Why the Need For The ‘Work From Home’ Bill Is Real
Last month, the House of Representatives approved on its second reading House Bill 7402, or Telecommuting Act, which will let private sector employees to work outside the office via “telecommuting.”
While telecommuting is a fairly new word that has confused a number of employees, it’s actually pretty simple. Telecommuting, as defined by the bill, is “a flexible work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.” This means that employees can essentially “work from home,” depending on the needs of their work and their responsibilities.
Freelance work has been popular in the last years, and many of these freelancers rely on only internet and their laptops to get their work done. They can complete different kinds of work wherever they are, whenever they feel like it, as long as they can meet the deadlines and requirements of their employers.
The Telecommuting Act essentially makes this kind of “work from anywhere” setup available to a number of employees who spend their time in office in front of the computers anyway. If there’s no real need to use office supplies or be physically present in the workplace, telecommuting becomes an option.
Telecommuting poses a lot of benefits and challenges, both to employers and employees. But generally, the sentiment has been fairly positive.
Value for employees
Maria Victoria “Avic” Caparas, Ph.D. is a professor and program director of BS Accountancy at the University of Asia & the Pacific-School of Management, and she has spent her years researching and advocating for work-life balance. In her years of study, she has come across telecommuting a number of times as a solution from employees who are looking for a more flexible arrangement and would be more comfortable and productive working closer to their loved ones.
According to Dr. Avic, “Flexibility is key... Create an environment where both men and women can choose where to work and what time to work. Telecommuting or work-from-home programs allow employees to work from a location other than the office, reducing the time, costs, and stress of commuting while lowering the cost of fixed office space.”
Traffic, for example, is one of the key daily problems that will be solved by telecommuting. With more people flocking to the metro to seek jobs, congested train stations, overflowing buses, and an over-crowded EDSA has become a daily occurrence. Because of the traffic and the hassle of commute, people spend hours to and from work, which is time better spent for rest or with their family and friends.
One employee who works in Quezon City says that normally, it should take her 30 minutes from her house to her workplace. But since a bulk of employees follow the usual 8-to-5 schedule, having to commute during rush hour stretches her commute time to at most an hour and a half. Easily, that’s already 3 hours in her day, spent only lined up, waiting, and in transit, crammed with other commuting workers, either soaked from sweat or the rain.
Image by Talk Pinas/Flickr
The Telecommuting Act is also quite thorough in its requirements and emphasizes that the telecommuting program should be offered to employees on a voluntary basis, and that they should be treated the same way office-based workers are treated—with the same compensation, same benefits, same overtime pay and differentials, and same productivity requirements.
A social media manager shares her enthusiasm for the bill, since it would reward her time more professionally than it is currently rewarded with the traditional 8-hour work scheme.
“I work seven hours a day—at the office. But I’m basically working 24/7. I have to always be ready. I have to always be connected to the internet. I have to make sure we have content up in the morning and at night (non-office hours). I have to prepare and upload content, both timeless and time-sensitive, on weekdays and holidays. I’d say that compensation for any work outside of office hours should be obligatory. The work we do on weekdays, holidays, and out of the office in general is technically out of our own good will (and our need to keep our jobs). We don’t get compensated for most of the extra work we do,” she outlines.
Her grievances are just one of the many complaints that employees nowadays are experiencing with the enhanced connectivity that technology affords. Many experience the pressure to answer e-mails and work-related texts even if they’re outside of the office when it’s their boss that’s calling, and many still could not afford to disconnect completely from their workplace even if they’re on leaves or during weekends.
Essentially, the telecommuting bill would be a perfect fit for enabling employees to work remotely when they are able to, but still compensating them for delivering their tasks.
Apart from people who work solely with and on the internet like social media managers, online writers and editors, database officers, and other administrative employees who could get the job done as long as they have an internet and a laptop, Dr. Avic says that the telecommuting bill will greatly afford opportunities to people who are physically unable to go or stay in the workplace for long periods of time.
“Telecommuting is helpful for those people who can be more productive working outside the office and helped by technology. For example, disabled people who can work as call center agents from home, mothers who have infants or elderly to take care of, researchers who do not need to start writing or working once they arrive at an office site because their brains know no location to start churning hypotheses,” she explains.
Value for employers
The same way that the telecommuting bill would be beneficial to workers, it also comes with advantages for employers. In the same idea that there will be less people who have to be housed inside an office space, there will be less resources to be spent by the office, including power, water, and even food and transportation allowances that are sometimes given to commuting employees.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., a lower chamber lawmaker who supports the telecommuting bill, said during ANC’s “Dateline” that the bill is a “win-win situation” for employees and employers. “Employers don't need additional work space, don't need to spend on power...They don't need a new office. They can just hire people who can work from home.”
He also adds that this kind of setup will hopefully push more companies to adopt technological processes, instead of sticking to the paper-heavy processes that are still popular in many old-school companies. “This is innovative and will generate employment. Hopefully, this will digitize work processes in companies.”
While there are a lot of benefits to the new bill, current Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Belo III says that there will still be many hitches to be ironed out, studies to be done, and consultations with the industries and employees to make sure that the process will go smoothly once it’s rolled out to the private sector.
Currently, Rep. Luis is one of the many lawmakers who are looking to fast-track the passing of the bill, and says he will make sure that both houses will tackle the bill once the 17th Congress resumes on July 23. But Dr. Avic warns that “there must be a lot of information or education, so the law will not just ride onto a hype thing.”
Image from Asia CEO Forum
Some of the challenges presented by the telecommuting will be the measurement of output by employers, since the current culture equates productivity with the amount of time an employee spends in the office.
According to Dr. Avic, “What telecommuting is not is a privilege on demand that can be availed of by any worker. Why? Because such an arrangement is a negotiated deal. If the company agrees, then there must be an agreement of the work outputs, delivery time, time tracking for the sake of the rationalization of the salary given, as well as measurement of business costs and benefits of telecommuting, and individual availability to come to the office whenever needed by the team or department. It would not be fair for other people working in the office site if there is no comparable way to measure performance in relation to the telecommuters.”
But remedying these challenges would be easy as long as “the lawmakers could put more teeth into the law by providing funding for research and communication as to the benefits, effects, and SWOT analysis,” Dr. Avic adds.
In the long run, anyway, the telecommuting bill will present great benefits to a continuously evolving country and metro. As long as lawmakers draft the bill with wisdom, with guidance and consultation from industries and workers that could be involved, and that ample research and testing will be done, telecommuting could be a smooth-sailing reality in the near future.