, while at the same time protecting staff from the health risks associated with the pandemic.
7. Working remotely once the public health crisis is over
A new framework, based on the findings of the 2020 survey, is currently being drawn up on working remotely once the pandemic is over. The regulation will obviously take into account the findings of the 2020 survey, but should also be consistent with future changes in the rules on working remotely that apply at the national level, the City's expectations and constraints, and the college of aldermen's long-term view where this matter is concerned.
In the meantime, another survey was conducted among department heads and members of the college of aldermen to collect more information with a view to optimising the conditions governing the implementation of remote work in the future. The findings of this survey still need to be submitted to the college of aldermen for discussion and its decision on a comprehensive review of the internal regulations on working remotely.
However, the public health crisis is not yet over. As such, a transition phase had to be implemented, starting on 15 July 2021, to accommodate the transition from the special COVID-19 remote working measures in force since 15 March 2020, and the post pandemic measures introduced through the new regulation.
This response is being provided pursuant to Article 25 of the municipal law, and Article 9 paragraph 6 of the City of Luxembourg municipal council's internal rules and regulations dated 13 May 2013 (article 9 §6 du Règlement d’ordre intérieur du conseil communal de la Ville de Luxembourg du 13 mai 2013) and, as such, shall be considered as equivalent to a written reply to the question that was asked. It will be published in the minutes and on the City of Luxembourg website."