Director-General  QU Dongyu

Director-General presents Phase 4 of return plan to headquarters to FAO senior managers


25 September 2020, Rome - The Director-General QU Dongyu today held a virtual meeting with FAO senior managers, from the level of director and above, to present and discuss the Phase 4 of the Organization’s gradual return plan of employees to headquarters, which will start on 1 October.

In his remarks, QU once again congratulated managers for FAO’s good performance on  all fronts since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Externally, FAO has played a leadership role in supporting governments through the provision of analysis and briefs, technical assistance and emergency activities. Internally, the Organization has been able to implement most of the measures recently approved by FAO’s Council to readjust the Programme of Work and Budget and reorganize FAO’s structure.

“Looking back at 2020, it was, and still is, not only a year of efficiency but also a year of deep transformative reforms for FAO,” the Director-General noted.

He also stressed FAO’s continued focus on protecting the health and safety of its more than 13000 employees worldwide, noting that, as of today FAO has registered  86 COVID-19 infections in total since the beginning of the pandemic.

Concerning the good progress achieved in transforming FAO to a truly digital Organization, QU noted that, FAO has been able to successfully deliver its work amid the pandemic with almost full staff teleworking. He added that, considering the satisfactory development of the epidemiological situation in Italy, time has come to gradually increase the number of employees working from headquarters on a daily basis.

“We are also aware of the risks of de-connection, as colleagues have been now working for months from home, away from their teams and their offices at headquarters,” he said, adding that “no matter how good we have tried to innovate, some things need to be done physically. It is human nature: teamwork and meetings with external partners lead to stronger confidence and trust. We are human beings, we need person to person, face to face interaction.”

In this context, Phase 4 of FAO’s return plan will start with a moderate increase of physical presence at headquarters, always prioritizing the health and wellbeing of employees.

“The reputation of headquarters as a safe working space is of extreme importance. But given the evolving situation, we can come back slowly and cautiously and organize more physical meetings and increase our physical presence,” QU said.

Leading by example, the Director-General recently held (21 September) the first physical meeting of the recently established Core Leadership Team, heralding a symbolic step in the return to work at headquarters. The meeting took place in the Iraq Room, which has been adapted to the new exigencies of holding physical meetings, accommodating a much smaller number of people to allow for the required physical distancing.

The Director-General concluded his remarks today by reminding managers of the need to adapt to a new normal and work hard to continue making FAO more modern, more digital, more goal-oriented, and less bureaucratic. “Adaptation is evolution,” he said. “Be leaders! You are accountable for the success of this new phase in this new working environment impacted by the pandemic,” QU added.

Phase 4 of Return Plan

Deputy-Director General Laurent Thomas, who chairs FAO's Crisis Management Team (CMT), explained the main points of the next phase of the return plan to headquarters.

Around 600 employees (20% of staff in headquarters) are expected to come to office every day on a voluntary and rotational basis. This number can be increased or reduced based on the fluidity of the epidemiological situation in Rome.

Staff will be allowed to hold small working meetings (up to 10 persons) when precautionary measures can be respected and only in assigned meeting rooms.

Senior managers have been requested to lead by example and work from the office for the larger share of their time. Employees who are teleworking from outside the duty station will be asked to return to the duty station.

Sanitary and precautionary measures include: mandatory thermo-scan check at the main (and only) entrance through the Atrium; social distancing observing more than 2 meters; use of surgical masks inside the building and outside when physical distance cannot be respected; avoiding coming to work if having flu symptoms; access for external (contractors) restricted to the essential.