Working from home makes sense

"It just needs closer monitoring."

In economics school, students are taught that market equilibrium – the balance between demand and supply – is the desideratum. When a market’s equilibrium is destroyed, the thing to do is to look at what is happening on both the demand side and supply side of the market. Such a look may reveal an excess of demand over the capacity to supply the good or service, manifested by bottlenecks and intense upward price competition, or it may reveal a deficit in demand over the available supply, manifested by weakening prices and decreasing investments.

A perfect example of a market that has lost its equilibrium is the road network of Metro Manila (National Capital Region). It has appeared for several decades that the carrying capacity of Metro Manila’s road system is grossly insufficient for the transportation requirement of the population of the metropolis’ 17 local government units. This is particularly true of EDSA and the approximately 20 major thoroughfares that crisscross the country’s premier region. Total back-and-forth travel time EDSA northern end (Caloocan City) to southern terminus (Pasay City) is around 10 hours at peak-traffic times; or those times EDSA, C-5, Quezon Avenue, Ortigas Avenue and other major roadways have been said to resemble giant parking lots.

The loss of physical resources, personal vitality and, most important, time, resulting from the disequilibrium of Metro Manila’s road network – demand overwhelming exceeding carrying capacity is so obvious as to not need the daily-loss computations of institutions like ADB (Asian Development Bank and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to tell us how bad the situation is and how terrible things can become if adequate remedial measures are not taken.

Dealing rationally with the demand-and-capacity disequilibrium is Metro Manila’s land transportation system is a no-brainer. As economics students are taught, if one can’t do anything about the supply of a good or service, one looks at the demand side of the situation. The transportation experts of successive administrations have performed mental and technological somersaults in an effort to squeeze every last bit of additional carrying capacity, but the roadways have fixed dimensions and there is a limit to what can be done with their capacities. There is only so much that even the smartest and transportation experts can do.

This is not the case with the demand side of the situation. There is more that transportation experts can do; they have more leeway. Reducing the demand for road space is far more feasible than increasing the carry-capacity of a road network.

The exceedingly large volumes of traffic using Metro Manila’s road network is mainly accounted forby three streams of vehicles, (1) higher vehicles and buses originating from the immediately surrounding provinces and headed for Metro Manila’s central area (Manila, Quezon City, San Juan City, Mandaluyong City, Pasig City, Taguig City, Makati City, and Pasay City), (2) higher vehicles and buses from the outlying parts of Metro Manila and headed for the metropolis’ central area and (3) cargo- carrying vehicles. Apart from limiting their hours of movement, there is little that MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) and DTr (Department of Transportation) can do about cargo-carrying vehicles; the industrial and commercial establishments that they service are already in place.

But there is much that they can do about the other two streams of traffic, i.e., the light vehicles and buses originating from the immediately surrounding provinces and the outlying Metro Manila cities and headed for the metropolis’ central area. These traffic streams can be curtailed. One of the means of curtailment is WFH (work from home).

WFH is being discussed in terms of the new normal that is expected to replace the pre-pandemic way of thinking about and doing things. This is wrong; under pressure from the palpable effects of the increasingly horrendous Metro Manila traffic situation, WFH was being practices to a limited – but increasing extent prior to the advent of the pandemic. A growing number of establishments realized, even then, that not all of their employees needed to be in the office every day and that some company work could be done effectively and with security – a prime consideration for most managements – at home. The sharp growth in the acceptance of WFH is unquestionably one of the best things to come out of the quarantine imposed by the government on this country.

The sharp increase in the number of employees working from home has made a perceptive difference to the volume of vehicular traffic on Metro Manila’s road. The difference will be greater if the government proposes the WFH program with greater robustness than it has hitherto. Greater robustness will entail close monitoring of the guidelines that it sets for WFH. Thus, if it mandates that a specified percentage of a business establishment’s work force should work from home or that only “essential” employees should be requires to be in the office, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) should conduct monitoring to ensure requirements.

WFH made sense in the pre-pandemic Old Normal. It makes even more sense in the pandemic-ridden New Normal.

Topics: Rudy Romero , Work from home , New Normal
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