The case of remote work

“There are better ways to do things.”

Any government official or private entity that forces businesses to revert to an onsite work setup has their head stuck in the mud and hasn’t realized that the world around them has changed forever.

Lately, BPO companies have resisted the government’s call to resume on-site work. The Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB), at the onset and peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowed them to do business through work-from-home (WFH) arrangements for up to 90% of BPO workers until March 31 this year.

BPOs say it’s not easy to make the transition after two years of working from home. The government says a return to on-site work is needed to “provide more opportunities and pave the way for the recovery of local micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) that depend on IT-BPM employees for their livelihoods “, as Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, FIRB President, put it.

Former Makati representative Monsour del Rosario called the government’s hardline decision to remove tax exemption incentives for non-compliant BPOs “too reckless and cruel”.

Lower house author of the 2018 Telecommuting Act, Del Rosario, said that while he understands the FIRB’s intent is to help revive the economy, “get BPO workers out while we are still in the midst of a pandemic is completely unreasonable. .”

Additionally, a government office I worked in insisted that its employees return to work 100% and threatened to withhold their salaries unless they showed up. In response, nearly half of a department’s employees quit rather than return to work there.

These government officials need to understand that the world has moved on from the pre-Covid era. While it is commendable to want to support small businesses and keep them afloat – carinderias, jeeps, etc. – the world has been transformed by the pandemic and in two years we have seen that remote working arrangements simply work.

International recruitment firm Robert Walters surveyed professionals in the Philippines about their telecommuting arrangements from April 16 to May 13, 2020, to “gauge their feelings about working remotely”.

In the Philippines, eight out of nine professionals said they were “satisfied” with their current telecommuting arrangements, while nine out of ten noted a “similar or increased level of productivity” from home compared to on-site.

The factors, they said, that led to increased productivity while working from home were less commuting time (83%), more flexibility in working hours (68%) and a comfortable and relaxed environment.

When it comes to the latter, many of us will have awful office horror stories. I remember working for a company in Manila just before Covid whose office was horribly dirty. Rats jumped out of the drawers. Dust was everywhere. The bathrooms were dirty.

The March 2020 lockdown, while sad and unexpected, was a reprieve for me as I got to work in my cozy room with my clean bathroom just steps away. My health improved, my allergic rhinitis (I’m allergic to dust) disappeared almost immediately. So, employers, if you want your teleworkers to give up the comforts of home, at least provide them with a safe, decent and healthy work environment!

The disadvantages of working from home are that people get distracted and have trouble concentrating; managers keep checking more, derailing workflow; being isolated from peers; and work longer hours.

Out of the urge to socialize with co-workers, many employees, in my experience, hang around and “do work” in the office, without actually creating results. Such shenanigans are easily discovered in a WFH setup, which is based on outputs and results.

In a publication I worked for during lockdown, we easily found out who was slacking off when we saw he was submitting fewer articles compared to others, as well as through his trail of messages forwarding his work to his junior colleagues!

This study by Robert Walter was done in 2020. Since then people have figured out how to better deal with inconveniences – strictly no work/answering messages/emails after hours, making task checklists and reminders, etc.

Telecommuting allows workers to achieve work-life balance; save money on pamasahe, lunch/merienda at work, clothes, makeup, etc. ; taking care of one’s health by avoiding long commutes (tagtag sa biyahe), having to get up early, air pollution, the difficulty of being driven, the horrors of traffic and other travel inconveniences; and above all, to avoid being infected with Covid-19 and other diseases.

The same benefits are achieved for online education – parents save on their children’s donation (but students bemoan the loss of their allowance!), more commuting; teachers can more easily move on to the next class without having to physically walk to their next classroom, which could be in a completely different building; teachers no longer have to raise their voices to be heard by those in the back; introverts in class have an easier time reciting; and again, everyone’s risk of contracting Covid is reduced.

WFH also benefits the environment – less gas is used, less air pollution is created, less traffic is created. And with today’s gas prices, due to Putin’s war on Ukraine, who can still afford to travel?

The world has changed because of the Covid, and also because of the internet. The world of work is no longer what it was before the pandemic. There are better ways to do things.

The government should step aside from the path of progress and let technology bring more convenience and savings to workers whose work and tasks can be done remotely. Greater worker satisfaction, greater productivity and a reinvigorated economy will follow.

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Facebook and Twitter: @DrJennyO

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