The Jakarta Post
This article is part of The Jakarta Post’s "Forging the New Norm" series about how people are adjusting to the new realities of COVID-19 in Indonesia.
Remote work has been a growing trend with the rise of the gig economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it into the mainstream faster than many people initially expected.
After approximately two months of implementing a work-from-home policy as an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, companies are reporting the benefits of remote work and some are gearing up to practice it for the long term.
Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) deputy chairman Bob Azam told The Jakarta Post on May 15 that it would be quite logical for companies to extend their work-from-home policy or adopt some form of flexible working arrangement after the pandemic.
“I think it’s quite logical, considering that during a recovery period, we need to carry out safety protocols and continue social distancing measures, aside from other new procedures,” he said, adding that companies would most likely open their office spaces for only 50 percent of their workers to abide by health protocols.
He explained that companies’ investment in digitizing their workplaces would be an added cost, but that the cost could be covered by cost-savings on other fronts. With office buildings remaining vacant, utility costs could be significantly reduced, saving enough to pay for the digitization agenda, he said.
The Post interviewed executives of a number of companies across different sectors to ask them whether they had seen any benefits during the work-from-home program in the past couple of weeks and whether they were planning to implement some form of remote work post-pandemic.
“Energy expenses to power office buildings have certainly declined with the introduction of the work-from-home policy. However, we are also investing more in the technology to support the smooth running of the policy,” PT Unilever Indonesia human resources director Willy Saelan told the Post in a written statement.
The publicly listed consumer goods giant reported no loss in productivity since implementing the policy on March 16. And in line with the goal of maintaining productivity, the company allowed its employees to borrow its ergonomic chairs to be used at home.
It has also adopted a number of initiatives to ensure the well-being of its employees, including holding a regular health talk with the company’s doctors, conducting online classes on healthy living and providing around-the-clock online psychological services for those who may be experiencing anxieties during the outbreak.
Homegrown agritech start-up TaniHub, whose online grocery platform has experienced significant growth amid the outbreak, reported that its travel expenses had reduced by 50 percent since it implemented the work-from-home policy in its headquarters in Jakarta on March 18, TaniHub Group finance director Edison Tobing reported.
“TaniHub Group management is currently considering the implementation of a flexible working space system or a work-from-home system post-outbreak as a form of benefit for employees,” TaniHub Group vice president of corporate services Astri Purnamasari told the Post on Friday.
For companies that have made an early investment in digital technology, including TaniHub, they are now seeing the benefits manifest.
“As a technology-based company, working from home is something that all Shopee employees are accustomed to doing,” said Shopee public relations lead Aditya Maulana Noverdi.
The e-commerce platform reported a business-as-usual scenario in its company’s operations, from campaigns to shipping, despite the outbreak.
State-owned telecommunications firm Telkomsel is also feeling the benefit of the digital transformation processes it had implemented prior to the outbreak, Telkomsel vice president of corporate communications Denny Abidin noted.
Telecommunications firm Indosat Ooredoo, on the other hand, has been using a flexible working arrangement program called iWork since 2016. Employees are allowed to work remotely every week, wherever they please.
Indosat Ooredoo director and chief human resources officer Irsyad Sahroni explained that several technical adjustments needed to be made during the ongoing outbreak, but the implementation of remote work had so far resulted in an overall increase in the company’s performance.
According to a 2019 report by brand consultancy firm Buffer, of over 2,400 people it surveyed from across the globe, two out of five said the biggest benefit of remote work was having a flexible schedule.
Tadjudin Noer Effendi, a labor expert from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University, said that if companies continued to implement remote work after the pandemic, they would not only be able to reduce productivity loss due to traffic congestion, but also other costs as a result of the policy, including expensive office rent and childcare services, he said on Friday.
Nonetheless, he sounded a note of alarm that there would be “a great overhaul”, as the increase in productivity on one end could potentially lead to less employment on another.
He also questioned whether the majority of the workforce could still perform while not being supervised.
Research firm Accenture, however, said in a 2017 report on digital transformation that such concern was based on a myth, as in workplaces where employees were empowered to choose when and where they worked, their anxieties were reduced and productivity increased.