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The new normal

Anton Ng

I had a major breakthrough yesterday: I was again able to reach the office within an hour, in 45 minutes to be exact. Over the past month, I have been spending two to three hours on the road every morning. That is essentially cruising the streets of Metro Manila at a speed of six to nine kilometers an hour! At least, it is still faster than the average walking speed of 5 kph. What did I do differently to achieve my “under an hour” travel time? Nothing special, really. I just left our house 30 minutes earlier than the usual 5:30 a.m. cutoff.

When traffic congestion began to worsen about three to four years ago (which now pales in comparison to what we are currently experiencing), I personally vowed to avoid even hinting on complaining about my daily grind on the road. I even wrote in some of my articles about the different activities I did while in the car to at least redeem the “wasted” time. I still wouldn’t complain here now. Time is too precious for that.

I have heard of people crying in their cars, because of their sheer frustration and tiredness. I have some friends who have already left or are seriously considering to leave their current employers, because of the long commute. Some are considering renting a halfway house. Others are contemplating on uprooting their families to move closer to their offices. I only drink half a glass of water in the morning so that I wouldn’t need to pee while stuck in traffic. We cope. We adjust. The question, however, is whether any of this is sustainable. People who are both content with where they live and work would, at some point, be forced to choose whether to move houses or to change their place of work. That would be the case, unless employers can find ways to ease these burdens.

Without any indication that the congestion on our roads would lighten anytime soon, it is now time to accept that this is the new normal. With that in mind, this might be a good time for everyone to revisit how we currently do things.

Depending on the industry, the market being served, or the profiles of employees, organizations can look at the following practices:

Flexible work hours. Allow employees who can report to work as early as 6 a.m. to end their working day by 3:00 p.m. This could lessen the employee’s travel time but, at the same time, retain the time spent in the workplace.

Allow agile work arrangements. Certain entities do not require all of their employees to physically report to the office every day. Of course, this would require in-depth studies to identify which types of work can be accommodated and what specific guidelines should be set up for this kind of arrangement.

Establish satellite offices. For those who have their main offices in Makati and have a good number of employees residing towards the other end of EDSA, it might be a good exercise to consider setting up a satellite office somewhere up north, such as Quezon City. This might be a very viable option to those who are considering expanding manpower size.

Make use of coworking spaces. Organizations can enter into business arrangements with coworking establishments throughout the metro where their employees can work. This would allow employees to find a conducive work environment closer to their homes.

These alternatives might not be for all organizations or employees. But, for those who can, it is now imperative to seriously look into ways we can ease the stress of the daily commute of our employees and, at the same time, contribute to the lowering of the number of people commuting every day. These alternatives would also require a different set of policies and cost considerations but, if it is something that can greatly help in retaining and recruiting talent, it might be worth the birth pains and additional cost of these changes.

We experience the same traffic grind day in and day out. We cope, we adapt. We also make choices for a better quality of life. In this new normal, it would be greatly helpful if organizations can also do their part in coping and adapting with their employees.

Anton Ng is a partner in the Audit and Assurance division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you. Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our website at


As published in The Manila Times, dated 25 September 2019