OPINION: Working From Home… Is It Sustainable For The Philippines?
As a digital editor, I thought working from home would not be much of an adjustment, procedurally-speaking. As the nature of maintaining online platforms has made me privy to tech-forward protocols and workflows, remote working seemed very doable.
As we all know, the National Capital Region of the Philippines has been declared under lockdown 'til April 14, 2020. Strict community quarantine measures have been placed and our daily routines have seen drastic changes in pace and in nature.
Working from home has become the norm for many. The question now arises: is this a proverbial dry-run for a remote working future? Is the Philippines equipped for this and can we even sustain it?
In an article entitled, Bypassing Industrial Development¹, scholar EV Batalla notes that the Philippines is a nation that is ‘consumer-driven; service-oriented’. With an imposed lockdown on most businesses, the paradigm has shifted overnight — a bulk of work has now migrated to the digital sphere.
Our orientation towards service has never been more apparent. With health workers, food industry workforce, and utility personnel now holding our nation together, it has become evident how much we are in need of stronger systems and greater manpower in these sectors.
Working from home is a luxury for those not in the front lines. Its sustainability and efficacy now come to the fore — those hours-long meetings, could they really have been e-mails? There are obvious merits to this structure. Teleconferences cut out the potential for time-consuming pleasantries, as its impersonal format lends itself to a business-forward decorum. Online monitoring systems lend an ease to managerial grunt work. Communication can be streamlined and paper trails more important than ever. And perhaps the biggest advantage to working from home in Metro Manila is avoiding the excruciating traffic and time lost to long commutes going to the office.
According to Workplace Insight, many industries naturally benefit from remote working. Top of the list are Information Technology, Marketing, App Development, and Shopping. These sectors observe an unsurprising increase in productivity as the internet is able to connect people from across the globe. There is also a large potential to decrease overhead costs like rent, equipment purchases, and electricity.
What now are the cons to this set-up? According to an article by Kathleen Farell under the Technological University Dublin journal, she notes that working from home is a double-edged sword. In this paper she contrasts the benefits and struggles of this arrangement. Productivity is always taken into question. When at home, one is inevitably burdened to perform dual roles— as a member of a household and as part of a company’s staff. The challenge is double and for some, unnecessary. However, this may be seen in the opposite. Perhaps when working from home, there is a better chance to achieve a once elusive ‘work-life balance’.
According to Speedtest's Global Index, the Philippines clocks in with an average download speed of 31.48Mbps. To compare, the United States registers an average of 137.34Mbps and France at 139.95Mbps. The sustainability of a work-from-home set-up may be feasible but if we consider connection speeds and the fact that we’re a mobile-forward country, I have my doubts as to its considerable efficacy.
If we once again reflect on Batalla's economic model, our service and manpower bears the brunt of the financial growth and fiscal security of the country. Taking this into consideration, it may be safe to say that although there is a strong possibility for remote-working, and in fact, it may be considered as the future by many, we simply aren’t there yet.
The biggest ramification of working from home is the dilution of human relationships as it is constantly mediated through a screen. As it stands, human interaction still takes precedence for many of the industries we rely on economically; in fact, we have yet to fully-automate many public facilities and records.
For now, many of us have the burden of adjusting to remote working. It’s the digital dry-run or feasibility study no one asked for. Still, working from home is a privilege not everyone shares and I can't help but be truly thankful. Such an arrangement is a blessing and a curse, depending on one's context. Some sectors have already been benefiting from this model for years and others have yet to try it out. At the end of the day, it will depend on a lot of factors, including but not limited to technological advancements, private sector capabilities, economic environment, and even legislation.
As for me, digital work may not be a foreign concept, but losing out on everyday interactions with my co-workers is. Working from home has infinite merits, yet the current situation suggests that computer-mediated communications might not be enough— at least for now.