Almost overnight, most organizations have had to adopt work-from-home (WFH) measures—revealing which ones were prepared to face this unprecedented crisis.
So how does working from home, well, work?
That depends on the nature of one’s role, says the Employees Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop). Employees whose jobs generally involve the use of a computer, says Ecop director general Jose Roland Moya, or mobile devices, can easily adopt this kind of setup. Of course, a decent internet connection is a basic requirement.
Moya identifies these positions as qualified for a WFH arrangement: web developers, graphic designers, administrative assistants, travel agents, sales agents, writers, research and development staff, social media managers, and call-center representatives.
Public relations professionals can also count themselves lucky to belong to this group. For some agencies, like ComCo Southeast Asia Inc., a WFH setup has always been their response to calamity—typhoons, earthquakes, and most recently, a volcanic eruption—and even to unbearable traffic.
“It’s just extraordinary now, since we will be implementing it for a month [straight],” says Ferdinand Bondoy, regional integration and chief executive director.
To ensure productivity, Bondoy says ComCo’s staff have all they need to work from home—from documents, to equipment, to a stable internet connection. Technology is maximized for conference calls, and deadlines are set for each team’s goals. Progress reports are also sent so there is continual monitoring of their accomplishments.
Like ComCo, a “global brand and customer experience agency” (they requested for the name not to be published) put WFH measures in place even before the quarantine was enforced. According to Nonie Tobias-Azores, creative director, their WFH setup had already been running for three months, so it wasn’t hard for people to switch to it fulltime once the lockdown happened.
“The reason for the initial WFH proposal was the worsening traffic situation in the metro. This was our organization’s measure to ease the effects of traffic on our employees—physical, emotional, financial—especially those who commute from far cities. Plus, a 4-day work week means lower overhead costs for the company,” says Azores. An assessment tool was developed to ensure that the same amount and quality of output would be produced by management and staff, she adds.
“Workfies” are another way for leaders to keep tabs on staff, says Leah Caringal, CEO of Greenbulb Communications. Their employees send these photos through a group chat thrice a day; and twice a day, each one also reports about their health status.
Next to email, group chats are most likely the busiest of all communication channels these days, with people connecting through them both for personal and work-related reasons. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is one organization maximizing such technology, says Mitch Remo, manager for communications under BSP’s Investor Relations Office. From top management to department heads to rank-and-file staff, everyone is kept abreast of developments through office memos. BSP is also turning to teleconferencing for important group meetings, such as those between portfolio investors/credit rating analysts (including foreigners who fly to Manila) and government economic officials who need to discuss developments through office memos. BSP is also turning to teleconferencing for important group meetings, such as those between portfolio investors/credit rating analysts (including foreigners who fly to Manila) and government economic officials who need to discuss developments concerning the country’s economy, says Remo.
Some organizations are also lucky enough to be supported by the likes of connectivity solutions company Eastern Communications, which will provide cost-efficient and reliable WFH tools to improve business continuity amid the pandemic. One such solution is Office 365, a cloud-based subscription to a suite of Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which is crucial for businesses to achieve productivity and collaboration while implementing a WFH setup.
There are roles, of course, that simply cannot be fulfilled on a WFH setup, says Moya, and, therefore, requires a skeleton workforce. Common sectors affected would include manufacturing, construction, health, transportation, and education (when face-to-face instruction is necessary).
Remo says that for the BSP, their skeleton force specifically includes employees involved in financial market operations, payment systems operation, currency management, comptrollership, secretariat to the Monetary Board, information technology, security services, facilities management, health and wellness, and human resource management.
While presence simply is a must for some employees, Moya says organizations can implement other measures to reduce their risk of exposure. Citing a laudable policy implemented by a hospital (they requested not to be named), Moya says a flexible schedule coupled with additional benefits is one of the best options for a skeleton workforce. In that particular hospital, for example, all those required to come in daily are entitled to offset their days spent on duty, plus a free meal (except for emergency room personnel, who receive three meals a day). In another healthcare company, a compressed work week (four days on duty, three days off) is in place.
Moya says that to further help their employees, companies may also resort to the following measures: rotating work schedules; advance payment of 13th month pay, or even salaries; and provision of temporary shelters, as well as transportation to and from the workplace.
“As always, the capability of the employer must also be considered. SMEs (small and medium enterprises) have very limited options,” Moya says.
But there are those who go the extra mile. Travel Warehouse Inc. (TWI), a local travel agency, has mandated all of its employees to work from home—even those with functions that require them to be at the office, such as janitors and messengers. All their salaries remain unaffected.
“In this situation, you don’t consider anymore if their jobs are applicable for WFH or not. It’s more of your moral duty to ensure your employees to assure them that their job is secure, and that they will not go hungry even if they can’t go to the office,” says TWI president Jaison Yang. “This is the time they need compassion and support from their company.”
Moving forward, and looking beyond the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps companies would do well to also consider a policy of Greenbulb’s: the provision of insurance that covers pandemic-related illnesses.
Whatever organizations decide to do to cope with these trying times—to WFH or to not WFH—Moya says the most important thing is to keep lines of communication within the business open.
“This is an opportunity to explore all options and explain the position taken by employers in response to an emergency or crisis through social dialogue. Most of the time, it is the lack of communication between the employers and workers that gives rise to complications,” he says.
And as Caringal puts it: “This is all a learning process. We continually ask for feedback from employees so we can adjust our measures accordingly. The important thing for us is to keep our service level constant by putting our employees first.”