WFH amid COVID-19
As we struggle with the ongoing war on COVID-19, workplaces must continue humming. Yes, to keep our livelihood, our companies, our economy, and our nation marching on, our people are turning to work-from-home (WFH) programs.
WFH was demonstrated recently, though quite primitively, by the televised proceedings of the Special Session of the House of Representatives last Monday with only a handful of solons physically present and speaking in the Session Hall while the majority participated, voted, and kept track in real time from their homes through video and audio teleconferencing devices, with the country watching and listening via TV-radio.
Of course, WFH is no stranger in many countries. But the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown is popularizing it here. Corporate executives and employees stay put and learn simple lessons on how to work from their homes through their desk computers, laptops, and handsets.
For instance, during the last several days, two of the companies where I sit as an independent director conducted board and committee meetings using the “Zoom” platform (for First Philippine Holdings Corp.) and “Microsoft Teams” (for Meralco). To facilitate the meetings, relevant materials and PowerPoint slides were emailed to us in advance.
The directors (as well as the officers rendering reports) were satisfied, if not fascinated, by the novel way of transacting business. We met each other face to face in virtual deliberations as if in a conference table. All in all, we were quite happy with the results, as even our directors’ per diems were credited directly to our individual bank accounts, no longer via checks which, in the past, we had to deposit physically.
In fact, even my family conducted our “kumustahan” a week ago via the free-of-charge version of “Zoom.” Two of our five children (Archie and Mabel) live and work in New York City and one (Celine) in Greenwich, Connecticut. Seven of our 10 grandchildren study in various US cities. Our daughter Tet (plus her spouse and two daughters) lives near our home in Makati, while our eldest daughter Len (and her husband and son) stays in Alabang, Muntinlupa.
Our virtual chat reassured me that my entire brood, while separated physically by thousands of kilometers, was safe, healthy, and happy, amid our quarantined Metro Manila, their locked-down NYC, relatively unscathed Greenwich, and frozen Chicago.
I was cautioned, though, by my fellow director in the GMA Network, the charming Judith Duavit Vazquez who is also the founder/chair of PHCOLO, that the free version of Zoom does not guarantee privacy, as the platform owns the data of its users.
There are, of course, other apps or platforms like Apple’s “FaceTime” which, however, is available only on Apple devices, and the fee-based “Adobe Connect” that provides the advantage of confidentiality since the subscriber owns the data generated in the platform. Hence, it is used by many publicly listed companies in the United States and the world.
High time it is also for the judiciary to keep up with the digital age and to use these or similar platforms. No one knows really how long the lockdown will last. It could be a few weeks, it could be a few months. While the judges and other judicial personnel should not be unnecessarily exposed to the clutches of COVID-19, nonetheless, the courts cannot remain closed indefinitely.
True, court trials require not only the verbal testimony of witnesses but also a keen observation of their body language, facial expression, eye contact, and other indicia of their credibility (or their lack of it).
True also, courts have been reluctant to allow live TV-radio coverage of trials for the same fear of violating the constitutional rights of the accused with the use of strange devices that may intimidate them and their witnesses.
However, there are many aspects and stages of judicial proceedings, like the pretrial conference, marking of documentary exhibits, arguing ordinary motions, etc. that can easily be done via teleconferencing platforms.
These digital apps are especially useful for the Supreme Court and the other appellate collegiate courts where the parties and/or their lawyers seldom face each other physically, because most of the work is done via written pleadings. Telecommuting is likewise suitable for oral arguments in these tribunals.
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