The government is slowly getting things done about remote work, with at least three agencies releasing orders or guidelines related to expanding the work-from-home (WFH) scheme during this time of the ‘new normal.’
However, the widespread adoption of remote work, even in government itself, still needs to be promoted and championed.
Mid-last month, Labor Sec. Bienvenido Laguesma signed Department Order 237 on the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 11165 or the Telecommuting Law.
The new rules mainly involve putting WFH on par with working onsite regarding labor and employment standards.
Remote or ‘alternative workplaces’ have been identified as not just one’s home but other locations where one may work using telecom technology, such as co-working spaces.
In effect, one may work anywhere there is internet access, such as a café, park, or other space conducive to work.
Also, work performed at alternative workplaces shall be considered as work at the employer’s regular workplace.
Also last month, the Philippine Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) passed a resolution allowing information technology and business process management or business process outsourcing (IT-BPM/BPO) firms in economic zones to adopt up to a 100 percent remote work setup and still enjoy tax incentives.
The firms can do this by shifting their registration from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) to the Board of Investments (BOI).
This resolution was welcomed by the IT-BPM/BPO firms, which had been telling the government, since it started compelling them to return to offices (that they had given up during the lockdowns), that workers would rather resign than return to work onsite.
This is a stand mirrored globally and called in the US “The Great Resignation.” Workers have gotten used to the benefits of WFH and are loath to give them up.
Meanwhile, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) issued last June their Memorandum Circular 2022-6 that allows government agencies to implement alternative work arrangements for some 1.7 million civil servants regardless of their appointment status, whether regular, contract-of-service, contractual, or other.
But public servants everywhere cannot all rejoice because it is still left to any particular government agency to see what setup works best for it.
Thus, depending on where one works, one may still be compelled to report onsite even if there is no rational need.
This policy took the CSC an entire TWO years to finalize after the pandemic.
During that period, many government employees unnecessarily suffered the travails of commuting on terrible public transportation amid horrible traffic.
I suppose we should still be grateful because the CSC didn’t take longer than that.
More responsive laws and rules like these are always welcome, particularly in this instance where remote work is the best option for people to maximize the use of their salaries that haven’t grown in proportion to inflation’s escalation.
A recent JobStreet survey showed that almost half – 49 percent — of the 15,178 Filipino respondents surveyed prefer to work completely remote five days a week, much higher than the global figure of 24 percent.
Meanwhile, nearly half – 48 percent — of Filipinos are open to working on a hybrid arrangement of offsite/onsite, a figure also much higher than the global average.
Even some students, particularly graduate students, do not wish to return to onsite classes anymore and prefer online classes.
They are tired from working the entire workweek and weekends are their chance to rest. Being able to attend class while safe and comfortable at home will make them more motivated to continue their graduate coursework.
They will also be able to save on transportation and food, savings they can use for tuition instead.
Undergraduates who prefer onsite classes for the “college experience” (as one student told me) will benefit from having several days a week online to save on expenses.
Public and private employers must understand and adapt to the fact that more and more people prefer to work from home all or most days of the week.
Employers in any industry that insist on a return to physical offices may risk losing their best people, or not being able to hire the best people for the job.
It is stupid and unkind to compel people who don’t have to work onsite — those who are not frontliners, lineworkers, or in client-facing service jobs – to commute to work daily just to jumpstart the economy.
Throughout history, various types of businesses have risen and fallen as technology drives change.
Are we insisting that we still keep carretela businesses around even if we have cars?
Right now, it’s landlords and real estate companies that are pushing the return to onsite. But this is not the shape of the economy anymore.
People are feeling the crunch in their budgets caused by high inflation and rising fuel and food prices.
Their health and patience are taxed by increasingly snarled traffic and poor (and costly) public transportation, while their salaries remain the same and are not getting any higher to cope with these changes.
WFH for those who can and should is the only setup that makes sense.
(* * Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. She is an advocate for the widespread adoption and normalization of remote work. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO)