Ukraine- Working remotely
“On the flight home from Kyiv on Friday, 13 March 2020, I still planned to be back to Ukraine on Sunday. My last days there seemed to be normal and I did not expect the situation to change so fast and so drastically. The team kept working in a usual way, meeting our partners, participating in events. However, some restrictions were already in place. It was warm as for this time of the year, and shops and restaurants were open. The Khreshchatyk was crowded with people, musicians were playing at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). Everybody seemed to be looking forward to the Summer.
A peculiar feeling came only at the Boryspil airport. It was much emptier than usual. No charter flights for tourists flying for their holidays in exotic places. There were just few people in restaurants that usually were so crowded, the staff wearing masks and gloves. I was getting messages from my friends, asking if I managed to return to Poland, as rumours appeared that the borders would be closed soon. Upon landing in Warsaw, I learnt that it had just happened, my flight was the last regular one. Next day, I got a message that my return flight to Kyiv was cancelled.
I considered going back to Ukraine by car, especially that I live close to the border but it was not doable. Thousands of Ukrainians were already rushing back home from all over Europe through the Polish borders. Queues on the checkpoints were several tens of kilometres long. Ukraine imposed ban on public transport so there was no chance to get to Kyiv by bus, train or plane.
There was no other solution but to start working remotely.
On Sunday evening I contacted national experts from my team – Polina Li and Svitlana Maistruk. We agreed for a video meeting next morning to discuss how we could proceed in these new circumstances. We had already been using that way of communication for a few months, especially for talks with our international experts when we needed to hear their opinions on various topics relevant for their missions. It worked well, but we were not sure how it would function as the main and only way of communication.
On 17 March 2020, we started our first regular video conference. We agreed that a team meeting on every morning is essential to keep up working together, particularly important in this difficult period. Therefore, regular meetings at 10.00 Kyiv time have become a permanent element of our routine. These are perfect moments to discuss ongoing activities, to share experience and ideas, and to make plans. This is also time when we virtually have coffee together. At the beginning it was maybe little odd, not everybody felt comfortable to speak, but really quickly video meetings became just natural, and currently we are having really vivid discussions this way. We almost do not notice that it is online communication. Thanks to this, we feel as a team. It refers not only to the members of our permanent staff; very often our short – term experts, both international and national, join us too. Morning video meetings are nowadays a kind of a ritual which we start a day with.
The first and very important task was to review our Work Plan in order to establish what could still be done despite limitations on direct personal contacts. We came to a conclusion that a significant part of our activities could be still implemented, even by working remotely. In principle, our main task is to deliver expert opinions, to develop concepts, strategies, training curricula, and this intellectual content can be produced also while working online. Of course, there are still such deliverables that have to be physically implemented (f.e. signage for Model Courts), but a majority of activities can be continued.
We are keeping contact with our international experts engaged in various missions. They have already visited Ukraine several times, so they have knowledge about the state of play and main challenges for the local judiciary. Therefore, they can concentrate to even bigger extent on developing concept papers and other documents which need to be produced under the Work Plan. Whenever it is necessary, we have video meetings with them to discuss specific questions or steps to be taken. It is worth underlining that this teleworking proves to be very productive and efficient.
All activities depend on smooth cooperation with Ukrainian partners. In a course of the Project we have managed to develop close and friendly working relations with them. It facilitates a lot our cooperation in the limited contacts’ regime. It was for us of utmost importance to demonstrate that the Project team kept working on implementation of the planned activities with the usual commitment and quality. Until now, we have already held several meetings with representatives of all the bodies of judicial governance and we have been working with them on various actions and concepts and other documents. Our Ukrainian partners have adapted very fast to a new format of cooperation. We are all constantly learning and searching for new solutions and options resulting from this mode of functioning.
During these few weeks of teleworking we have not cancelled a single meeting that was scheduled. We have been following the agenda which was prepared in advance for normal circumstances, and we are still adding new activities.
Within the Model Court Initiative (MCI), we hold via videoconference a regular meeting of the MCI Project Board with participation of all stakeholders (32 participants) to discuss the state of play on the MCI implementation and consecutive steps to be taken. In response to the new circumstances, we delivered a training on best practices in HR policies aimed at strengthening the capacity of judges and court staff in working remotely (with 100 participants). A team of international and national experts have finalized Standard Operation Procedure on the integrated front desk and chapter for the MCI Handbook regarding best practices in HR policies to be applied in courts. These documents are currently being consulted with our Ukrainian partners, obviously working online.
The other important topic within the MCI is strengthening of the security in courts, which is also being developed using online means of communication. The project team conducted an online survey for judges and chiefs of staff in courts with regard to the assessment of security needs (we received more than 3000 responses). On the basis of the collected data, the international and national experts are finalising the training plans. Those include online real-time webinars and asynchronous online courses on personal security of judges and court staff to be delivered soon. Our security experts are also working closely with local partners on developments of Standard Operation Procedures to be applied in the area of court security.
Another important area of our activity is continuation of cooperation with the National School of Judges. A series of practical seminars was to be launched in the end of March on a subject dedicated to the role of mentorship in the system of formation of professional skills for a future judge. However, its organisation was suspended due to the pandemic restrictions. In order to keep motivation of the involved mentors, it was decided to adjust the program for the training for the online format of webinars. Therefore, we are using this opportunity resulting from working remotely for improvement and development of online trainings offered by the School, using the best practices for this form of education.
There are also our smaller expert teams, with involvement of international and Ukrainian lawyers, who are working with local partners on various concept papers and strategic documents aimed at improvement of functioning of the judiciary in Ukraine.
These are only examples of activities of our team in Kyiv. I am convinced that we are doing as much as possible in this difficult time. I dare to say that, surprisingly, the team’s spirit is growing. When we are all together back in Kyiv again, we will do better than before.”
Anna Adamska-Gallant, Key expert on judicial reform.