Should we go back to the office?
That is the title of the BusinessWorld Insights online forum series today, May 25. My position on this issue is “Yes, we should be returning to the office very soon.” I have three reasons and they are supported in the tables and the summary of the various experiences of the company below.
First, foreclosure and indefinite stay-at-home orders that affect even many young and healthy people are anti-growth. Among the world’s 50 largest economies in 2020, the Philippines was the 4e worst performer. And in the first quarter of 2021, of the 34 of these top 50 countries that reported their GDP at the time of writing, the Philippines is again the 4th worst performer, behind the UK, Portugal and Spain. . (see Table 1).
Two of the Philippine industries most affected are those that involve face-to-face customer relationships, such as hotels and restaurants, shopping malls and office / residential buildings, and public transportation, especially provincial buses. . Construction is affected by strict lockdowns and mobility restrictions like checkpoints between province and city limits (see table 2).
Third, working from home (WFH) and remote offices cannot be a single model for all industries and sectors, even for those where remote working is theoretically possible. Slow internet connection in many homes (unlike offices) and regular power cuts in some provinces are some of the factors that make WFH not ideal for flawless work.
As one of the speakers at the BusinessWorld Insights event, I asked friends to share their business experiences with me, some of which I have summarized below are some interesting results. Only Norconsult Management Services (NMS) Philippines and Protégé Communications (a public relations company) have agreed to disclose their company name, the others want to remain private. Thank you my friends.
Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a physical setting versus working remotely?
Physical placement: Advantage – coordination is easier, most equipment is located in the office, including printers, computer servers; conversations / meetings seem more human. Disadvantage – fear of exposure to the virus, stress is amplified and erodes staff productivity.
WFH: Advantage – safe, time saving, no preparation / preparation for going to the office, traveling. Disadvantage – breaks between jobs seem to be totally forgotten; you end up sitting all day in front of the computer working or attending Zooms.
2. PROTECT COMMUNICATIONS
WFH: Advantages – not having to wake up at 5 am for a meeting at 9 am; many face-to-face meetings can actually be covered by email. Disadvantages – loss of human contact; you can’t email a firm handshake or congratulate an employee on a job well done.
3. LAW OFFICE
WFH: Benefits – Less time wasted on the road / traffic; personal interaction and networking maintained. Cons – delivery of justice at its worst; court hearings last year fell by 80 to 90%. This year the system is slowly improving.
4. AUDIT FIRM
WFH: Advantages – safe; provincial staff no longer rent rooms in Makati; minimize the rent and utility of office space; 24/7 staff availability, can answer emails even late at night. Disadvantages – additional cost to cover staff communications and electricity; emotional stress, thin line between work and personal life, they feel exhausted; power cuts occur regularly in some areas of Luzon and affect work; staff lack a sense of corporate identity due to minimal attendance at corporate meetings; laptop life tends to be short, no air conditioning at home, extra cost to buy new laptops.
5. ENERGY COMPANY
WFH: Benefits – communications, interactions, meetings, events, interviews or any other type of connection changed to Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Streamyard, FB Live, etc. Allowed for longer working hours, increased productivity and more instant results as stressful commute / traffic is gone. Everyone was accessible all the time now. Disadvantages – Less human interaction affects team dynamics; weak internet signal at home affecting productivity.
6. FOOD RETAIL CHAIN
WFH: Advantages – remote supervision of business; initially resulted in poor engagement and more failures, could also be caused by general stress of getting sick, fear of store closings. Cons – Face shields and face masks wear out employees making them error prone, adjusted later. From now on, nobody fears the virus, but especially unemployment problems.
7. POPCORN CHAIN
Physical placement: Advantages – Set the hours of physical presence; easy communication thanks to a centralized location, access to files; easy access for customers and affiliates; easy shipping and delivery of the customer order; easy and faster delivery receipt of raw materials from suppliers. Disadvantages – traffic, time and fuel consumed; risk of viral contamination.
WFH: Benefits – flexible hours and mobility; no dress restrictions; virus free; less (physical) pressure from the boss and co-workers. Disadvantages – Less communication between management and colleagues; increase in the utility bill; temptation to slack off, home / family distraction.
8. SAVINGS BANK
Physical placement: Advantages – On-site reports. Disadvantages – semblance of normalcy, but a year after the pandemic, on-site reports have become abnormal; lost good people to companies with full agreements with the WFH.
WFH: Benefits – allows employees to report to the nearest branch; saves travel time. Disadvantages – Need more space and connectivity provisions in telecommuting branches.
9. HOTEL WITH OPLAN KALINGA CONTRACT FOR THE RETURN OF OFWS
Employees would prefer Home use (free hotel accommodation) than WFH or work remotely. Benefits – employees are more comfortable and trust hotel security protocols; poor connectivity at home; eliminates the stress associated with the movements and contraction of the virus.
The decision to return to the office and revert to the old normal ultimately rests with businesses and individuals themselves. For those who are confident enough because they have achieved natural herd immunity (especially the young), or have been vaccinated, or have effective prophylaxis and early treatment drugs, the government should not impose more mobility restrictions and lift strict and indefinite lockdowns.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers