MAKE WORK-FROM-HOME WORK


Two weeks into the lockdown or, depending on your precise location, the Enhanced Community Quarantine, Extremely Enhanced Community Quarantine or 24-Hour Curfew, those of us lucky enough to still have work should be realizing that working from home has become that most hackneyed thing: the new normal. It’s also one of the few good things to come out of the great novel coronavirus pandemic. The benefits are obvious. Aside from helping protect the health of workers and slow the spread of COVID-19 in general, work from home arrangements save people from spending half their lives in traffic. That in turn leaves more quality time for the family and more energy to focus on work. Working from home also means less money spent on office clothes and lunches, less time wasted unnecessarily making chika with the people at the office that you don’t really like, and the absolute elimination of any need at all to donate blood every time the do-gooders from Human Resources bring in the Red Cross. Come to think of it, going to an office and slaving away at a desk is such a 19th century convention. Remote work should put us firmly in the new millennium. Plus, in China the lockdown has had the fortuitous consequence of improving air quality over major cities. Telecommuting can do that for Manila, too. Seriously, the benefits are manifold and obvious. To maximize these benefits—and hopefully keep getting these benefits even after the lockdown is finally lifted—we need to ensure that worker productivity doesn’t go down because of work from home policies. Every other hard-nosed old-school boss believes that these schemes are licenses to goof off, malinger and procrastinate. Open-minded, all-too-trusting leaders, on the other hand, probably authorized telecommuting without setting up the prerequisite conditions for its success. As a long-time social distancing expert (I do not hug, beso or fist-bump and prefer to work via email) and as an early retiree who has been working from home and nearby coffee shops for over five years, I would like to offer my two centavos’ worth of suggestions to, as the title says, make WFH work. What Bosses Should Do (This is serious stuff, but if you are a happy worker bee, you can skip it.) First, immediately issue a clear WFH policy that represents your HR philosophy and deals with the peculiarities of your business. You don’t want to tell people to stay home, stay in touch, and even teleconference from time to time, and then suddenly say they’re using their paid vacation leave or, worse, not going to be paid at all because you had no way to know if they were actually working at home. You might want to consider requiring regular digital check-ins, work-in-progress (WIP) lists, and online call reports. By the way, read Republic Act No. 11165 and the various Department Orders and Labor Advisories issued by the Department of Labor and Employment. These are relatively new laws and regulations; hence nobody truly knows what they mean yet, but you can get your friendly neighborhood lawyer-man to pretend to explain them to you. Second, standardize your email, messaging. to-do, calendar and video-conferencing apps across the company. This will temporarily piss off those employees who will be forced to adjust to unfamiliar apps, but they will come to love you in the end. How many times have you scrolled through Facebook Messenger, Viber threads, Whatsapp chats and what-have-you whatchamacallits trying to find the all-important venue for a drinking session, only to find out later that the crucial information was sent via fricking Telegram? Put this situation in a business context with profit and loss consequences and multiply by the number of employees working from home, and you will quickly see the need for standard channels and modes of communication. Third, subsidize your employees’ home wifi set-up. I can hear the Finance managers vigorously objecting to this one, but I honestly believe it’s the way to go. The hard reality is that many of your valuable employees cannot afford a 100 mbps fiber connection. Remember that WFH covers, not only the big bosses, but entry-level employees and first-line managers as well. If you share presentation decks and videos back and forth—who doesn’t these days?—then every member of every team has to have robust high-speed internet access. Not just in bursts, but all day. Otherwise, everyone will just end up spending their days plotting bloody murder while waiting for attachments to trickle in drip by drip. PLDT, Globe, Sky Cable and Converge are all offering fiber plans at around P1,000/month, and we’re only talking about a subsidy here. Small potatoes for the company, especially considering the many very obvious benefits. What Employees Can Do To Be More Productive At Home 1. Take a shower on schedule to start your workday. I know you think WFH means waking up late and working in pajamas, but if you don’t set off your work hours in some regular way every morning, you will tend to stay in bed or climb right back into bed, and before you know it the day is lost. I know. I have lost many days this way. True, you can also kickstart your day with something else like, say, a hearty, energizing breakfast, but a shower has the added benefit of forcing you to put on a fresh set of pambahay. Clean clothes signal your body to start doing something useful. Tapsilog tells you to rub your stomach. 2. Do not work in bed. Set up a “home office” which is essentially a place to rest your laptop that is not your lap or stomach. To be productive you need to be reasonably comfortable, yet not so comfortable that you fall asleep every ten minutes. If your house does not have a west wing with a library, surely you have some kind of dining table. Always choose the dining table rather than the coffee table. Your back may not ache now, but it will. If you do not live alone, you must heed Gibran’s admonition to “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” If your roommate is your wife, this is not just about your productivity, but about your life expectancy. 3. Keep snacks within easy reach. For reasons perhaps having to do with evolutionary psychology, people feel entitled to eat while working at home. If you don’t keep food in your work space, you will be constantly breaking off, standing up and walking over to get something to munch on. Also, I strongly suggest that you keep a micro fiber cloth and small paint brush on hand to wipe the oil and remove the crumbs from your keyboard. The best snacks are chips, then chocolate, then chips, then chocolate, then chips, and so on and so forth. 4. Save all your quick little errands, chores and nice-to-be-able-to-do things for the weekend. One of the misconceptions about WFH is that you will have the time for those things you never had time for before, like organizing your socks or taking a 30-minute Netflix break. What you think will take less than hour will eat up half a day, guaranteed. I’d like to say that you can squeeze in a few minutes of physical exercise—especially because of #3 above—but that is not my experience. 5. Shut down. Back in the old days, even the workaholics forced themselves to stop working at some point because they still had to commute home. Over the past two weeks, however, I’ve heard several people say they’re putting in more hours of work at home because they never have to knock off. That’s great productivity. Over the short term! It can’t be maintained over the long haul. You need to have some down time. Therefore, unless you work from home as an online macho dancer, at 5:00 p.m. each day, close your laptop, set aside your phone, and enjoy the beautiful summer. The skies are bluer than they have been for decades, the sunlight is as bright and hopeful as a graduation day, and the cool breezes carry the memories of mountains and beaches we might not see for months . . . Even as we speak of WFH as the new normal, we also often hear the cliché: This too shall pass. The truth is I miss making chika face to face with officemates; despite my facility with Zoom, I wish I could go to a few in-person meetings; and I desperately need a long lunch over crispy pata and garlic rice. Someday the bans and restrictions will be lifted, and hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go. Back to the offices. That will be nice. But I hope that WFH won’t go away with the virus. ###


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© 2020 by Dan Albert S. de Padua

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