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Telework: Redefining the future workplace

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Taxwise Or Otherwise

EVERY workday, I always wish for a smooth and less stressful commute to allow me to face workplace demands with enthusiasm. My routine involves taking a quick look at my GPS navigation app to check my Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). On most days, my virtual “friend” Jane, the voice of the app, announces an ETA of almost 1.5 hours. There are other days when traffic is worse, especially on Mondays or in bad weather.

But that is just half of my journey, since I need to wrestle with the same issues on my way home. On a positive note, I still consider myself blessed compared to other commuters who endure horrendous experiences along EDSA or on our “inefficient” commuter rail system. You can imagine the level of stress an average Filipino worker has to go through each day to earn a living.

The point is this: Traffic is not getting better, and there seems to be no solution in sight. In Metro Manila alone, an employee wastes an average of 1,000 hours a year, which could have been spent on productive work or quality time for himself or his family.

The good news is that legislators are now thinking of ways to achieve economic growth considering the road congestion problem.

When telework or telecommuting first became a buzzword, employees swarmed Human Resources with excitement, hoping this can be implemented soon at work. Telework, or “work-from-home” schemes, are work arrangements where employees do not commute or travel to their workplaces. Instead, modern communication technology such as computers, tablets and smartphones are used as mediums to perform work. Arrangements like these have drawn support from lawmakers who cite the possible boost in employee morale and stress reduction, thereby increasing work productivity. Employees may even gain some protection from the increasing cost of transportation. Fewer motor vehicles on the road also translate to reduced carbon emissions.

The proposed “Telecommuting Act” as outlined in House Bill No. 7402 was recently approved on second reading, while its counterpart legislation, Senate Bill No. 1363, has been approved on final reading. These bills allow the adoption of a telecommuting program on a voluntary basis by agreement of the employer and employees, subject to minimum labor standards set by law. Both bills mandate that telecommuters be treated equally as those who work on-site. They are entitled to their monthly salary, including overtime pay, night shift differentials, and other employee benefits provided by law, collective bargaining agreement, and the employment contract.




Ahead of the pending legislation, some companies have implemented telework schemes, having performed their own cost-benefit evaluations. Before jumping on board, however, a careful study should be made to ascertain its viability given the nature of the business. I share below a few observations on telework.

IT CAN BE USED TO RETAIN AND ATTRACT TALENTED PEOPLE
Undoubtedly, employee satisfaction is significant in retaining top talent at the organization. Studies show that companies who adopt telework generally register high employee satisfaction ratings. Also, teleworkers were found to be more loyal to the company because they appreciate the employer’s care for their wellbeing and empathy towards their problems. Somehow, it gives them a feeling of gratification knowing that management thinks of ways to keep them. Ultimately, satisfied employees translate to increased productivity and higher profits for the company.

With modern-day workers seeking more flexibility at work, this program is also likely to attract future talent. In fact, companies use flexible arrangements as a competitive advantage over other industry players.

IT INFRASTRUCTURE IS NEEDED
Crucial to the program’s success is the efficient communication and transmission of data through IT equipment and devices. Nowadays, virtual meetings allow people to share information and data real-time without face-to-face contact. In addition, software apps allow people to create and modify presentations and reports with a simple click of their tablets and mobile phones. Possible sources of glitches are fickle Internet speeds and frequent outages in Wi-Fi connections, causing serious delays in data transmission. Therefore, IT teams should assure technical support to ensure the efficient flow of work. Also, employees should have reliable Internet connections at home.

NOT ALL EMPLOYEES CAN BE TELEWORKERS
Two questions consistently raised are: a) Will it work for all employees? and b) How often in a week or month can this be done?

On the positive side, telecommuting allows companies to enter into flexible arrangements depending on the function, capabilities, and available technology of employees. It is possible for those whose functions involve knowledge or IT-based deliverables, such as sales, advisory, etc. However, it may not apply to those performing on-site processes such as manufacturing. Since this is not possible across the ranks, the company should ensure that employee morale is kept intact especially for those who may not qualify for the program.

Some companies have adopted a four-day on-site workweek while others are more lenient and give employees the option to telework any day. In any case, clear guidelines should be in place to prevent abuse and confusion. A test run is also suggested to identify possible roadblocks before its full implementation.

THE SYSTEM IS BUILT ON TRUST AND INTEGRITY
For the program to work, companies must be confident that employees can work productively even off-site. Rather than introducing rigid monitoring policies that stifle creativity and translate to higher operating costs generated by additional supervision of off-site work, employee accountability is key to ensuring that company expectations are met.

Simply put, a culture of trust and integrity must be established to avoid any impact on the employee’s performance. It should not come down to workers giving employers CCTV access to homes to ensure that people are really working.

Companies can adopt telework as a strategy to address certain challenges of the business. The benefits can be exponential, with the potential to save on office costs, increase productivity, and improve job satisfaction. The question now is whether companies are prepared to accept the change. Perhaps employers can find inspiration from Jay Friedman, COO of Goodway Group, a digital marketing company, when he said, “We have a work culture that’s earned high marks on Glassdoor and kudos from Fortune‘s Great Place to Work initiative and the Society for Human Resource Management—and we all work from home.” (Friedman, 2017)

The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.

 

Joel Roy C. Navarro is a Director at the Tax Services Department of Isla Lipana & Co., the Philippine member firm of the PwC network.

+63 (2) 845-2728

joel.roy.navarro@ph.pwc.com

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