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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The case for remote work

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“There are better ways to do things.”

Any government official or private entity that forces companies to return to an onsite working setup has their head stuck in the mud and has not realized that the world around them has changed forever.

Lately, BPO firms bucked the government’s call for them to return to onsite work. The Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB), at the start and height of the Covid-19 pandemic, had allowed them to conduct business via work-from-home (WFH) arrangements for up to 90% of BPO workers up to March 31 this year.

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

Former Makati Rep. Monsour del Rosario called the government’s intransigent move to remove the tax-exempt incentives of non-compliant BPOs “too inconsiderate and cruel.”

The author in the Lower House of the Telecommuting Act of 2018, Del Rosario said that while he understands the FIRB’s intention is to help revive the economy, “forcing BPO workers to go out while we are still in the middle of a pandemic is quite unreasonable.”

Not only that, a government office I used to work at has insisted that its workers return to onsite work 100%, and threatened to withhold their pay unless they showed up. In response, nearly half the employees in one department resigned rather than return to onsite work.

These government officials have to understand that the world has moved on from pre-Covid times. While it is laudable to want to support the small businesses and keep them afloat—carinderias, jeeps, etc.—the world has been transformed by the pandemic and over two years, we have seen that remote work arrangements just plain work.

International recruitment firm Robert Walters surveyed professionals in the Philippines about their WFH arrangements from April 16 to May 13, 2020, to “gauge their sentiments towards remote working.”

Eight out of 9 professionals in the Philippines said they were “satisfied” with their current WFH arrangements, while nine out of ten noted a “similar or increased level of productivity” at home compared to onsite.

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

Regarding the latter, many of us will have horror stories of awful offices. I recall working for a company in Manila just pre-Covid whose office was horribly unclean. Rats jumped out of drawers. Dust was everywhere. The bathrooms were filthy.

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

The cons of WFH are that people get distracted and find it hard to focus; managers keep checking in more, derailing work flow; being isolated from peers; and working longer hours.

On the urge to socialize with co-workers, a lot of employees, in my experience, dawdle and ‘make work’ while at the office, while not actually creating any output. Such shenanigans are easily uncovered in a WFH setup, which is based on outputs and results.

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

That Robert Walter study was made in 2020. Since then, people have found how to manage the cons better – strictly no work/answering messages/emails after shift hours, setting task checklists and reminders, and so on.

WFH allows workers to achieve life-work balance; save money on pamasahe, lunch/merienda while at work, clothes, makeup, and what not; care for their health by avoiding the hours of commuting (tagtag sa biyahe), having to wake up early, air pollution, difficulty of getting a ride, the horrors of traffic, and other traveling cons; and most of all, to avoid getting infected by Covid-19 and other illnesses.

The same benefits are obtained for online education—parents save on giving baon to their kids (but the students bewail the loss of their allowance!), no more commuting; faculty can easier shift to the next class without having to physically walk to their next classroom, which could be in another building altogether; teachers no longer have to raise their voices to be heard by those in the back; the introverts in class find it easier to recite; 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 afford to travel anymore?

The world has changed because of Covid, and also because of the internet. The world of work is not as it was before the pandemic. There are better ways to do things.

Government should get out of the way of progress and let technology help bring about more convenience and savings for those workers whose work and tasks can be done remotely. Greater worker satisfaction, greater productivity, and a reenergized economy will follow.

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FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

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