April 1 crunch time: Return-to-office versus work-from-home

The outsourcing industry may not like it but the work order set by the Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) for BPO workers to return to the office, takes effect today, April 1.

Thus, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) urged Information Technology-Business Process Outsourcing (IT-BPO) companies registered with the investments promotion agency to comply with the order of FIRB to return to onsite work starting today, to avoid penalties.

Under the PEZA law, all companies registered with the investment promotions agency have to operate within the ecozones for them to enjoy tax incentives from the government.

The Philippine IT-BPO sector accounted for 31 percent of the total office demand in the first quarter of 2022, making it the biggest contributor to the local real estate market, according to Inside Outsourcing.

Real estate consultancy firm Leechiu Property Consultants (LPC) said that out of the 124,000 square meters (sq.m.) of leasing transactions recorded, 39,000 sq.m. were from IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management). LPC is expecting that the demand would further increase in the coming months as restrictions are eased and borders are now opened for foreign investors.

The deadline for BPO workers to return to office is today, April 1 and both sides are still at loggerheads.

In a recent press conference, LPC CEO David Leechiu shared the sentiment of large companies which are in favor of the return-to-office set up to boost productivity and avoid data breaches.

“On the other hand, BPOs think that work-from-home should be made available to a ‘wider labor pool’ as the industry did not suffer losses despite lockdowns. For their part, Leechiu said that remote work could lead a “chunk of companies” to terminate their leases — which would then negatively affect the property market,” Inside Outsourcing said.

PEZA proposed to extend the WFH arrangement until September this year – the period by which the declaration of the state of calamity would be valid – but the request was denied by the FIRB.

“The allowance of the 90:10 WFH (work-from-home) set-up was just a temporary measure during the pandemic. Now that we’re reopening the economy, we’re going back to the regular ratio required of registered business enterprises inside the ecozones,” PEZA director general Charito Plaza said.

“We are supportive of the proposal of the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) to implement a hybrid work scheme for the IT-BPO sector, and we hear the concerns of our investors and their individual workers affected by this order. However, we need to follow the regulations as mandated by the law,” she said. Louella Desiderio