lunes, 15 de septiembre de 2008

The virtual line and waiting rooms

Something that most people dislike is to run errands in public offices. Short hours of attention, crowded rooms, personnel mistreatment and lack of information are some of the things that come to my mind when I think about having to run an errand at public offices.

Although I continue to be not very excited when I have to run some errand in a public office in Berlin, I think that it’s worth to communicate common practices done here so that everything goes quicker and not so tiresome. In every public office there’s a receptionist that asks us what errand we need to run. With that answer in mind this person gives us a ticket with a number and indicates us to which waiting room we must go. When we arrive to the waiting room we always find enough chairs for the amount of people that usually have to go to the office, sometimes there are even tables that enable people to do some work while waiting. When our turn arrives, the employee of the room where we’ll be served calls out our number. Of course, there are offices where the process is completely automated. The receptionist is replaced by a machine that gives numbers depending of the errand to run and an electronic display screen shows the following number to be served and the number of the room where the person must go. There’s always some employee close to help whoever doesn’t know how to use he machine that gives you the tickets.

Other things that are always near the waiting rooms are copy machines that accept coins so that one self can use make copies. Other services that some public offices offer are appointments fixed by telephone and attention on Saturdays. The opening hours tend to cover the early morning hours some days and the late afternoon hours other days so that the people with different working hours can run errands at public offices without the need to hire or to ask another person to run the errand for them.

I’m not trying to say that any of these practices are applied in the Latin American countries that I have visited or lived in, but the most basic ones, that would provide a minimum of order, as a ticket with a number (virtual line) and the existence of a waiting room, unfortunately are not always there. Among the experiences that I have lived I can recall that there are too many offices without the virtual line system where one must make standing lines for hours, often outdoors. Sometimes if you are “lucky” there are chairs, by which one has to stand up and sit in the next one to advance until it is our turn to be served. Other times although numbers are given, there are no chairs in the waiting room.

Techniques to increase productivity, measured in terms of persons served per day, must be applied continuously in public offices to reduce to the minimum expression the lost work hours of all those people who must run their errands. This also contributes to that other development, beyond economic conceptions, that is reached when the civil servants make an effort to offer the best service to the citizens.


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