OCTOBER 1, 2020
It may be a sad sight for those who devoted their lives and careers to the United Nations. Walking by First Avenue between 42nd and 46th Street, no one seems to be around. The U.N.
gardens have always been a habitually refreshing spot for dedicated staff during and after office hours, overlooking the East River. It was mentioned that one of the most prominent
Security-Generals, Dag Hammarskjold, enjoyed being among the flowers just outside busy conference rooms. These days, the only apparent presence outside the U.N. is a few security officers.
Staff working from home do their best to provide effective service. There is a substantial difference between distanced communication and actual presence. It's not just the human
effect of looking each other in the eye to discuss, negotiate or even instruct. More important is the teamwork where everyone feels that they get mutual support towards a joint
target. Although during the last couple of years some staff used their mobile devices to go to certain floors to perform individual digital work, most of the international civil
servants in all different departments worked in their actual offices at their own Departments. These days requiring utmost care, most staff operated from home. By the end of
August, a number of staff started working directly from their office to deal with pressing daily tasks and to welcome more colleagues joining as required.
How long distanced work will continue is not predictable. The opening of the General Assembly session brought back some but only a limited number of staff. Secretary-General
Antonio Gutierres seems to be aware that being there, being seen to be there, reflects some sort of accomplishment. If the virus crisis extends beyond the end of this year, as
is very likely, there will be a need for a serious review of international service and indeed regrettably for the performance of the U.N. itself.