Omicron to delay return to the office

The current surge in COVID-19 cases is seen to delay the back to the office (BTO) plans of many companies, Colliers Philippines said.

Colliers said the current COVID-19 surge will require officials and business leaders to reimplement and recalibrate restrictions to keep the workplace safe with minimum disruption to businesses.

“The threat of business disruption can be mitigated by implementing and complying with protocols that can arrest the surge of cases and protect workers,” Colliers Philippines Associate Director of Office Services- Tenant Representation Kevin Jara said in a statement.

The Omicron variant has been causing surges in the number of cases all over the world, due to its ability to spread more easily and evade immunity from vaccinations and previous infections.

Latest data from the Department of Health (DOH) shows that a total of 17,220 new COVID-19 cases were registered on Jan. 6. This brought the number of active cases to 56,561.

“As seen throughout the pandemic, officials and business leaders continue to find ways to balance keeping the workplace safe while ensuring business continuity. Several companies continue to provide flexibility for their employees, such as allowing them to work from home, especially during case surges,”Jara said.

Jara explained that in the case of the IT-BPM sector, many occupiers are registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), which has issued memorandum circulars allowing registered business enterprises (RBE) to conduct their business activities outside the ecozones such as WFH.

“If not for this ongoing surge, many RBEs may have already started BTO in the first quarter of 2022,” said Jara.

“Therefore, the government should consider extending the WFH flexibility until such time that the RBEs feel confident with the health and safety of their employees,”he added.

Colliers also encouraged the government to continue closely monitoring the dynamic Covid-19 situation and to develop policies that balance the various needs of office landlords and occupiers.

“Mutual support and collaboration between government agencies and the private sector will remain crucial to economic recovery and growth,” said Jara.

The property services firm emphasized that the Philippines is well-positioned to overcome the Omicron wave, hopefully with less severe health outcomes and business disruptions, given its almost two years of experience and learnings with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and a wide vaccination coverage and administration of booster shots.

Colliers also urges the government and the private sector to continue working closely to encourage Filipinos to get vaccinated and receive booster shots, stressing that this will help prevent the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed and will allow the economy to keep its progress in reopening.

“These measures, alongside basic public health practices such as masking, good ventilation, and social distancing, will mitigate the worst Covid-19 outcomes, keep our workplaces safe, and ensure business continuity as the world transitions to living with the virus,”Colliers said.