Many companies have shifted from on-site to remote work operations since the start of the quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the vaccinations against the disease in process, questions arise on what would stay or change in work arrangements.

BusinessWorld Insights, in partnership with KMC Solutions, recently held a webinar with the theme “Should We Return to the Office? A Conversation on the Future of Work” that gathered experts to discuss their views on future work setups.

Safety is the prime reason for imposing remote work. Nonetheless, it still caused some problems for employees, according to PwC Philippines’ Chairman and Senior Partner Atty. Alexander B. Cabrera.

“The most critical issue in the work-from-home environment is mental wellness,” Atty. Cabrera said. This, according to him, happens due to the lack of connection or feeling of lonesomeness on an employee. “One thing stolen from our people is the physical connection. And it resulted in mental wellness issues and an even bigger rate of turnover.”

Atty. Cabrera also presented the effects of remote work on collaboration and innovation through a survey done internally at PwC. He shared that collaborations decreased by as much as 35-40%; innovation deteriorated by around 30%; and there is a bit of depreciation of work by 10%.

“The biggest loss is the culture-building. Culture deteriorated as much as 40%,” he said. Atty. Cabrera also mentioned difficulties like lunch break interruptions and “lost of translation” when working in a virtual environment.

“All these are hitting the company in the work-from-home environment. [So] there is only one solution – a hybrid [work] model,” he said.

The negative effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on the economy and several industries demonstrate the need to return working on-site, according to Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr.,  president of Minimal Government Thinkers and a columnist at BusinessWorld.

Mr. Oplas stressed how the lockdown afflicted the country’s Gross Domestic Product, stating that “[from being in the] top 50 largest economies in the world in 2020, the Philippines was the fourth worst performer.”

He also noted that the lockdown adversely affected work operations in the construction industry; and the worst affected are those that involved face-to-face customer relations.

Mr. Oplas also addressed the pandemic’s effect on the labor market, specifically in unemployment and labor force participation. “This year, the unemployment rate has a little bit declined. But the labor force participation remains high, [which means] many people still give up in finding jobs,” he observed.

Mr. Oplas expressed the need to lift the lockdown and to reopen the economy, including the resumption of working at offices.

“The bottom line is if people and companies decide that they should go back to the office, the government should remove all the [restrictions],” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Mondelez Philippines People Lead Aileen Aumentado shared an initiative of the company to make work flexible while minding the employees’ wellness.

She talked about Mondelez’s “Flexible Working Pledge”, in which the organization gives “a direction and guidance to all operating countries around the world that empathy is key in terms of ensuring that people [can] work in a flexible environment and remain productive.”

Through this policy, Mondelez Philippines has been allowing their employees to work from home for 1-2 days a week depending on their roles even before the pandemic.

Since the start of the quarantine, Ms. Aumentado shared that their office-based employees are in a 100% work-from-home setup. Meanwhile, their frontliners in sales and manufacturing sites receive sufficient support, protective equipment, and testing.

Aside from flexible work, Ms. Aumentado shared that Mondelez Philippines further care for their employees through other well-being, engagement, and pandemic support programs.

Additionally, Ms. Aumentado explained that in delivering flexible work arrangements, “you become very intentional of ensuring where it is essential for people to be on-site and that the organization provides sufficient support. And for those non-essential, keep them safe and well-supported also at home through various well-being programs.”

KMC Solutions Chief Operating Officer Tracy Ignacio answered “yes” on the question of whether employees should return to the office.

Nevertheless, according to Ms. Ignacio, there are factors to consider such as the nature of work, the culture and collaboration at work, and personal circumstances.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all for everyone here. Your personal circumstances should dictate your answer to that question,” she emphasized. “What remains the top priority is the health, wellness, and safety of the people.”

In particular, Ms. Ignacio considered that “it is very evident that the future of work is hybrid.” She presented how KMC employed hybridity at work with their Triple H approach, where people can “choose to work from home, work near home, in the headquarters, or combination of all three.”

Through their resources and more than 20 locations, KMC managed to adopt the hybrid work setup. “We go as far as setting up home offices [for our clients]. We would bring tables, ergonomic chairs, and high-speed Internet for them to function really well,” she shared.

She mentioned that KMC provided shuttle services and subsidized dormitories for their employees. “At this point, we just have to offer and adapt to what our employees need.”