Expand WFH | Sunday Observer

Expand WFH

19 June, 2022

It was with the onset of Covid-19 that people around the world really got a taste of Working From Home (WFH). Over many decades, employees around the world had got used to the daily routine of travelling to and from an office in a City, for which they had to spend an hour or more during the morning and evening rush hours. This was of course, a complete waste of time as well as a massive waste of fuel if one used a personal vehicle.

New methods

Since social distancing was one of the ways in which Covid-19 could be curbed, Governments quickly clamped down curfews and lockdowns, making travel impossible either for work or for any other purpose. This was the genesis of WFH, as many companies and enterprises quickly discovered that people could work from home just as effectively, minus the daily commute and expensive work clothes.

They even learned that video conferencing software programs such as Zoom facilitated virtual office meetings, which are in any case completely useless and non-productive. Thus there was a “WFH explosion” as some newspapers called it and indeed, some reputed international companies now allow their employees to WFH until their retirement.   


There are many advantages of WFH. It saves time spent on travelling to and from office and also fuel. Many studies have shown that employees are actually more productive and work longer hours at home, which I can personally vouch for. Granted, there are some professions and jobs that cannot be done remotely, at least in terms of current technology.

For example, a doctor has to attend to his patient in person, though advances in telemedicine and remote robotic surgery have blurred the lines there as well. Still, one cannot expect a baker, factory worker, a nurse or a sanitation worker to WFH. But apart from a few such vocations, most others can indeed WFH. 

All you need is an Internet-linked PC with a webcam and a telephone line and you are good to go. For example, journalism is a profession that can very easily adapt to WFH.

A different context

Having got used to WFH (and even online classrooms), Sri Lankans are now being called to WFH in a totally different context. While Covid-19 is still around, the threat posed by it has diminished greatly, with the Government even removing the mask mandate a couple of weeks ago. Now, the immediate reason for WFH is the acute shortage of both petrol and diesel as a result of the foreign exchange and overall economic crises. There are long lines of vehicles of all types near filling stations and getting fuel has become a nightmare.

Fuel is now very expensive and has become a very precious commodity that should be used only for the most essential of journeys by a private vehicle, such as a sudden visit to the hospital. The private bus fleet too is running at only 20 percent capacity, which means the available buses are rather crowded.

Latest developments 

In this backdrop, the Government has decided to grant a day off on Fridays for all Public Servants, except for those in the hospitals, Security Forces and the Police which are in any case 24/7 services. It is, however, likely that certain categories of Public Servants will be required to WFH on this day.

This WFH decision should be a springboard for a complete e-Government solution, which will enable someone to apply for and get, say, a passport without ever leaving home. This will also eliminate the huge queues at various Government offices – remember, everyone in those long lines has wasted several litres of fuel amid this fuel crunch to get there in person.  

It is heartening to note that many private companies in Sri Lanka never really abolished the WFH facility granted for Covid-19 and now, they have extended it in the face of the fuel issue.

Some rather enlightened and far-thinking companies allow WFH on all five days, while others vary from 2-4 days. But WFH should be extended to the maximum number of days possible by all companies and offices for all employees whose work can be done from home.

In the long run, this will lead to a massive saving in terms of fuel and foreign exchange, not to mention money itself.

The latter is a considerable amount – the bus fare to Colombo from a suburb such as Maharagama is Rs.100, so one needs Rs.1,000 per week to travel to and from an office in Colombo, not counting any last-mile three wheeler journeys.

Thus, Rs.4,000-5,000 for bus fares alone for someone who gets a salary of around Rs.40,000 is a very big deal indeed. As for those who use personal vehicles, a full tank of petrol for an average vehicle costs around Rs.20,000, which is simply becoming unaffordable for many Middle-Class vehicle owners. Thus the only viable solution is WFH.

In a way, we are now paying for the sin of neglecting the public transport system. Successive Governments have not properly invested in improving the public transport system over the years. If we had electrified the railways and invested in modern, clean and comfortable compartments, many motorists would have opted to keep the car at home and ride the train to office. As it is, the trains are dirty, congested and never on time. The same applies to buses, both public and private.

Irrational move

And in a completely irrational and foolish move, the proposed seven-line Light Rail Transit (LRT) system for Colombo and the suburbs was scrapped.

This would have enabled residents of most Colombo suburbs to reach the City in just 20 minutes, as opposed to 60-90 minutes by bus or car. Just imagine the fuel savings if just 1,000 motorists opted to ride the electrified, automated LRT instead of using the car.

Someone, somewhere clearly lacked vision and foresight in deciding to call it off. Negotiations should begin with Japan and other parties again on this project at least in the light of the predicament we are experiencing now. But until such time we can truly sort out our public transport system and fuel supplies, WFH should be the norm.