Some lessons or reflections left by teleworking in Tax Administrations

This year 2020 that we are living is undoubtedly a historic year in terms of digitalization and telework for tax administrations (TAs), process that was accelerated and implemented without proper planning, product of the coronavirus pandemic that still continues.

As a result, in many countries, 5 or more months have already passed since the implementation of teleworking, and this seems to me an opportune time to share with you some ideas as “reflections or lessons” from telework, although I think we will continue to learn day by day, aware that the current pandemic has not ended, it is far from over.

I believe that there are lessons or reflections to be learned both for tax administrations (TAs) and for the human resources therein.

With regard to the TAs, if there was anything missing to confirm the relevance of digitalization and the enormous advantages it presents, what has happened with the coronavirus pandemic that led to the closure of many units and the fast implementation of telework.

A first great lesson is that those that were more digitalized were able to cope better and more efficiently with this process, which should lead all TAs to continue to bet on digitalization.

To give an example, TAs that had Electronic Document Management, mandatory electronic tax domicile, electronic signature, digital procedures, channels of assistance to the taxpayer in digital form have been able to develop telework and provide services more efficiently than those that did not yet have such elements.

The TAs and the countries are faced with a historic opportunity to digitalize and thus be more efficient and enable a better quality of life for their citizens, just take as an example Estonia that strongly bet on this about 30 years ago and today leader in the topic since all the formalities are online, except getting married, divorce or buying a property.[1]

Another related lesson is that in those countries where there is a greater digital breach, teleworking has become complicated.

It is clear, as stated in a recent IMF[2] report, that access to the internet leads to inequality and that policies to foster inclusive recovery must therefore aim to address the digital breach within and between countries.

It has also revealed that many countries have to make a lot of progress on the issue of cybersecurity. A very recent study[3] shows that the Latin American and Caribbean region is not yet sufficiently prepared to deal with cyber-attacks. Only 7 of the 32 countries surveyed have a plan to protect their critical infrastructure, and 20 have established some kind of Incident Response Group.

Cybersecurity policies are fundamental to safeguarding citizens’ digital rights, such as privacy, property, and to increasing the citizens’ trust and comfort with digital technologies.

On the other hand, accelerating technology adoption offers a window of opportunity to boost the use of cloud services and move towards a new generation of more efficient and effective public policies, within which telework can be further developed and enhanced.[4]

It has also been shown, at least so far, that not all tasks within a TA can be performed by telework, so each body should evaluate what kind of tasks can continue to be carried out under such a work scheme.

Another lesson that is becoming evident is that the TAs should include in their risk analyses new contingencies that can affect the continuity of tasks, previously unimaginable, such as those produced by pandemics.

Another no less relevant issue is that in many countries telework has developed without any laws regulating it. It will be key to properly regulate telework, regulating the rights and obligations of the parties.

I am convinced that this will be a key aspect in order to promote, or not, the development of telework in the various TAs, which should be regulated as a flexible tool subject to continuous evaluation, always seeking a balance between the promotion of the modality and the protection of workers ‘ rights.

Another lesson for the TAs that are characterized by the bureaucracy of all public bodies is that telework is allowing them to review all their processes, functions, and structures.

That is to say, there is a profound revision both of the way we provide services to citizens and how we carry out the control actions, which should make it possible not to shift all the bureaucracy to the digital, that is to say what we do in a paper form, we should not do it the same way in the digital world.

The citizen should be placed at the centre of all digital transformation, always seeking more simplification and transparency and less bureaucracy and corruption.

As for the challenges faced by public administrations, as Carles Ramió says,[5] the road can be no other than designing intelligent administrations with two fundamental strategies and ingredients: technological renewal linked to artificial intelligence and organizational renewal with the hand of knowledge management and collective intelligence.

Technology is only an instrument and for its optimization it is essential that the public administration renews and transforms concepts and paradigms, since it is necessary to rethink, adapt and transform policies, services and institutional architectures according to the new needs of citizens, seeking maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

If we analyze the issue from the point of view of human resources, as teleworking has been implemented in an unforeseen and unplanned way, it is likely that in some cases there are negative aspects such as being able to reconcile their time with household chores, the quality of home internet, not having a comfortable place to work, supporting children in schoolwork at the same time, not having clear routines to take breaks, or interact with office colleagues in person.

But on the other hand, there were many positive aspects, the first one is that it has been the only way, at the moment, to take care of our health in the face of the pandemic.

The TAs, despite having their offices closed, were able to continue operating thanks to the strength and resilience of their human resources that were able to adapt to the new mode of work, had to suddenly stop attending the offices and work on paper and move to work from their homes in digital form.

New ways of relating emerged such as video calls, WhatsApp groups, phone calls, among others.

On the other hand, new leadership was seen on stage since it is not the same to manage teams in person as remotely. Leading a team remotely brings challenges in terms of culture, habits, ways of communication and shared routines.

Thus, the so-called facilitating leaders stand out, who seek to convince and lead with empathy and emotional intelligence while, with rationality and pedagogy, they empower individuals to grow in resources, autonomy, and capacity for cooperation.

Telework is based on mutual trust between supervisor and employee.

Another great lesson being learned is that telework is a form of professional performance that does not change how but where the task is carried out and in many cases, it has meant higher productivity, although to date there are no published studies on the topic, regarding TAs.

It has been stated [6] that it is beyond doubt that digital mechanisms of professional compliance, unlike traditional or classic schemes, facilitate a better and more complete control of the work performed; an exhaustive control over the employee’s activity which, in the case of the civil servant, can help to provide him with a new administrative statute regarding his rights and obligations which, in the remuneration framework, takes into account the data provided by the traceability of his digital work carried out.    We can conclude that productivity and telework are a combination that can define the future.

In Spain[7], the higher bodies of the administration (FEDECA) see telework as a new model of human resources organization, with multiple positive aspects for public organizations and their staff.

In particular, it is an opportunity to introduce structural changes in management, to put an end to the face-to-face inertia whereby if you are not in the office you are not working, and to move towards a model of work by objectives, “not by hours”, and performance-based remuneration.

They emphasize that telework is regulated as a human resources management tool and not as an instrument to reconcile family and work life.

Another important lesson of telework is the reduction of air pollution, noise and traffic jams, the reduction of the carbon footprint, reducing the occupancy of spaces, reasons that make it a strategy aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals( SDGs), the 2030 Agenda and contributes to global improvement.

The technological tsunami that caused the coronavirus pandemic has forced us out of our comfort zone, learning new things every day.

Without hesitation, life before and after the coronavirus pandemic will not be the same, and will become different from offices, with many lessons learned from the stage we are still living.

As to whether telework will continue to develop in the TAs, I believe that the answer is not simple, nor can it be uniform in all TAs or in all their tasks or processes, much less in all their workers and / or segments of taxpayers.

Everything seems to indicate that telework is here to stay in our TAs, combining it in many cases with face-to-face tasks that is to do a mix of face-to-face and telework tasks.

The future of work has accelerated exponentially during the pandemic and it shows that telework can be a valuable tool for our TAs as an integral part of a digitalization process, characterized by constant innovation, where the technology is a disruptive agent and will be characterized increasingly by the emphasis on collaboration between human and machines, supported by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Surely, there are many more lessons or reflections that telework will bring us, which is why I encourage you to continue to comment on the topic.



[1] To enlarge view https://www.infobae.com/tecno/2019/11/20/como-estonia-se-convirtio-en-el-pais-mas-digital-del-mundo/
[2] https://blogs.imf.org/2020/06/29/low-internet-access-driving-inequality/
[3] Cybersecurity Risks, Advances and the Way Forward In Latin America and the Caribbean. BID. OAS. July 2020.
[4] To expand the topic see cloud computing. Contribution to the development of digital ecosystems in Southern Cone countries. IDB, July 2020.
[5] The road to Innovation 2030. EspublicoBlog. 1/7/2020. Carles Ramió.
[6] https://www.expansion.com/juridico/opinion/2020/07/01/5efb8179e5fdea3c248b4576.html
[7] https://www.lainformacion.com/economia-negocios-y-finanzas/teletrabajo-sacude-administracion-adios-cultura-calentar-la-silla/2810037/

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