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Freeman Cebu Business

Remote work: Gainers and losers

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

Undeniably, remote work became very popular because of the ongoing pandemic. So customary in the USA and other advanced countries decades before the pandemic, it is also embraced by developing countries like ours. In fact, our government is also encouraging remote work or telework. 

To recall, the Telecommuting Act (Republic Act 11165) was enacted way before COVID-19 struck globally. Well, it is not because our health scientists or experts and our lawmakers are good at predicting pandemics. Neither are the secretary and his undersecretaries of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) anticipated it too. It was passed simply because our working mothers (especially the single moms) were asking for it and they truly deserved it. To some extent, the traffic situation in the metropolis also added impetus to the passing of such law.

True enough, countries like the USA are encouraging employers to go for telework or remote work. For instance, even before COVID-19 wreaked havoc, major tech companies in the USA have already considered permanent shifts to virtual workplaces. The decision to shift though was simply hastened by the pandemic.

For one, as early as March last year, Twitter said, it would let its employees work from home permanently. Two days after, Facebook followed suit and announced that “half of its workforce would go virtual over the next decade.” The same is true with Shopify, Dropbox and Microsoft.  Apparently, these are all big tech companies. 

Clearly, with technology so abundant, these companies are downright comfortable with this set-up. Thus, this will surely become permanent. The same is true too in the country.

Surely, this development will have a lasting and positive impact in the workplace (and the companies’ bottomline) and in workers’ and their families’ well-being. For one, in allowing employees to work remotely, office congestion will be avoided. Therefore, should there be another wave of pandemic in the future, physical distancing isn’t impossible. 

Moreover, with a considerable reduction in the number of employees in the workplace, the rented office space can be reduced significantly, thus, improving the companies’ bottomline. More importantly, the employers (whether a tech-company or heavily using technology) can conveniently recruit the best talents anywhere in the country.

Likewise, the employees shall reap some benefits from this set-up too. With so much autonomy and flexibility (with their laptops and gadgets in tow), they can live and work anywhere. They can even save on rent and transportation cost (and cost of living in general), breath cleaner air and enjoy the serenity of their workplaces if they retreat to the countryside.

There are several downsides though as more companies embrace telework or remote work. As the employees’ immediate environment aren’t within the employers’ control, outputs and confidentiality of information will be a big concern. For employees (especially, the married ones with kids), on the other hand, separating work from home life will be a daily struggle. For single employees (without spouses and kids and are living alone), loneliness will be a daily challenge. 

Moreover, younger workers will also miss the benefits of working side by side (physically) with more experienced officemates for guidance. They shall also lose the prospects to network with superiors and mentors. All of which are career-boosting opportunities.

However, these disadvantages are so negligible compared to those who will lose their livelihoods.  With no offices to maintain, janitorial jobs are no longer needed.  If the company has a cafeteria or canteen for their employees, surely, this will also close and all of its workers will be gone forever. If the company has buses for its employees, drivers who shuttle employees from their residences to their places of work will all be gone as well. 

Some businesses are directly impacted too by remote work. Landlords or owners of office spaces, apartments and lodging houses in the metropolis might also financially struggle as they will be left with empty units or rooms when employees retreat to the countryside. Consequently, some of their workers will also take a hit. Likewise, food caterers and their workers will also be badly affected when companies engaging their services (for their employees) will opt for telework.   

The question now is, are we prepared for this eventuality? Or, to put it bluntly, did our lawmakers consider this possibility when they passed the Telecommuting Act?  We doubt. What is certain though is, they need help.

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