Telecommuting or the work-from-home arrangement is now seen as a viable business/work model amid the worsening traffic problem in Metro Manila.
While many multinational companies have long adapted to telecommuting, the question many employers and employees ask is if Philippine companies are ready to embrace this setup.
Work-from-home was an industry practice long before its popularity prompted the creation of Republic Act No. 11165 or the Telecommuting Act in the Philippines.
“Telecommuting refers to working from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunications and/or computer technologies. Many workers welcome this development as it eliminates travel time and costs, which has significantly increased due to the worsening traffic conditions in major cities in the country,” said P&A Grant Thornton chairperson and chief executive Maria Victoria Españo.
The law, however, provides that telecommuting is subject to the discretion of the employer. An employer in the private sector may offer a telecommuting program to its employees on a voluntary basis and upon such terms and conditions as they may mutually agree upon.
Españo believes that telecommuting is one way employers can attract and retain premier talent, reduce overhead expenses and increase productivity.
Citing cases when the travel time between the work place and home is becoming a major consideration whether to apply for employment with a company, some employees cross out job opportunities that will require more than an hour’s commute, according to Españo.
She said that by offering a work-from-home arrangement, employers may be able to recruit good potential candidates to join them while eliminating the daily commute can be a reason for them to stay for the long term.
This can also be more productive as employees do not have the distractions or hectic pace of an office environment. At the same time, it saves employers money in office expenses, such as office supplies, furniture, equipment, coffee and janitorial services.
For employees, telecommuting allows them to save on expenses such as fuel, parking fees, vehicle maintenance, public transport fare, dining out and clothing purchases.
In transitioning to telecommuting as a business model, Españo said an employer should first assess whether a telecommuting arrangement is suitable for its operations.
For instance, if the company deals with numerous customers who require face-to-face interaction, telecommuting may not work, unless it has a good number of client-facing employees which will allow rotation of assignments.
The work performed by employees and current manpower resources should also be reviewed.
Assuming the company is able to identify the work activities where telecommuting arrangements may be applicable, there are several considerations that must be taken into account and appropriate planning must be made to address them before introducing the practice, said Españo.
“The essence of telecommuting is that the work can be performed by the employee even if he is not in the office premises. Thus, the assumption is that he has access to the same resources that he would have if he was in the office. For example, companies invest in stable, high-speed internet to ensure seamless operations. Employees at home offices may not have the resources for that and, thus, a discussion on who will bear the cost of these resources must take place,” Españo said.
If telecommuting is allowed, the company must address the risks created by allowing its employees to bring out with them the company files. The place where the employees work may also have to be defined—are they working in a coffee shop or a restaurant in a mall where their files can be seen by other people? Are they accessing a secured internet line?
Companies must ensure that potential vulnerabilities to cybersecurity and data privacy are addressed before they are allowed access to company systems, she said.
In most cases, telecommuting works for employee activities that do not require constant supervision. Their output will be measured by work they are expected to complete like a report or similar deliverables that must be submitted by a certain date.
While they are not in the office, companies must still be able to supervise their work to ensure that their deliverables are timely submitted and the expected quality of output is adequately met. A system of monitoring and reporting must be established, she said.
“Notably, the law raises a challenge to employers when it provided that telecommuting employees must be given overtime and night shift differential. It will be quite difficult for the employer to know if the employee worked for more than the standard work hours during the day, having no knowledge of the time he started and ended his work,” Españo said.
“It will also be difficult to know if he stopped working during certain hours of the day and continued working in the evening. Employers must set up a system to monitor working hours, based on verifiable metrics other than time report cards or observance of actual physical presence,” she said.
Another important factor that needs to be considered is the interaction among the telecommuting employees, those who are in the office and the company itself. It is the company’s role to provide communication when working remotely, to acquire the knowledge needed or as a means to troubleshoot a problem or situation.
For employees covered by telecommuting arrangement, in general, their performance will be measured not by the number of hours that they are in the office but the timeliness and quality of their output. A performance management and rating system focusing on these factors, rather than punctuality or attendance, will support positive behavior.
“A caution though, RA 11165 requires that the telecommuting employees must have the same performance standards as those working in the office. To meet this legal requirement, a review of the performance management for all employees must be undertaken,” Españo said.
She said the passage of the Telecommuting Act is a welcome development in the Philippines, but employers and employees must consider both the pros and cons of the arrangement and appropriately plan for it.
“For a start, it may be good for them to begin with a small group of employees, measure productivity, and then roll out on a larger scale when ready,” Españo said.