Sunday, December 14, 2008

Telecommuting in government service....

Underneath is a brief position paper I wrote a few months back about how telecommuting could be instituted in government service. I gave a copy of this paper to my superior and even sent a copy of this to the Civil Service Commission. Frankly, I haven't been getting that much enthusiasm regarding telecommuting, but I think as a work arrangement, the time is right to try it out in government.




INSTITUTING TELECOMMUTING AS A
VIABLE WORK ARRANGEMENT IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE

Work is something you do, not something you travel to.

- Leonhard, Woody, The Underground Guide to Telecommuting

Business leaders in the Philippines now trust their employees to work remotely, according to a survey commissioned by business communication applications provider Avaya Inc. The study shows that 75 percent of Filipino managers now trust their staff to telecommute and 68 percent believe that allowing employees to telecommute improves their productivity.

- CIO.de

I. Introduction

With today’s spiraling fuel, electricity and transportation costs, combined with deteriorating traffic conditions, and with internet access and mobile telephony as pervasive as it is now, it may be a good time to evaluate the potential benefits and advantages of instituting telecommuting as a viable work arrangement in government, at least for certain positions and functions compatible with it.

First and foremost, for those who may not be familiar with the term, just what is telecommuting?

Wikipedia defines telecommuting as:

Telecommuting, e-commuting, e-work, telework, working at home (WAH), or working from home (WFH) is a work arrangement in which employees enjoy limited flexibility in working location and hours. In other words, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Many work from home, while others, occasionally also referred to as nomad workers or web commuters utilize mobile telecommunications technology to work from coffee shops or myriad other locations. Telework is a broader term, referring to substituting telecommunications for any form of work-related travel, thereby eliminating the distance restrictions of telecommuting.

What this means, is that certain employees, particularly those whose outputs and objectives lend themselves to minimum supervision, can opt to work outside the office, logging in via some remote electronic manner, and forward their respective outputs to their immediate supervisors via e-mail or some other electronic method.

As a work arrangement, telecommuting has been used with considerable success in the private sector, so it begs the question, why shouldn’t it be applied in government as well? This is the question which this paper attempts to answer.

II. Why telecommute at all?

There are several reasons why telecommuting may be desirable:

Reduced Expenditures:

  • Since the employee does not always have to show up personally at the place of work, he or she spends less on fuel and/or transportation;

  • Since there are less employees working in person in the place of work, the Corporation stands to save on:

    - Office and parking spaces;
    - Office supplies;
    - Office furniture and equipment;
    - Electricity and water;
    - Janitorial and security services;
    - Network bandwidth;
    - Internet access.

More efficient time usage:

  • Employees can perform work virtually immediately; less time is devoted to going to and fro from the workplace. This wasted travel time can be as little as 30 minutes to an hour for those who reside near the office, to as much as 4 hours or more for those who live some distance away. Added up, these represent hundreds, perhaps even thousands of man-hours wasted away in traffic;

  • Supervisors can concentrate more on employees whose functions require close supervision;

  • Provides the employee with flexibility when it comes to actual working hours, which is particularly advantageous to those with domestic responsibilities, such as working parents, single parents, etc.

  • Improves productivity;

  • Reduces absenteeism and its associated non-productivity.

Environmental benefits:

  • Reduced emissions due to less reliance on public and private transportation;

  • Widespread adoption of telecommuting could reduce traffic congestion.

III. Technology

The technologies which make telecommuting possible are inexpensive and readily available. Broadband internet access is virtually 100% available in any developed urban area, whether through cable, DSL, Wi-Fi, or 3G. Despite its obsolescence, dial-up access connections are still available to those who have no other means to access the internet. PCs and laptops have ceased from being highly expensive specialized equipment and are now mere inexpensive commodities, to the point that an average middle class individual can readily afford them. High-speed broadband mobile phones which support 3G and video calling are now common and inexpensive, and cell phone coverage more or less covers the entire country.

In short, the technologies which make telecommuting possible are inexpensive and readily available.

IV. Who can telecommute?

This is where things get to be a little complicated. Obviously, not every position lends itself to prospect of being done via telecommuting. Here are some possible qualifiers (As described by Telecommuting 101, by Kate Lorenz on CareerBuilder.com):

  • The job must be suited, at least in part, to performance at a remote location;

  • The capabilities and personal characteristics of the employee must be appropriate to working with little or no direct supervision;

  • The employing firm must accept telecommuting as a legitimate and desirable activity, provide necessary support and have appropriate information technology in place;

  • The supervisor or manager of the employee must accept the concept and practice of telecommuting;

  • The employee must feel comfortable with telecommuting in terms of its suitability to his or her personal work habits and style, its effect on social interactions and on advancement and career;

Many of the jobs that are ideally suited for telecommuting are professions with “information” or “knowledge” worker positions. These jobs can range from accountants and analysts to lawyers and paralegals, to programmers, software engineers and technical writers.

Other considerations can be:

The job should be output based, and the manager concerned, output-oriented.

The job should only deal with non-mission critical/non-confidential information. It should also not cover jobs which involve the handling of finances.

The job should not be a frontline function. Obviously, jobs which require personal interaction with our members are not prone to being done remotely.

Certain back-room functions, on the other hand, are quite ideal for telecommuting. This may include any sort of technical writing, programming, data analyses, research, canvassing, etc.

V. What does the law say?

The governing rules when it comes to government office hours are contained in the Omnibus Rules implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292, specifically Rule XVII. It is worth noting that there is nothing in this rule which can be construed as specifically prohibiting or otherwise frowning upon the concept of telecommuting.

SECTION 1. It shall be the duty of each head of department or agency to require all officers and employees under him to strictly observe the prescribed office hours. When the head of office, in the exercise of his discretion allows government officials and employees to leave the office during the office hours and not for official business, but to attend socials/events/functions and/or wakes/interments, the same shall be reflected in their time cards and charged to their leave credits.

Note: “Prescribed office hours” need not necessarily refer to a fixed time period, such as 8 AM – 4 PM, or 9 AM – 5 PM. It is submitted that the head of department or agency has the authority to determine what the prescribed office hours are, and where the place of work should be.

SECTION 2. Each head of department or agency shall require a daily time record of attendance of all the officers and employees under him including those serving in the field or on the water, to be kept on the proper form and, whenever possible, registered on the bundy clock.

Service “in the field” shall refer to service rendered outside the office proper and service “on the water” shall refer to service rendered on board a vessel which is the usual place of work.

Note: The use of a bundy clock in recording the attendance of an employee is not an absolute necessity. A telecommuting employee will still be required to log on for work, albeit remotely, and not necessarily at the office. For all intents and purposes, a telecommuter may be considered as “in the field”.

SECTION 5. Officers and employees of all departments and agencies except those covered by special laws shall render not less than eight hours of work a day for five days a week or a total of forty hours a week, exclusive of lunch. As a general rule, such hours shall be from eight o’clock in the morning to twelve o’clock noon and from one o’clock to five o’clock in the afternoon on all days except Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.

Note: Telecommuting does not entail a reduction of the required eight hours of work a day or forty hours a week. It only covers the location where the work is to be performed and not the duration. It worth noting that the office hours of 8-12 and 1-5 are only set as a general rule, and it is possible to set up exceptional circumstances which lead to their adjustment.

SECTION 6. Flexible working hours may be allowed subject to the discretion of the head of department or agency. In no case shall the weekly working hours be reduced in the event the department or agency adopts the flexi-time schedule in reporting for work.

The provision further emphasizes the discretion given the head of department or agency in setting working hours.

The bottom-line is, while the law does not specify nor contemplate the concept of telecommuting, it does not outright prohibit the implementation of any telecommuting scheme. Applicable laws are not necessarily incompatible with the concept of telecommuting.

VI. Other considerations

A government agency may require that the employee applying for a telecommuting work arrangement have his/her own desktop/laptop computer and internet access, so as to save the itself the expense of having to procure a laptop and internet connection for the employee.

For days spent telecommuting, management may reduce the transportation allowance or any equivalent stipend (if any) accordingly, pro-rated to the number of days the employee personally worked at the office, not counting days wherein the employee telecommuted.

VII. Conclusions and recommendations

Telecommuting is a work arrangement which has been adopted successfully in various private enterprises, including high-profile ISO certified multinational companies. Given its success in the private sector, there is no reason to believe that telecommuting, if applied sensibly and responsibly, would be any less successful in the government sector.

Clearly, it is not suitable for all types of positions, but for those which it is suitable, it may very well prove to be a boon, beneficial to both the agency itself and its employees.

Of course, some legal issues may arise, considering that current rules and regulations don’t really address it or recognize it, so it is humbly suggested the Civil Service Commission study the matter and perhaps come up with guidelines which may be applicable to the entire government sector.
Telecommuting is rising in popularity, not only because of rising fuel and energy costs, but due to demand for increased efficiency and better time management. The fact that technology has matured to the point that an employee is almost never totally out of reach of the office, using inexpensive technology has made telecommuting a viable work arrangement.

It may well be time to reexamine traditional, and perhaps, antiquated work practices in government. Given the pros and cons, and successes telecommuting has had in the private sector in other countries, it may well be worth it to consider how, if ever, it can implemented here in the Philippines.





Blogger TK reacted...

gut feel says it won't work in the Philippine setting. Everyone would like to work at home BUT no one is gonna be willing to take the corresponding paycut (which is the essence of telecommuting). and if a political leader could muster enough balls to get this implemented, he'll be branded as anti-labor/anti-people.

it's human nature: We want our cake and we want it in our gut.

damn. I hope I'm bloody wrong.

December 20, 2008 1:16 AM  

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