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Will I Get Called Back to the Office? Here's What Your Boss Thinks

Is WFH permanent?
by Arianne Merez
Sep 20, 2021
Photo/s: Shutterstock

After more than a year of endless Zoom calls, sharing screens, and virtual workspaces, the 8-5 pre-pandemic  grind seems obsolete for many office workers.

In year two of COVID-19, work from home seems permanent -- at least in the near future until surges are tamed enough for people to congregate in some way.

So what's next for companies and employees who want to thrive in the next few years? It's adjusting to the idea of "living with COVID-19," said Philip Gioca, country manager of JobStreet Philippines.

"The biggest shift is to provide a suitable working arrangement... with the objective for the company that operations continue and more importantly, on the employee side, to check how engaged they are," he told reportr in a video call.

"The top priority is to make sure that each and every employee is engaged because you don't see them, there's no visibility in the office," he said.

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It took most Philippine companies around six to nine months to adjust their operations to a work-from-home setup according to JobStreet.

At Ayala Corp, a “Healthy Workforce, Healthy Workplace” protocol was established for employee protection that includes guidelines for employees working remotely, and essential workers who needed to be physically present at work.

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"Keeping our employees safe while carrying out work responsibilities, even while working remotely, was crucial," Ayala Corporation’s Chief Human Resources Officer John Philip Orbeta told reportr.

For the SM Group, flexible work arrangements were offered to employees who can work from home.

"SM equipped its people to work safely and seamlessly through digitization, automation, connectivity, remote access, dedicated virtual conferencing facilities, and enabled online approvals," SM Investments Corp said in an email reply to queries from reportr.

For PLDT and its subsidiary Smart Communications, work-from-home was also the norm coupled with digital employee engagement programs.

"Running a digital, holistic wellness program that nurtures our minds and bodies, enables our workforce to proactively adapt, and thrive,” PLDT and Smart Chief People Officer Gina Ordoñez said.

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What jobseekers are looking for

Ayala Corporation's Chief Human Resources Officer John Philip Orbeta joined Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and President & CEO Fernando Zobel de Ayala in visiting Ayala Group's facilities and business units during the first months of the pandemic. Photo shows the three with AC Health President & CEO Paolo Borromeo while visiting Healthway Philippines Multispecialty Clinic in Greenbelt 5, which remains open today for consultation, diagnostics, and pharma services. Handout
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With massive layoffs, salary cuts, and unconventional work setups reported in several companies during the pandemic, JobStreet's Gioca said Filipino jobseekers'--mostly young millennials and Gen Zs--priorities in terms of employment also shifted from high salaries, job location, and job titles to health benefits, flexibility, and job security.

Jobseekers are looking for healthcare plans on the first day of the job -- a benefit rarely offered to probationary employees, said Gioca.

Flexibility in terms of work arrangements such as having the tools to be able to work from home, and shuttle services if needed to report to the office were also top of mind for Filipinos, he said.

Other important factors for millennial and Gen Z workers? Mental health benefits and a good virtual relationship with the boss and colleagues since creating rapport is more difficult without seeing each other in person.

"That is one of the key priorities of HR (Human Resources) and the company now, that's why many employee engagement activities are being done. It's not just to engage and monitor, it's really to make sure that you are mentally okay," Gioca said.

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Aside from keeping employees physically healthy, Gioca said many Philippine companies have invested more in mental health programs and tools for their employees.

PLDT  for instance partnered with professional counselors to provide its employees with mental health services.

"We also want to alleviate their anxieties during this difficult time by providing them with mental wellness webinars as well as access to free professional counseling. These are all essential as self-care contributes to one's overall health and wellbeing,” said PLDT's Ordoñez.

Aside from therapy sessions offered to employees, Ayala Corp said it also rolls out non-work-related employee group activities that "enable employees to keep the spirit of connectedness and camaraderie with colleagues even when not physically together," said Orbeta.

These include virtual cooking workshops, fitness sessions, quiz nights, and even 30-minute coffee breaks.

Vaccine benefits have been a norm for almost all major corporations in the Philippines including Ayala, SM, and PLDT.

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Hybrid work is the future


Despite vaccines becoming more available to Filipinos and efforts to further reopen the economy, a full return to the office is far-fetched for many companies according to Jobstreet's Gioca.

"The better arrangement is the flexible work arrangement so there will be times when you can go to the office when it's safe and necessary, and you'll have the ability to stay home to continue working from home," he said, noting that a permanent work-from-home setup can also lead to fatigue.

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The shift to a hybrid work model--one that allows a certain level of flexibility--can be dubbed as the "great reshuffle" according to LinkedIn as companies could use the opportunity to rewrite playbooks and improve workplace cultures.

"As the world of work changes, we all have an opportunity to rewrite our playbooks when it comes to hiring, retaining, and engaging talent and to focus on what employees want: flexibility, compassion, and trust," LinkedIn said.

Over half of companies worldwide at 51% according to LinkedIn say that offering hybrid, remote, and flexible working options is the way their companies will operate going forward.

"Companies are rethinking their working models, cultures, and company values. And as they do, they’re realizing that hybrid work is increasingly a permanent part of the picture," LinkedIn said.

The shift is happening in the Philippines. Ayala Corp for instance is looking at "varying degrees of a hybrid onsite-offsite workplace across business units," said Orbeta.

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"As more employees and family members within their households get vaccinated, the group will slowly move towards a phased approach on work arrangement—from full work-from-home to essential access to voluntary access to the workplace," he said.

SM, for its part, said it would "continue to adapt and be flexible."

"[SM] will opt to work in ways deemed best for its employees, clients, stakeholders, and business requirements to ensure the safety and health of all," SM Investments said.

But what's clear so far is that it might take a while before workers can go back to the office so it might be the time to invest in that office chair you've been eyeing.

"Definitely, I don't see in the next two to three years that we will be in the office because it's just too unpredictable," JobStreet's Gioca said.

"Companies and staff should also be accepting the fact of this situation we have that we can continue the work but with a certain restraint on productivity because that's just the way it is," he added.

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