New work environment

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

My daughter, who is a marketing communications executive in a personal finance company, is working from home. My son-in-law, who works in a company that produces games, also works from home.

Their companies have headquarters in the Bay Area and they are living in a Denver suburb. Before the pandemic, my daughter used to drive to the downtown Denver office of her company. Now, her company is subleasing their office space. A survey indicated that a large majority of staff want to continue working from home.

It looks like the workplace solution that the pandemic brought about is here to stay. There may be modifications or hybrid models depending on a company’s requirements, but working from home is now an option for many.

“The days of the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday workweek, those are gone,” an HR executive told The Washington Post.

Working from home enables people, at least in major US cities, to avoid rush hour traffic. It also allows mothers, like my daughter, to personally supervise the nanny taking care of her year old son.

One other benefit of remote working is that companies are able to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where they live. My daughter recently hired an assistant who works out of Utah while she is in Colorado, and many of her colleagues are in California and elsewhere.

I am not sure if we can replicate the US experience, primarily because we do not have the world class broadband infrastructure and service that is a primary requirement for working from home. While the pandemic is still keeping most of our office workers at home, I wonder if this will be a permanent option once we lick the virus.

According to Joey Bondoc, Colliers head of research, a macroeconomic rebound will produce pent-up demand for office space. He calls it the great return in the office sector.

While citing a two percent increase in uptake of demand in the first nine months last year, he also noted that some occupiers continue to vacate office space in Metro Manila.

Colliers retained its vacancy forecast of 15.6 percent by the end of 2021. But hopeful as ever, Colliers sees “improvement in business sentiment in the next 12 months, complemented by greater vaccination rates, will likely lead to potential rebound in office space absorption in 2022.”

However, if building owners want to attract tenants, Colliers says they will have to future-proof office towers.

“In our view, there will likely be a heightened preference for sustainable buildings that provide natural lighting and optimize air quality, among other features.”

I wonder if Colliers and the other property consultants are just whistling in the dark. Our broadband quality and availability will only get better, keeping the option of working from home on the table.

“Nearly two years after millions of Americans became abruptly acquainted with Zoom, questions about what the post-pandemic office will look like can be answered with a quick look around: It’s already here,” The Post observed in an article last week.

The Post continues: “The case for the functionality of remote work has largely been settled: The wheels of productivity continued to hum on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, and other corporate strongholds – even as their sprawling offices lay vacant. Employees stayed home and learned how to live at work. And throughout 2021, profits rolled in.”

Actually corporate leaders have no choice. Remote working has taken root. As in the case of my daughter, by moving to Colorado from the Bay Area, she effectively got a good raise due to lower taxes alone. And working from home helped her adjust to her role as a new mother.

At best, some companies are trying to convince their employees to accept a hybrid model that provides some days of work in the office. But with a tight labor market and more than 10 million job openings, the employees have the upper hand.

As it is, American workers are leaving jobs at record rates – a phenomenon economists have dubbed the Great Resignation. Executives have no choice but to listen to employee calls for flexibility. About 55 percent of remote workers would consider quitting if their companies tried to force their return to offices, according to research this month from Morning Consult, The Post reports.

Remote working is probably not too bad for companies. Some employers noted they are able to improve productivity from employees no longer concerned about long commute times. Lower real estate and operating costs are added benefits.

But there is a downside to remote work. With no person-to-person interactions that shape company culture, there is no sense of corporate citizenship. Collaborative work among staff is also more difficult to do via Zoom.

Mentorship needed to develop promising employees is also not possible. This worry is particularly acute in investment banks, consulting firms, and sales organizations.

The chief executive of Ladders, a jobs site for positions that pay more than $100,000 told The Post that: “Remote is permanent. It’s here to stay, it’s accelerating, and it’s the largest change to American living and working arrangements since World War II.”

Data collected by Ladders indicate that, “three million professional jobs went permanently remote in the fourth quarter of 2021. By the end of 2021, 18 percent of all professional jobs were remote. Ladders projects that number will be close to 25 percent by the end of 2022.”

Still, some white collar workers are uneasy about what they call the “Zoom mullet” or the practice of dressing up above the waist while wearing sweatpants and slippers outside the screen’s frame.

Some call it the perfect pandemic attire. Research showed “a shift to more casual dress could help simplify things for employees juggling multiple roles and level the playing field for disadvantaged groups. Ultimately, it benefits the employer and the employee.”

Working from home certainly provides productivity boosts for many of our office workers in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu by eliminating their hours-long commute. It could take root here if our broadband connectivity improves dramatically. It could help decongest Metro Manila very quickly.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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