What firms should consider before bringing workers back to the office
WHEN IT COMES to whether employees should return to the office post-pandemic, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Each company should consider the company’s work culture as well as the nature of each individual’s work — including their personal circumstances, said Tracy G. Ignacio, chief operating officer of KMC Solutions, in a recent webinar organized by BusinessWorld.
“The answer here is a hybrid setup, where there are days you are on Zoom, and days where you are at the office with the purpose of collaboration,” Ms. Ignacio said.
The flexible workspace provider has a “Home-Hub-HQ” workplace strategy that gives employees and clients the choice to work from home (WFH), the office, or the KMC facility nearest them. “It’s now time to arm ourselves with the right tools to get out there and start living already,” she said, referring to the 14 months that the Philippines has spent under lockdown of varying degrees.
Meanwhile BusinessWorld columnist Bienvenido “Nonoy” S. Oplas, Jr., founder and president of free-market think tank Minimal Government Thinkers, supported returning to the office and the lifting quarantine restrictions.
“For those who are confident enough because they have attained natural herd immunity (especially the young), or have been vaccinated, or have had effective prophylaxis and early treatment drugs, government should not impose more mobility restrictions,” he said, citing the negative impact of restrictions on the economy.
Through an informal survey of nine firms, Mr. Oplas found arguments in favor and against working from home. Among the WFH advantages mentioned were shorter commutes, personal safety, and minimal utility expenses. The loss of human contact and emotional stress, meanwhile, were indicated as some of its pitfalls.
Given that digital exhaustion is a reality for a lot of workers at this point, leaders have to also lead with empathy and ensure that meaningful collaboration is still taking place despite the changes.
“Working from home has turned from a luxury to a necessity,” said Alexander B. Cabrera, chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Philippines, adding that mental wellness is the most critical issue in the work-from-home setup. “There is a disconnect in terms of social interaction.”
Like KMC’s Ms. Ignacio, Mr. Cabrera suggested a hybrid work setup moving forward, as well as addressing digital exhaustion by enacting policies that respect people’s time, which includes being mindful of regular breaks.
Prior to the pandemic, Mondelez Philippines was already allowing employees to work from home one to two days a week. The multinational confectionery, beverage, and snack food company has a “flexible working pledge” that guides people on how to work in a flexible environment and remain productive.
“The type of support that’s provided to employees is a leadership decision,” said Aileen S. Aumentado, people lead of Mondelez Philippines. “There are many ways offices can support employees, whether it’s transportation allowance that can be offset as an additional cost for [home internet] connectivity, or allowing office chairs to be loaned to employees [for their home offices].”
Remote work arrangements should not stop companies from delivering results, Ms. Aumentado added. “Leaders should have the right mindset in terms of engaging people to collaborate and work together.”
Everyone is learning something new every day in this pandemic, according to PwC’s Mr. Cabrera. “Post-pandemic, it’s going to be a network of working from anywhere, supported by digital transformation… Common working spaces will also be necessary to develop company culture and stronger relationships,” he said. — Patricia B. Mirasol