How workable is working from home?

Suits The C-Suite By Rogelanne O. Villarubia

BusinessWorld (2/24/2020)

Organizations often claim that their most important assets are their people and studies have indicated this to be true. This is the reason why companies are always looking for ways to motivate their workforce and maintain high job satisfaction. While some consider compensation and benefits as the main drivers when a job seeker decides to accept an offer, we now see other factors that are equally relevant to applicants and recruits. A leading consideration is the flexibility of an employer’s work arrangement policies.

In general, employees prefer working hours that allow them to achieve some level of work-life balance. Employees desire the flexibility that provides them the means to meet the demands of their jobs and their personal responsibilities such as attending to family, pursuing further education, or checking items off their bucket lists.

This work arrangement is not new; other economies have already adopted it as part of their labor laws and practices. In the Philippines, however, although most employers require a fixed on-site eight-hour work shift, some multinational companies have already introduced flexibility in the workplace, such as allowing their employees to “telecommute” as a work alternative.

THE TELECOMMUTING ACT

Telecommuting is defined as working from home or an alternative workplace through an electronic link with a central office. While the practice of working at home and interfacing with the office via modem, telephone, or some another electronic device only became commonplace recently, the word “telecommute” has been used since the mid-1970s. Its earliest documented reference can be found in a January 1974 article in The Economist that predicted, “As there is no logical reason why the cost of telecommunication should vary with distance, quite a lot of people by the late 1980s will telecommute daily to their London offices while living on a Pacific island if they want to.”

We have seen how this prediction has become a global reality.

The Philippines finally passed a law regarding this alternative work arrangement when the President signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, Republic Act (RA) 11165, known as the Telecommuting Act. The RA codifies the definition of telecommuting and specifies how such a program would work in a company. An employer in the private sector may offer a telecommuting program to its employees on a voluntary basis, including compensable work hours, a minimum number of work hours, overtime, rest days, and entitlement to leave benefits.

The law further enumerates a fair treatment clause for employees under the telecommuting program and for those not practicing this alternative work arrangement. Section 5 of the RA provides that the employer will ensure that the telecommuting employees are given the same treatment as that of comparable employees working in the employer’s premises. Further, it listed the rights of telecommuting employees, such as: receiving a rate of pay (including overtime and night shift differential, as well as other similar monetary benefits not lower than those provided in applicable laws); collective bargaining agreements; having the right to rest periods, regular holidays, and special non-working days; having the same or equivalent workload and performance standards; having the same access to training and career development opportunities; and being subject to the same appraisal policies.

The RA also features a clause on Data Protection in relation to the Data Privacy Act of 2012 as employees under this work arrangement should still be governed by confidentiality and data security policies in the conduct of their work.

PRODUCTIVITY BENEFITS

Like in any program or policy, there should be an evaluation of the telecommuting program’s pros and cons. One of its benefits is the flexibility offered to employees to work during the hours that complement their needs, responsibilities and preferences. Research has shown that when employees have work flexibility, they are able to increase their productivity and more effectively meet their deliverables. The company may also consider the potential cost savings to having employees work remotely, such as a reduced need for valuable office space, lower utilities consumption and similar reduced expenses.

In addition, telecommuting provides the benefit of less potential business disruption as employees can continue working even if they are physically unable to report to the office. Good examples of this would be the recent events that transpired in the Philippines: the Taal Volcano eruption and the Covid-19 virus outbreak, both of which prompted employers to think about the safety and health of their employees. If a company has a telecommuting program in place, business operations can continue since employees are able to deliver the work from alternative locations. Another benefit of the telecommuting program is that the actual travel from home to office and vice versa will significantly be reduced. This would be beneficial to so many considering the notorious traffic conditions in the Philippines.

WHAT TO CONSIDER

While telecommuting seems advantageous, there are challenges in implementation. First, telecommuting assumes that the employee would have the necessary resources such as a reliable Internet connection to log on to the employer’s infrastructure. Second, if a company adopts this program, the employer must have well-written guidelines to monitor the work of telecommuting employees to address possible issues of employees not being “active” and potentially missing out on deliverables. Third, and as mentioned earlier, data protection should be addressed because working externally could expose the employee to possible data breaches and security threats, especially with the data handled by the telecommuting employees themselves. Fourth, companies will also need to consider the investment in technology, platforms and resources that will allow employees to remotely access company servers and shared data, particularly in cases where employees function as part of a larger team.

CHALLENGING AND DISRUPTIVE

It is encouraging to see that the traditional eight-hour desk job in the office has been updated to consider other factors. Employees in the Philippines looking for options to achieve work-life balance now have another consideration when evaluating a job offer. At the end of the day, employers should look carefully at their options to ensure maximum productivity, work efficiency and service delivery quality while taking into account evolving employee needs and job satisfaction measures.

Companies may experience transitioning from an existing on-site workforce to a telecommuting team as both challenging and disruptive, but a careful analysis of the pros and cons of the program may help management decide to take the big step of having their employees literally out of the office.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Rogelanne O. Villarubia is a Tax Senior Director from the People Advisory Service Line of SGV & Co.