This month has seen the country, especially the capital, ease into the new normal with a minimum alert level in place. People are now free to go out, catch up with family and friends, and make up for the lost time that the pandemic took over the last two years. The physical meet-ups and get-togethers are making for the emotional connections affected by the pandemic — something that Zoom cannot 100-percent address — considering how close-knit Filipinos are.
However, most activities in the last two years have transitioned to online, especially those relating to consumer behaviors. Similarly, most of the jobs in the private sector also transitioned or pivoted online to ensure that productivity was not compromised during the pandemic. This transformation of work or how we do business remains in place, with people still working from home and perhaps slowly transitioning to a hybrid setup, if at all, given the new alert level system that the country hopes to sustain.
It came as a surprise to many when the National Economic and Development Authority announced that the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, the largest private sector employer, should “go back to the office” starting April 1, 2022 as doing so would help boost economic recovery. Some resistance expectedly arose, with IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines president Jack Madrid saying that in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the industry was able to generate 23,000 new jobs and grew by 8 percent last year. Revenues also went up by around 12 percent to $28.8 billion last year — this with 60 percent of the industry working remotely in the process.
Part of the resistance also stems from the fact that commuting now costs more given exponential fuel price increases due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. On top of this, going back to work collectively still does not eliminate the risk of getting Covid-19. Simply put, BPO workers prefer to continue working from home because it works.
Tremendous advantages were brought about by working from home (WFH) and Filipinos in general adjusted by ensuring that they had adequate working spaces quiet enough to be productive during working hours. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages of working remotely — witness the productivity achieved by the BPO sector. Other consumer behaviors are similarly adjusted and this can be seen in the dramatic rise of e-commerce. To put it mildly, e-commerce is thriving and businesses who went online have survived. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the number of online retail businesses grew by 80.2 percent last year, improving from 70 percent in 2019. Think about it: most of the daily activities that need to be done can now be conducted online and the last two years have shown us that it works. Without a guarantee that Covid-19 is no longer a threat, people will still be cautious in returning to pre-pandemic ways of going out.
Technology has been a tremendous help in enabling many of us to remain productive, so the general sentiment here is why is there a need to stop working from home? Economic activities have been translated to e-commerce and the government must figure out a way to earn from this thriving sector instead of forcing people to go back to physical offices. President Rodrigo Duterte also signed Republic Act 11165 or the “Telecommuting Act” last December 2019, which means that WFH is supported by law and should in fact be institutionalized.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include food innovation, nation-building and sustainability. The author may be reached at email@example.com.