Firms navigate through outbreak with employees staying home
Fewer people are seen on the streets of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig on March 7, 2020 after consultancy and financial advisory firm Deloitte Philippines confirmed that one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos

Firms navigate through outbreak with employees staying home

Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - March 10, 2020 - 2:24pm

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 3:45 p.m., March 10)— As infections rise, companies are stepping up precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus from penetrating the workplace, ensuring offices are adequately sanitized, allowing some employees to work from home, while ensuring disruption to business are reduced to a minimum.

After Deloitte Philippines, one of its member-firms, reported a case over the weekend, the IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines secured authorization from economic zone regulators where they operate to permit workers to work remotely.

The BPO industry, which employed 1.3 million Filipinos as of last year, are authorized “to immediately implement courses of action to respond to and/or pre-empt any adverse COVID-19 eventuality,” memorandum circular 2020-011 of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority stated.

From here, IBPAP said it is still banking on member-firms, which include local units of multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, Google, and Procter & Gamble, to “diligently follow government-mandated labor policies,” including setting up a first-aid response to health emergencies.

As early as 2018, the government has recognized the benefits of working from home through the passage of Republic Act 11165 or the Telecommuting Act, and the spread of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) had only increased calls for its implementation.

Outside the BPO sector, where the practice is unusual, these calls are slowly being heeded as the number of COVID-19 cases jumped to 24 on Monday.

Telco giant Globe Telecom, whose headquarters is located in Bonifacio Global City where Deloitte is similarly situated, said it has allowed some of its estimated 8,000 employees to work remotely starting “this week.”

“Globe already has existing policies on work from home even before the outbreak of the virus,” Yolly Crisanto, head of corporate communications, said in text message.

PLDT Inc. has likewise encouraged “holding tele- and video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings” among some of its over 17,200 employees, said Ramon Isberto, public affairs head, in a separate text message.

On Monday, Gokongwei-led JG Summit Holdings, through its president and CEO Lance Gokongwei, said it plans to roll out work-from-home rules in the “next few days.” The listed firm, which operates around 50 Robinsons Malls nationwide, has 23,942 employees as of 2018.

While George Barcelon, president emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the industry group’s 400 member-firms are free to decide on work arrangements, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) is not taking any chances.

“Until now, most AmCham companies are business-as-usual but more and more are working on trial basis of work-from-home as a contingency plan,” AmCham executive director Ebb Hinchliffe told in a phone interview.

Safety measures in place

Beyond the work area, the impact of coronavirus on bigger company operations are starting to be felt.

Firms have cancelled stockholder meetings to avoid large gatherings that bring people together. On Monday, the Management Association of the Philippines, another industry group, cancelled its general membership meetings “because of the government’s declaration of state of public health emergency.”

On March 4, Starbucks Philippines began serving food and drinks in disposable utensils even when dining in its more than 300 branches. This was in line with a global change in policy where it disallowed the use of personal cups when buying drinks, a measure meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

BDO Unibank Inc., the country’s largest bank with over 1,300 branches as of March 2019, said tellers have started wearing gloves and masks when handling money during transactions. “Health measures and sanitation are in place to keep our branches safe for both our employees and clients,” said Honey Reyes, assistant vice-president for communications.

For PLDT, business travel to areas which are “serious source of infection” had also been prohibited starting this week. “For personal travel, you have to declare and of course, if you proceed, there would be consequences such as you need to be quarantined,” Isberto said.

In Aboitiz Equity Ventures, visitors of their offices in BGC in Taguig City are required to fill up a "mandatory travel history declaration," the company told in a statement. 

Meanwhile, as healthcare supplies fly off the shelves, groceries are also taking safety precaution for their employees who cannot work from home. Apart from shoppers getting their temperature taken, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also present at entrances and key locations.

“Basically, we just implemented the usual measures. There are few people shopping but we do not want to take chances,” said Steven Cua, president of Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association Inc., an industry group.

“But you also don’t want to frighten people. We are not encouraging people to wear mask. It’s business-as-usual. We are very careful not to overplay this thing,” he said in a phone interview.

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