By Patricia B. Mirasol

Employees who work from home (WFH) tend to work longer hours. According to a study by Harvard Business School, the pandemic workday is, on average, “48.5 minutes longer than usual. It also has 13% more meetings and 1.4 more daily emails.”

Companies can help staff engaged in remote work by putting measures in place that support their overall well-being. In a recent mental health dialogue organized by pharmaceutical manufacturing firm Upjohn Philippines, Dr. Robert Buenaventura, consultant psychiatrist at UERM Memorial Medical Center and a life fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, advised employees to consult their human resources department on setting healthy work-from-home boundaries. Upjohn general manager Melissa Comia likewise emphasized the importance of having a workplace that’s a safe place to raise concerns and thoughts.

“Wellness is not a perk. It is an integral part of employee life,” said Mr. Buenaventura, citing recent government guidelines for mental health workplace policies.

TaskUs, a business process outsourcing (BPO) company, recently announced that it was extending its WFH policy to the end of 2020—the first BPO in the Philippines to do so.  It also released guidelines such as keeping Friday free of meetings, avoiding professional chats on weekends, and respecting time off. “We encourage everyone to refrain from sending emails and other work-related communications after shift unless it’s really urgent and business-impacting,” said Bryce Maddock, TaskUs CEO and co-founder.

The BPO company also allows lactation breaks and flexible schedules for employees who need to guide their children through distance learning—the general rule being working with their immediate superiors in finding the best time that would allow them to focus on their families without sacrificing work productivity.

Upjohn, for its part, has “Wacky Wednesdays,” where members get together over WebEx to check in and decompress. Its parent company, Pfizer Philippines, provides mental health support to staff, including confidential and professional counseling.

An employee with Citibank Philippines, meanwhile, shared that they didn’t experience that much of a change in terms of WFH policies because the company already had flexible work schedules prior to the pandemic. “Citi bankers can go online anytime and offline when needed—as long as deliverables are met.” She also shared that staff members have open communication lines with their bosses. Parents who have other life responsibilities are likewise encouraged to work out an arrangement with their manager.

When designing schedules, Dr. Buenaventura suggested penciling in time to indulge in hobbies, checking in with one’s personal network, and supporting communities in need as ways of avoiding burnout and keeping positive and hopeful in these challenging times.