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On-site vs. WFH: Why returning to office is (and isn't) a good idea

By Harold Lemon Tubiano Published Feb 25, 2024 5:06 pm

Before the world was crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, society was busy rising early in the morning to commute to the workplace and spending up to nine hours at the office before coming home late and exhausted, every single day each week.

It wasn't until the pandemic era that the hybrid setup became the new normal. Employees had a more flexible schedule as they could simply work from home, freeing them from having to drain their energy sitting in traffic as they go to and from the office daily.

The hybrid setup has especially benefited the younger generation, some of whom did not join the labor force until after the pandemic hit, giving many of them a lucky break as they did not have to endure a fully onsite system like their older co-workers.

Because of this, some people are questioning whether Gen Z are acting "privileged" about preferring to work from home more.

"Sorry, but kids nowadays talaga are so privileged no? Two times RTO (Return to Office) per week, nagrereklamo na? Prior to the pandemic, we go to the office five times a week (not to mention days with overtime). Again if you don’t like it, you always have the choice to get out of the kitchen," the user wrote.

The post, which has since received more than 2,000 engagements, was contested by other social media users.

"Allowing people to work remotely, without sacrificing productivity, will not only help solve heavy traffic, but allow workers to save on fare, spend more time with their family and kids, improve their wellbeing," one user argued.

Another cautioned, "Basta ang advise ko sa inyo mga kids, always choose a remote work setup. It will save you time, money, and it will improve your mental well-being."

Others pointed out how "times are changing," and that the traffic and public transportation are not the same as before.

With establishments and now open like they were pre-pandemic, should employees return to offices, or should the hybrid setup be fully embraced by every generation and the next to come? PhilSTAR L!fe talked to several employees about their thoughts on their working conditions and setups.

The pros

For Katreena Duenas, a Talent Acquisition Project Associate in the banking industry, working in the office has its advantages.

"It's much easier to meet your teammates especially if you are closely working on a specific project," she told L!fe. Another thing is that whenever you are in the office, you get to feel pressured to work more as you see your colleagues working as hard as you."

As a human resource practitioner, Jianne Laguatan also sees the benefits of working on-site for her industry.

"Having everyone in one location allows for instant brainstorming, problem-solving, and cooperation in real-time, which frequently results in more productive work outputs," Jianne shared.

She added that the office setup gives employees access to tools and equipment that they may need.

The cons

Gilbert Pondevida, a 59-year-old customer service representative servicing on Healthcare account, the time wasted in traffic is a big disadvantage to working in the office.

When he worked on-site, Gilbert spent a total of 11 hours at work, including travel time, leaving him less time to spend with his family and himself.

Gilbert told L!fe that he prefers his current work-from-home setup with the same employer.

"The setup really works for me. No need to rush waking up and prepare for work, and more time spent with the family," he said.

Like Gilbert, Katreena also sees the commute to and from the office as a hassle.

"I [live] in Valenzuela and travel to Ortigas every day for work. As early as work go to the office, you already feel a bit tired with the distance of your commute," she shared.

Additionally, working in the office gets noisy when her other co-workers are all interviewing people at the same time.

In addition to time, office workers also spend more money, Jianne raised.

"There may be additional expenditures associated with working onsite, like parking fees, lunch-out prices, and transportation costs."

A survey conducted by SEEK Asia in 2023 showed that more Filipinos still want a fully remote or hybrid work setup over returning to the office.

For the younger generation who have grown up with technology, they value the "effectiveness and ease" of remote work, Jianne said.

Another factor why some youth don't want to go back to offices is the traffic, especially when Metro Manila ranks first in having the worst traffic in a metro area.

"Some take 1-2 hours to get to work on a daily basis and sometimes most of the work in general can actually be done online," Katreena said.

So which work setup is better?

Unfortunately, there isn't a catch-all answer and it will depend on the industry you're working in and the individual themselves.

"There are colleagues of mine that can start easily with work just like a normal day. But I would always hear the frustrations and sometimes talks about 'Sana work of home tayo at least may pahinga' or looking forward if there's holidays coming to rest from work," Katreena said.

Jianne raised that some people do better in an office environment because they like their work structure, their co-workers, and the separation of their work and home life.

"Because there are fewer distractions and a more individualized setting, some people might feel that working remotely increases their productivity," she said.

For HR supervisor Jianne, companies need to consider asking their workers which work setup they prefer.

"To assess the viability of a hybrid system and get employee input, think about instituting a trial period. This enables modifications to be made in light of practical experience before reaching a final choice," she said.

Katreena echoed this, adding that companies should also take into consideration where their employees would be coming from.

"Having a survey or in-depth discussion with the employees about the working set up can be a great avenue to hear out their sides and opinions about it. Another thing is if they can be aware of where the employees live or the transportation they take on a daily basis for it to be also a deciding factor of the work set-up," she said. (with reports by John Patrick Ranara)