The community quarantines for Metro Manila and Luzon started on March 15 and on March 17, respectively, and are expected to last until midnight of April 14. Travel in and out of the island is restricted for most forms of transport — land, sea, and air. People are advised to limit their movements and stay home as much as possible to avoid being exposed to the virus.
Companies are looking at work-from-home (WFH) setups so that their employees can still be engaged and be productive even in this environment of limited travel.
WFH is another term for telecommuting — a work setup concept that has been around for a while, but which only a few companies are implementing. Under telecommuting, employees work outside the office, often from home or a location close to home (including coffee shops, libraries, and other appropriate venues). Instead of traveling to and from and being physically present in the office, employees get in touch and coordinate with their co-workers through information and communication technology (internet, e-mail, and telephone). They may go to the office every now and then for meetings and conferences, but even these can be done remotely through teleconferencing or video-conferencing.
This setup has been proposed to help alleviate the grave traffic condition in Metro Manila as millions of workers travel within the metro every day to go to work. But not a lot of companies have adopted the scheme probably because they still prefer seeing their employees working and being productive while in the confines of the office — often with physical supervision of superiors. Other companies may not have the knowledge or the competency to set up the work scheme.
Republic Act No. 11165, otherwise known as the Telecommuting Act, declares telecommuting as an alternative work arrangement that employers may implement in agreement with their employees. Essentially, the new (2019) law sets out the rights and duties of employers and employees under a telecommuting program.
The law provides for a private sector employer to offer a telecommuting program on a voluntary basis. The terms and conditions shall not be less than the minimum labor standards set by law, and shall include compensable work hours, minimum number of work hours, overtime, rest days, and entitlement to leave benefits. Relevant, written information should guide both employers and employees. In addition, the employer shall ensure that telecommuting employees are treated in the same way as employees working on the employer’s premises. Telecommuting employees should not feel isolated from the rest of the working community, and should have the opportunity to meet with co-workers as well as access to relevant information.
Enabling the telecommuting process is the access and use of available information and communication technology facilities, which enable the employer and the employees to be connected even if they are physically separated.
Because of the community quarantine, companies are now working double time to adopt the scheme. I am sure there will be tentative steps and errors in how they carry out the process. Through time, as the learning curve for both employers and employees shortens, the adoption of telecommuting will become more efficient. It is hoped that even after the COVID-19, companies will continue to adopt telecommuting as a viable option for doing productive work. It will certainly help reduce Metro Manila traffic which, unlike COVID-19, which will run its course after a defined period, has been with us for a lot longer and does not have a foreseeable resolution any time soon. And the traffic burden has been costing the country so much in billions of pesos every day due to wasted hours and lower productivity, inefficient use of gasoline, and incessant exhaust from vehicles, which compound the metro’s pollution level. The heavy traffic makes people tired, and contributes to the degradation of their health. It lessens opportunities for families and friends to spend quality time together.
On its own, telecommuting cannot solve the traffic problem, but it will certainly help address the issues raised in the preceding paragraph.
Dr. Dennis L. Berino is an Associate Professional Lecturer with the Decision Sciences and Innovation Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University.