Is it the right time for hybrid work?

At the start of the pandemic, it was difficult to adjust to the new normal way of work. Workers suddenly found themselves working at home all the time, missing the interaction with co-workers and longing for their office desk. After two years, with life easing back to normalcy given the low Covid transmission, it’s the other way around — a lot of employees are now finding it hard to return to the office. 

The issue here has two sides. Employers want to bring back workers to the office to increase productivity now that operations are normalizing. On the other hand, employees who are now accustomed to the work-from-home (WFH) setup argue that no productivity is lost as they don’t have to endure traffic and waste time on the road. There is no right or wrong side as both employer and employee have their valid reasons. 

This has become more contentious as workers from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and businesses registered with investment promotion agencies (IPAs) are now requiring the majority of their workers to go back to the office or to report onsite. This has raised some questions considering that a year before the pandemic, there was already a Republic Act 11165 or “Telecommuting Act” signed by the President. 

In the Act, telecommuting is defined as “work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/ or computer technologies.” Overall, it encouraged employers to offer this form of work, and also mandated that no employee be discriminated against or disadvantaged because of this arrangement.  

Another issue rose when Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito Plaza said government agencies are sending “mixed signals” as to the adoption of hybrid work for registered business enterprises (RBEs) of PEZA. At the moment, Plaza said it is allowing RBEs to operate 70 percent onsite and 30 percent WFH as the 90-10 (WFH-onsite) work ratio allowed by the Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) during the pandemic expired last March 31, 2022.  

“The present law says that 70-30 is the most that we can provide as a leeway,” Plaza said. She, however, pointed out that the 70-30 work ratio has been allowed by PEZA under the Telecommuting Act. PEZA cited the likes of Amazon, which PEZA allowed to operate 70 percent onsite and 30 percent WFH because that has been the company’s business model in its global operations.

A lot of questions are still left unanswered. Groups such as the IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) called on its members to request PEZA to implement the 70-30 work arrangement until June 30, 2022. This was in response to a pronouncement made by the government that RBEs must return 100 percent to their onsite operation last April 1, 2022 or risk losing their tax incentives.  

As government agencies, the private sector, and employees settle their differences, look into laws, and wait for any developments, one question arises: “Is it time for hybrid work?” 

Putting it simply, hybrid work combines WFH and office work. Employees can have a set schedule, for example, working at home for two days and working at the office for three days a week. It is, according to experts, combining the best of two worlds.  

If you ask Plaza about this, she said it is “up to the next administration to address this hybrid scheme to institutionalize the WFH program and especially the ratio.” “But as of now, we have to abide by the existing laws and the decision of the FIRB, and help put the economy back to normal.” 

Now, it seems that we just have to wait and see if hybrid work will become the norm for the majority.