Remote work may be here to stay, even after the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses, that much is a given. In the Philippines, both the public and private sectors are forced to adjust to weather the pandemic storm. This means a shift to telecommuting, where an employee performs their job outside the office, allowing them to perform their duties even with community quarantines in place.

With the coronavirus playing the long game, it’s also worth exploring what this means for work, in general, so you can better navigate these interesting times.

Working from home in the Philippines

For many industries, the coronavirus has become an experiment in telecommuting and remote work. A study made by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, revealed that nearly half of workers in the U.S. are now working from home—twice as many people compared to three years ago.

Locally, businesses have followed suit. A global report, which includes the Philippines, says that nearly half of all workers have been encouraged to work from home in an effort to reduce the risk of infection. The report also reveals that over 75% of workers are more open to working remotely after the pandemic.

For its part, the Philippine government is starting to invest in technology to allow its workers to work from home. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) recently launched Work From Home, which contains resources for government employees to help them navigate remote work and learning. In a statement, the department also said that the Work from Home website also features various telecommuting software for video conferencing, document processing, e-mail, and digital certificates.

Then there’s Republic Act 11165, otherwise known as the Telecommuting Act, the country’s first piece of legislation that recognizes “working from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.” Under the Telecommuting Act, employers may offer a voluntary “telecommuting program” to employees looking to work outside the office, provided both parties adhere to principles of fair treatment and data privacy. This means employees under the telecommuting program should have the same rights and privileges as those who work on-site and that they should commit to protecting valuable data and information, even while working remotely.

Early this month, a bill was filed at the Senate to amend the Telecommuting Law to provide ₱1,000 for employees working remotely, which will be used to cover for utility expenses.

This, however, comes with limitations. For one, the law only covers work that can be done with using telecommunication and computers, effectively excluding purely manual laborers.

In a January 2018 report from the Philippine Statistics Authority, over 25.6% of workers in the Philippines fall under “elementary occupations,” that is, jobs that involve considerable physical effort, while 13.5% work in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.

The future of remote work

The coronavirus hasn’t just infected over 16 million people worldwide (and caused more than 657,000 deaths), according to data from Johns Hopkins University, it’s also changed how people do work. While it has crushed brick-and-mortar businesses, it’s been beneficial for online businesses, especially in the Philippines. A recent report by Hootsuite and We Are Social revealed a 23% increase in online shopping activity, as well as a 64% increase in time spent on social media.

Experts predict that telecommute—and remote work, in general—will be here to stay. More companies are looking to a future where their people will report to work using a computer. On Monday, Google became the first major company to allow remote work arrangements until July 2021, a move that will affect its 200,000 employees.

“I know it hasn’t been easy,” wrote CEO Sundar Pichai, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first broke the news. “I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months.”

Siemens, one of the largest industrial manufacturers in Europe, has also announced that its employees can work remotely on certain days under its new normal working model.

Indeed, COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. With remote work looking to stay long after the pandemic, it’s high time for us to do what we can to improve productivity and allow us to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Ralph Gurango

explainer | newsman | jrpg adventurer

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