Despite the numerous challenges, it appears that the COVID-19 crisis has presented some new opportunities for how the Cayman Islands does business.
And rather than the private sector, it seems like its government services which are taking the lead on this.
Hon. Deputy Governor Franz Manderson sees a silver lining in the 'working-from-home' experience that civil servants have had to adapt to.
Utilising modern remote-working technology, increasingly a feature in the modern business environment, Mr Manderson said the experience has opened up many possibilities that the civil service will benefit from.
Already, basic remote working capabilities are standard features such as access emails and remote online meetings.
Government departments have resorted to the technological possibilities with apps for meetings of the Legislative Assembly, homeschooling, meeting government payment obligations and other vital services.
“There’s always a silver lining in a crisis like this," the Deputy Governor who heads the civil service said.
“We have learnt so much about what we can do at home. Some of the transitions have been seamless,” he said, giving as an example: “I have a PA who has been at home throughout this pandemic but I have had all of my meetings arranged, all of my emails answered, everything that I would have asked to do in the office has been done from home. The only thing I really had to do was go to the photocopying machine and get my papers."
The Deputy Governor marvelled at the possibilities the technology offers: “I never would have believed that that was possible, not having someone sitting next to me dealing with all of the issues that I deal with on a daily basis.”
He listed work permits, naturalisation, planning applications and other documents all being processed by civil servants working from home.
“I’ve been swearing in new citizens by zoom. None of those things we would have thought was possible a few months ago.”
Mr Manderson is of the view that “this has fundamentally changed the way in which we will operate as a civil service, and it will make us much better.”
With the pending Level 2 reopening phase expected to start on June 23rd, some civil servants will continue to work from home in the interim as government offices gradually reopen.
Mr Manderson said consideration is also being given to the child care requirements of staff with children at home.
However, he stated that the civil service will be fully prepared to immediately respond to provide 100 per cent service when the next phase opens.
With safe-distancing one of the key concerns in the workplace, the Deputy Governor explained that “while everyone is keen to work again with their colleagues and be in the office, we - and they - understand that the safety of our staff and customers must be paramount.”
In this regard, he said the plans call for a phased reopening of government offices with civil servants available “to provide 100 per cent of our services but that doesn’t mean that we’ll have 100 per cent of our staff at any government office.”
Duties that staff can carry out working from home will continue in that vein while those required to be in the office will be provided with PPE (personal protective equipment) and hand sanitisers, along with safe distancing arrangements and other COVID-19 safety protocols.
Government offices have also been rearranged to allow for a safe working environment.
Meanwhile, Mr Manderson has announced the launch of a new charitable drive by civil servants to assist persons whose circumstances have been worsened due to the COVID-19 crisis.
He said many civil servants have reached out to ask how they can give back to the community.
“Over the last few weeks I’ve had too many civil servants reach out to me and state their appreciation for having a job and that their salaries have remained intact. But, they care and they wanted to know how they could give back to the community."
He said after further discussing the idea it was determined that the support from the civil servants would be channelled through the National Assistance Unit (NAU).
The number of persons seeking assistance from the NAU has increased considerably due to loss of jobs and additional strain on family and personal finances the pandemic has caused in Cayman.
As a result, a scheme is being launched in which civil servants can make voluntary donations to the CIG Cares Community Support Programme. which will be deducted from their salaries.
All proceeds will go towards helping the most vulnerable in our community.
Commenting on the scheme, His Excellency Governor Martyn Roper, said it will give them the opportunity to support vulnerable communities by donating either a regular sum every month or a one-off donation from their pay packet to support Cayman’s vulnerable communities.
He said it was “a great idea and wholly in keeping with the civil service mission to make the lives of those we serve better.”
NAU is supporting 3000 Caymanian families and gets around 60 new requests for assistance every day.
It provides meal and grocery vouchers, Meals-on-Wheels services and burial cost assistance.