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Jakarta Post

Home office forever?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, March 24, 2020   /   08:10 am
Home office forever? Work from home illustration. (Shutterstock/SFIO CRACHO)

Without any precedent millions of the country’s workforce have been forced to work from home en masse, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home is now a mantra the central and local governments are relying on to win the fight against the virus, which as of Monday had infected 579 people and killed 49 including health workers — a figure that is expected to rise rapidly.

The government has discouraged people from leaving their homes to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease. As of Monday offices across Jakarta had to close down for two weeks, following a call from Governor Anies Baswedan, who also urged employers to allow their employees to work from home. The Jakarta administration has reported that 1,512 corporations complied with the policy, although several big and multinational companies operating in the capital had taken the initiative much earlier.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo have since last week adopted the remote-working policy specifically for civil servants. All local governments will likely follow suit.

Whether working from home will maintain productivity is another issue, as the chief goal is to restrict human movement, which can help break the chain of virus transmission. The curve showing the spike in the number of infections has been flattened in a number of countries through limiting people’s movement, if necessary by force.

There is nothing new about working from home for people whose jobs do not involve the operation of machinery or equipment. Fund managers, corporate lawyers, business advisors, for example, may serve their clients through phone calls or video conferencing and writers file their draft articles with their editors from home, as physical encounters only sap their energy, time and money because of Jakarta’s traffic gridlock.

We have also heard advertisements over the last few years offering considerable sums of money for those who seek jobs without having to leave their homes. The advanced information and communication technology, coupled with the increasing role of social media, has offered huge opportunities for people who opt to work from home to enjoy decent income.

The pandemic has just taken this disruption in the formal employment world to a new level. Now more people have to adapt to and conform with the new work setting, where physical contact is absent. It may be too early, however, to prescribe this kind of working mechanism when the health crisis is over.

But even if productivity is sacrificed as many are not prepared for or perhaps misuse the remote working policy, there are many benefits that can trade off the losses, apart from defeating the coronavirus. First, operational costs, ranging from electricity to water bills, will be dramatically reduced. Secondly traffic will ease as many cars and motorbikes do not take to the roads and consequently, third, eventually air pollution should decline.

More crucially, as more health workers are reported to have tested positive for the virus, with even doctors dying on the job, just staying put can reduce the current overload on health facilities and perhaps save lives.