What telecommuting requires

The traffic that plagues Metro Manila is part of the average worker’s daily struggle. Whether you’re in a car, bus, or jeepney, the journey to your designated business district is one that has to deal with the repercussions of an ever-growing metropolis: congestion.

It's costing the Philippines P2.4 billion a day, according to Catanduanes Representative Cesar Sarmiento, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, who spoke at a recent summit organized by the Department of Information and Communications Technology. There he spoke of the bill the committee is preparing to address the traffic crisis, which will focus on 3 areas: Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao.

Some of the solutions he presented include the designation of a traffic chief who will coordinate and lay down a traffic management plan and a traffic impact plan; a "route rationalization" program; and an overhaul of driver’s education, qualifications and examinations in the Philippines. 

One key pillar, he said, was telecommuting or the work arrangement between an employer and an employee that allows the employee to clock in hours without stepping into the office. Most people refer to it as “working from home,” but technically, you can be anywhere as long as you can do your job. In theory, the less that employees that have to travel daily, the better it is for the traffic situation. It was noted in his presentation, however, that guidelines would have to be set for the good of the parties concerned – employee and employer. 

But is it all that it's cut out to be? 

Benefits of telecommuting 

The idea that one doesn’t have to go through the rigors of morning prep and rush hour is a welcome relief for workers and is said to boost employee morale and cut stress. Employers, on the other hand, benefit through increased employee productivity, as well as a reduction in office space costs. And for metro traffic, having a portion of the workforce working from home means the number of concurrent road users can be cut down.  

These benefits are some of the reasons why telecommuting is generally seen as a positive instrument – and why it has gained some traction in some parts of the world. According to a Reuters poll in 2012, one in five employees worldwide are telecommuting. Working from home has become a steady trend among corporations despite being stricken out by Yahoo! as a practice back in 2013. It's also been reported that  53% of the employees in India – one of the countries in the world with the worst transportation woes – prefer working from home over traveling to the workplace.

But to temper excitement, a Forbes article said that the efficacy of such a system is reliant on a person's personality. In general, flexible and self-motivated individuals are apt for a work-from-home arrangement while those who crave structure and routine may be better suited to a fixed workplace. A telecommuting arrangement is also reliant on a company's culture and nature of work. For the system to work, both the employee and the employer must be aware of these factors – beyond its perceived benefits on city traffic. For the ones crafting the bill, a review of how Filipinos work and their work habits need to be considered thoroughly. 

Logistics and requirements

For telecommuting to even make a dent in terms of alleviating traffic jams, a considerably large amount of employees all over the metro must be regularly working from home. Employer and employee need to be ready should the government mandate more stringent telecommuting policies. Below are some requirements specific to the arrangement. 

The employee must be equipped with the proper resources – computers and other devices – that they need, as well as a home environment that is conducive to productivity. Communication tools are the lifeline of any work-at-home employee; a reliable phone or messaging connection is needed to establish the same kind of availability as when the employee is in the office.

Another important resource: an internet connection. The Philippines remains to be one of the countries whose internet connection isn't particularly lauded. Faster connections are commercially available, but can be expensive. Slow home connections do not inspire confidence as employers need the assurance that their employees will be able to produce the same quality work remotely, if not better. It's important to address for both employer and employee the need of having a stable  and consistent working connection outside the confines of an office.

For the companies, perhaps the most important thing to address is not just an employee's work personality as said above, but also data security. Employees that handle confidential and sensitive private data must have access to secure connections such as having their own mobile data connection as opposed to the typical coffeeshop connection. Equipment used by said telecommuter must also be protected by effective security software just as computers in the office are. 

At the same time, companies need to employ a sustainable way of monitoring people's productivity. Yes, there's probably an app for that, but as with any new tool, it takes time to learn and adopt it. There has to be training involved. 

So while the benefits of telecommuting have been documented across the globe, necessary preparation must be undertaken by all parties concerned – employee, employer, and the government. Telecommuting can certainly be a tool to get people off the road, but whatever law pertaining to it must consider that other factors (i.e. work quality, security, employee happiness) are just as important as its traffic-easing nature – and that its successful adoption requires the right infrastructure, culture and mindset. – Rappler.com 

Anne was an IT professional for 7 years before wading into the unpredictable pool of freelance writing (and parenthood). Her interests are reflected by her favorite apps: Evernote, Simplenote, and the native iOS camera.