• By Johanna Salinas and Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Zooming in on teleworking

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has sent Guam employees home. With the coronavirus spreading without any letup, teleworking is here to stay — seemingly longer than planned. Or permanently, perhaps? For employees, that means picking the best spot to set up shop at home. For employers, that means hoping the Zoom-assisted work succeeds.

“The pandemic did not prepare most of us to work from home, but I believe that the technology will catch up, and the employer will figure out how to work with this new norm,” said Grace Donaldson, a board member of the Pacific Human Resource Services, of which she is the former general manager. “I’m a consultant now as well as a PhD student— doing both at home.”

For many, this is the future, Donaldson said. “Now that more significant numbers of people are working remotely,” she added, “we learn the pitfalls, advantages and disadvantages of working from home.”

The work-from-home structure was first predicted as early as 30 years ago. "Some futurists have projected that large segments of the white collar labor force will work in home offices," Joanne H.Pratt, president of Allied Professionals Educational Consulting Services in Dallas, Texas, wrote in an article, title "Home teleworking: A study of its pioneers," published in the 1984 issue of "Technological Forecasting and Social Change."

"Major advantages for the employer are access to an expanded labor supply, a means of hiring part-time staff for cyclical work, and increased employee productivity. The primary advantages of home telework for the employee are the flexibility it brings to work, increased personal productivity, cost and time savings for able-bodied employees, and a job opportunity for the home-bound," Pratt wrote.

While teleworking has been a growing trend among some professionals in recent years, the pandemic has thrust this option into the mainstream.

Catherine Castro, president of Guam Chamber of Commerce, said teleworking has helped some local businesses stay afloat during the crisis.

“The main advantage of teleworking is everyone is keeping safe and you’re able to handle your own safety protocols and sanitation,” Castro said. “Working from home, you don’t have to worry about others following or breaking the safety guidelines. There’s no potential for exposure if you keep your home free of social gatherings. That would be the main reason for working from home.”

It also allows parents to supervise their children, who themselves are schooling from home. Castro said.

Grace Donaldson Catherine Castro Nathan Taimanglo

The pandemic has pushed the business sector into this experiment without going through a transition period. It thus tends to create disorientation. Both the employer and the employees operate on trials and errors. But Castro believes that local businesses are quickly learning different ways to use technology during the pandemic.

“There are challenges in reference to teleworking. Also, businesses have been very innovative,” she said. “There are ways to log in and log off and be able to keep time of the work that’s been completed remotely. That’s really cool about current technology.”

Castro’s own household has other members who work at home, hence the need for a strategy. “We’re trying to find our space to work, so there can be noise or distraction. Those distractions can keep us from staying on task or being attentive,” she said. “What can you do? Especially when the WiFi isn’t strong or these past several weeks GPA has been having outages in certain villages.”

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Docomo Pacific is one of the first local companies that have promptly shifted to teleworking in the early stages of the pandemic. About 60 percent of the company’s approximately 525 employees are working from home daily, according to Nathan Taimanglo, chief people officer at Docomo. “Those who physically report to work include our network operations team and our retail team. All other Guam teams are remote.”

In the CNMI, he said, Docomo Pacific’s operations continue to function on a “business as usual” basis.

The teleworking structure has yet to be perfected. Its success is dependent on a number of factors, including the industry, people, processes and tools, Taimanglo said.

“What must be considered is the human factor of remote work – is your company set up culturally for the type of engagement you expect out of your workforce remotely as you would in a normal operating environment,” he said.

“What many businesses are experiencing is teams that were relatively or highly engaged prior to going remote experienced enhanced engagement, while less engaged teams struggle. Either outcome can be improved with slight tweaks and behavioral nudges,” he added.

Donaldson said it's imperative for the employer to assess how well the system works for the company. “A manager can gauge productivity by understanding the work's scope, the length of time it would take to complete an assignment or project,” she said.

“Productivity can be measured by the completion rate. Does it take two hours to complete a one-hour project, or does it take 30 minutes?”

Donaldson said working from home can be very productive, and sometimes even more so than working at an office.

“If one has a dedicated workspace, there are fewer interruptions from coworkers who want to chat or stay longer than the five to 10 minutes required to discuss the topic at hand. Emails are great for exchanging information or asking questions and documenting these conversations.”

She recommends regularly scheduled meetings with home-based employees to discuss work progress.

Taimanglo said there is no template for gauging productivity. “This depends on the company and their company culture. Businesses that are heavily micromanaged will have questions on how to account for time or productivity,” he said. “Our company values performance over presence so if associates can complete their work, we are comfortable with them managing their time based on what works for them.”

He said Docomo’s management acknowledges that individuals have different priorities. “Many of our associates have families,” Taimanglo said. “Trying to monitor every minute of the day can be taxing. Strong processes and a digital environment that supports work functions are vital for success, as the associates will only get their work done if the necessary tools are available to them. Again, team engagement plays a large role here.”

Donaldson suggested that employers consider allowing employees to opt-in or opt-out of working from home. “Working out of home gives an individual more flexibility to manage his time. And if managed well, working from home can allow for a better work/life balance, making for a better employee,” she said. “However, working from home is not for everyone.”

Among the disadvantages, she said, include disruptions of home life, greater feelings of isolation and anxiety, particularly for working mothers. And while teleworking has advantages, Donaldson said nothing beats face-to-face interaction. “The online meetings are great for productivity. After the meetings, the conversations that occur add to the realities of work and give depth to the meeting,” she said.

Castro said Guam businesses are doing their best to incorporate telework despite setbacks. “A lot of the tasks we do are utilized through Microsoft Office Suite or Google Suite and those run on the internet, which isn’t always reliable,” she said. “Some industries, like engineering, use computer aided design, which is a large software that uses up computer memory and storage.”

But what if your computer crashed? “I’ve heard from others that if their computer breaks, they have to wait for it to get fixed and they have to work using their phone. Everybody's working to get into their own particular groove for their companies and their groups within their companies. They’re doing what they can do to make it work,” Castro said.

While some businesses, such as small vendors, now rely on the internet to sell their services and products, Castro said online commerce on Guam is not as busy and lucrative as the traditional market.

“There are some businesses, like retail, you can have an online platform to sell products, but sometimes you’re not able to do that. Some retail isn’t available, because of conditions that prohibit that company from being open,” Castro said.

At Docomo, Taimanglo said the company’s overall goal is to keep physical presence to a minimum as much as possible.

“This is a benefit of a remote workforce by design. Another added benefit is flexibility. With our digital environment, we can quickly scale up and scale down our workplace presence as necessary as we see fit based on the needs of the associate and the company,” he said. “What is quite interesting is how many business colleagues are surprised to learn that we are still largely remote even as more essential businesses have been allowed to return to the workplace.”

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