Line of Sight

At work – wherever

Over the past decades, the way we do or operate businesses has evolved significantly, with the improvement of our technology through the introduction of mobile phones, laptops and, of course, the internet.  Advances in technology allowed us to do the things we thought before we could never do.  We are now actually living in the future, since October 21, 2015, was the date when Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled forward in the movie, “Back to the Future: Part II”.  However, we have yet to fully exploit most of the benefits of technology in our workspace.

Based on my observation, most people still report to a physical workspace despite having the capacity to be able to work from home through their laptops or desktops – a strategy most employers do not commonly consider.  Working from home or off-base has not been uncommon among the workforce as online jobs, with English as second language (ESL) tutorial services being the most popular one. ESL is a thriving industry here.  Recently, a major Chinese company plans to hire up to 2,000 more online English teachers from the Philippines.

Several factors have risen which triggered the workforce to discuss the possibility of having to work off-base; some of these include the worsening traffic conditions of the urban centers where most of the offices are located, unlikely office environment situation, and many others.

Last May 22, the Congress passed by a 22-0 vote, the Senate Bill No. 1363 or An Act Institutionalizing Telecommuting in the Workplace and for Other Purposes, which shall also be known as the “Telecommuting Act of 2017.” The Senate passed the bill, hoping to partly unclog the traffic at Metro Manila and other urban centers in the country, such as Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, while at the same time provide employers and employees a new work arrangement.

Benefits of working off-base

There are several key benefits of allowing employees to work off-base, as reported by several studies.

Employees will be able to minimize the time spent on the road especially during peak hours of the morning and evening, thus, decongesting the number of vehicles on the road.  According to Felino A. Palafox, Jr., a renowned architect, urban planner and environmentalist, on average, residents of Metro Manila spend 1,000 hours on the congested roads every year. The logjams of the country’s major cities are, of course, due to the increasing number of people coming to the city for work.  The major parts of the cities also do not have enough mass residential areas to house workers from areas outside the bounds of the commercial districts to minimize the time of transportation.

Working off-base provides employees with flexibility in performing their work, which oftentimes drives productivity. This allows employees to choose their own working time and place, be it at the nearest coffee shop, public library or wherever they feel comfortable, reducing the stress that comes from work.

In 2016, Grant Thornton in Australia implemented what they called “GT Flex-appeal”, which allowed its employees to work flexibly.  The program was based on a 2012 report by the Diversity Council of Australia which revealed that organizations that embrace flexibility increase in performance, productivity, and adapt to change faster.

“Flexibility in all roles is fundamental in allowing our people to balance their work and personal commitments. This will become increasingly more important in catering to the needs of our future leaders – millennials that highly value workplace flexibility. Only organizations that embrace workplace flexibility will attract and retain the best people in the market,” said Greg Keith, CEO of Grant Thornton Australia.

Based on the 2016 Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistical Authority, 45.5% of the country’s current workforce is composed of millennials ranging from 15 to 34 years old. According to a report by Colliers International, Flexible Workspace – Here to Stay, a millennial-friendly workplace design, in advanced Asian markets, is based on three key amenities: collaborative space, relaxation rooms, and provision of food and drink. However, provision of these amenities in traditional Asian office environments is limited, partly due to the general lack of space in crowded city centers, and partly for cultural reasons.

Companies which have allowed employees to work off-base have also minimized certain overhead costs including electricity usage and have opened up more spaces for some employees.  Companies would be able to save up energy costs in the long run and divert these savings to other endeavors.  Based on the study conducted by Global Workplace Analytics, a leading research firm on emerging remote workplace strategies, employers can save over US$11,000 per half-time telecommuter, or persons working off-base, per year.

Concerns from the employer’s perspective

Working off-base has already been discussed in recent years but employers have, however, raised some concerns with regard to its implementation.  Some of the employers’ concerns include the delivery of required level of quality outputs from its employees, the protection of sensitive data stored on the devices of the employees including its transmission online, and the decreasing level of interaction and/or collaboration among employees and their employers.

The implementation of the work off-base arrangement is somehow dependent on the level of trust and confidence between the employers and its employees and how well the employees are fit for such type of working arrangement.  In implementing the WOB arrangement, not all employees will be granted with the opportunity to avail such, due to some assessments on the employees’ performance and behavior. At the onset, employers must be able to establish uniform standards or criteria for selection in order to avoid jealousy among employees.

SGS Philippines, one of the companies implementing WOB work arrangements enumerated certain qualifications from employees in order to avail the arrangement: (a) employees must not have pending deliverables at the time of application; (b) must not have received any recent disciplinary action from management; and, (c) must not have any performance challenge or issue during the last six months.

Andrew Macarayo is the Audit In-Charge of Audit Assurance Division, P&A Grant Thornton.  P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 850 staff members.  We are in Makati, Cavite, Cebu and Davao.  For comments on this article, please email andrew.macarayo@ph.gt.com   or PAGrantThornton.marketscomm@ph.gt.com.  For our services,visit www.grantthornton.com.ph.  Follow us on Twitter: pagrantthornton, and FB: P&A Grant Thornton.

 

As published in the Mindanao Times, dated 11 July 2017