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Changing workplace

By: - Reporter / @neltayao
/ 04:02 AM May 11, 2020

Citibank Makati’s front-liners

Lockdowns are gradually being lifted across the Philippines, which means the resumption of some economic activity. But with companies having tried and tested the efficiency of telecommuting, it begs to ask businesses: Will this kind of setup now be your organization’s “new normal?”

According to the global study “Changing Workplace Dynamics” recently released by Lenovo, which surveyed on March 6 to 12 over 1,000 employees in five markets (United States, China, Japan, Germany and Italy) who are working in large companies (offices in two or more countries), almost 90 percent of such workers are “somewhat ready” to make the shift to working from home (WFH), since the pandemic has already encouraged (46 percent) or required (26 percent) companies to do so.

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Technology and tools

Of the companies with WFH measures in place, more than half (56 percent) have provided employees with the technology and tools they need to telecommute, the study shows.

One local company that has done so is Citibank Philippines; according to the bank, their operations and technology team were able to build over a thousand additional desktops for distribution to employees to enable work from home when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was enforced. Recipients included staff from Citi’s business process outsourcing (BPO) unit, which accounts for their largest employee population in the country.

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“The rise in natural disasters and man-made disruptions, including this pandemic, has forced us to adapt so that we can continue our operations and serve our clients, while also ensuring that all our employees are protected and safe,” says Citi Philippines’ country human resources officer Sarab Singh.

Singh says Citi offices all over the world have been steadily adopting WFH measures, thanks to developments in teleconferencing and telework technology, and the growing popularity of shared workspaces. The pandemic, however, has forced them to increase their number of WFH employees, in order to practice distancing. Having seen how other countries adapted to their own quarantine measures, Singh says a majority of Citibank Philippines’ employees were able to work from home from the first day of the ECQ.

Advertising and communications agency Ogilvy Manila and snack manufacturer Mondelez Philippines have also had ample practice in telecommuting. Lee Cruz, Ogilvy’s human resources director for the Philippines and regional director for talent acquisition in Asia, says the agency’s WFH setup has been in place since 2016; for Mondelez, since 2017. Accor­ding to the latter, such system was “built heavily on open communication, objectivity, proactivity and trust from its workforce.”

“We might not all be physically present in the office, [but] we retain a sense of normalcy in terms of goals, connections and even fun while working from home,” says Shiela Pangilinan, Mondelez Philippines’ human resources business lead.

Ogilvy’s “agile” workplace has allowed staff to choose where they wanted to work, even if that meant working outside the office. Initially, WFH was on a case-by-case basis (e.g. working moms, employees enduring long commutes daily), but this year, staff have been able to incorporate WFH days into their schedules every week. And, of course, with the pandemic, the agency is now WFH full time.

Productivity

“Working in different locations has never been a hindrance to the new way of working, as it has become commonplace to use technology to bring our teams together,” Cruz says. For business leaders wondering about workers’ productivity at home, Lenovo’s research shows that 46 percent of the employees identified as WFH (around 670) said they find themselves just as productive in such setup; 15 percent even said they are more productive at home.

Companies here in the Philippines have found their own ways to engage employees and ensure productivity during the ECQ. At Citibank Philippines, the Mana­ger Connect program ensures that managers are able to stay engaged with their direct reports and their teams throughout the ECQ. The program is a scheduled weekly call, wherein managers check up on the health and well-being of a team member, and entertain not only work-related questions but also any COVID-19-related concerns. They are also able to see to issues that are hampering employees’ productivity, and recommend training sessions or mentoring programs that may be able to help them.

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Work-life separation

But WFH also has its setbacks, and isn’t for everyone, as shown by the Lenovo study. The survey revealed that there are roughly 500 employees who said they choose not to work from home, or feel that they aren’t as productive as they should be when WFH. Distractions are their top challenge: 42 percent of employees in their survey are distracted by TV, phones, and other people as a hindrance to their productivity.

Around a third (32 percent) also cited “work-life separation” as something that’s harder to maintain—because, let’s face it, who hasn’t been interrupted by chores, parenting duties, grocery runs—in a WFH system. Companies like Citibank address the need for that sense of balance through programs like Team Talks, which are instructor-led virtual talks on topics such as “Managing Stress and Maximi­zing Resiliency,” and “Leading Your Teams Through Change.”

At Mondelez, online meetings are made more fun, Pangilinan says, with simple “show your workplace right now” contests.

“We are privileged to be able to continue operations at this time, so that we can provide food to consumers. That’s why we’re making sure our team is equipped and inspired to continue working for the country’s benefit,” she adds.

With distancing still necessary because of health and safety issues, it appears that telecommuting is the new normal for companies, at least in the short term. In a webinar last month, the Ayala Group estimated that around 30 to 40 percent of its workforce would continue WFH under modified quarantine measures; but as to the permanency of such setup, the conglomerate said that remains to be seen.

Even Ogilvy Manila says they are still “learning new things every day from our current truly agile working environment, and what about it can contribute to better productivity and efficiency.” As for Citi, while the company will slowly transition to prepandemic operations once the ECQ is lifted, Singh says “this period has given the firm an opportunity to learn and understand how remote work can best be successfully implemented for business continuity and long-term planning.” INQ

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