The rise of remote work during COVID-19 season

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The declared temporary enhanced community quarantine in Luzon to contain the spread of COVID-19 has prompted many companies to allow a work-from-home setup for many employees.

By Adrian Paul B. Conoza
Special Features Writer, BusinessWorld

Since the onset of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a large part of the country’s workforce has shifted to a new mode of doing work. Under the work-from-home setting, professionals have been performing their tasks at the comforts of their home offices, while some have created makeshift workspaces inside their houses. Because being physically in the same office or room is currently impossible, teams have taken advantage of technology to interact and collaborate via instant messaging applications, video conferences, file-sharing platforms, and other organization tools.

Offices have suddenly undergone what is perceived to be the greatest experiment of work that the global workplace has ever experienced. While telecommuting has already been a trend being adopted by many companies recently, the threatening spread of COVID-19 further brings this mode of work into greater consideration by more organizations.

Before remote work was enforced by the government for the duration of the ECQ, telecommuting has been promoted when President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11165, or “An Act Institutionalizing Telecommuting as an Alternative Work Arrangement for Employees in the Private Sector” on December 20, 2018. It defines telecommuting as “a work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.”

The law states that an employer may offer a telecommuting program to its employees on a voluntary basis. The terms and conditions shall not be less than the minimum labor standards set by law, and these shall include compensable work hours, minimum number of work hours, overtime, rest days, and entitlement to leave benefits.


Impact of remote work

With remote work being adopted by offices during this global pandemic, its advantages are being observed and experienced by both employers and employees.

The foremost benefit that can be seen is flexibility. With the flexible schedule remote work offers, it has been proven that productivity of employees increases and they are able to meet their deliverables more effectively. On the side of companies, remote work offers potential cost savings as well as a reduced need for valuable office space, lower utilities consumption, and similar reduced expenses.

In a podcast on rebalancing the work-life experience, Despina Katsikakis, head of Occupier Business Performance; and Dominic Brown, head of Insight & Analysis, Asia Pacific of global real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield agreed that increased flexibility underpins the positive workplace experience of remote workers.

“Technology and flexibility have impacted the workplace so that work was no longer somewhere employees needed to go to but something they could in fact do from anywhere,” Ms. Katsikakis said.

Citing data analyzed from companies in China that shifted to remote work upon the onslaught of the coronavirus, Mr. Brown observed that there was a rapid transition in executing work while confined at their homes, as evident in online meetings, presentations, and training courses.

“As a result of this experience, we’re seeing more companies now paying more attention to the remote working platforms,” Mr. Brown added. “Seventy percent are thinking about adopting a stronger remote working platform, and 81% of companies surveyed… are likely to add collaborative technology to their platform.”

Critical factors

Nevertheless, organizations have to address issues regarding remote work such as ensuring adequate Internet connection in homes, setting guidelines in monitoring the work of telecommuting employees, and addressing data protection given possible data breaches and security threats.

Furthermore, Ms. Katsikakis and Mr. Brown shared that there are factors that are critical in transitioning to widespread remote working. Technology is one of the factors and is regarded as an absolute key to successful remote collaboration.

As Ms. Katsikasis pointed out, successful collaboration can take place when employees have the technology for effective instant messaging, video conferencing, and file sharing, coupled with maintaining proper associated bandwidth and using tools to train in using remote technologies.

The ability to focus and planning time to avoid distractions are also critical for remote working, especially considering that professionals are no longer working from home on their own. “One of the big aspects is going to be how we actually coach people to avoid distractions because at the moment we are sharing space with a number of family members, pets, different time schedules,” Ms. Katsikakis added.

The ability to renew throughout the day and feel refreshed physically is likewise critical in the context of working at home. This factor, in fact, is found to be the most consistently underperforming attribute, according to the data analyzed by the two researchers.

“Movement throughout the day is one of the most important things to keep wellness and energy levels high whilst working,” Ms. Katsikakis said, adding that while professionals naturally move around the office doing several tasks, they should give extra effort to plan for opportunities to move while confined at home.

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