Working from Home is the Obvious Solution to Manila Traffic
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every year, the traffic in Manila will somehow become worse than it already is. The situation is so dire that rather than endure a 3-hour commute or a dehumanizing ride in a packed train, some people are either moving to apartments near their offices or quitting their jobs and switching to companies in better locations. Real-estate firms have even turned this into a business opportunity by building office dorms and renting them out to big companies.
But one startup entrepreneur has adopted a far simpler and more cost-effective solution to this problem. Gabby Dizon, CEO and co-founder of mobile game studio Altitude Games, lets all of his staff work from home. “We want people to have full control of how they want to be productive,” he says. “We assume that people who are in the company want to do our shared mission—in our case it’s to make games—and within that we want people to really have control about when and where they are most efficient.” After 10 years he’s got telecommuting down to a science, and now other companies consult him on how to transition to working remotely.
“The reason why I help other companies figure out how to go at least partly remote is that it just doesn’t make sense anymore to be in a world where everyone wakes up to go to work at the same time and go home at the same time,” Dizon says. “Especially in a country that doesn’t have a good mass transit system. And a lot of the work is really transitioning to knowledge work, which means you’re mostly going to the office to be in front of a computer for most of the day. And you may not have to be in the office to do that. It’s not necessarily working from home, it’s being able to work remotely and be productive wherever you are.”
At Altitude Games, everyone just has to be online from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. They communicate via chat apps like HipChat or Discord for voice calls. “People usually think of an office as a physical space. For us, our chat room is our office,” Dizon explains. “So it doesn’t matter if people are working together—which happens also, some of the time—or working at home, working from the beach, wherever. Your chat room has to be your shared office space.” If ever his team does decide that they need to meet, they have a small office space in Makati that Dizon says is really more like a conference room with really fast internet.
They also use management tools like Trello, Basecamp, and Asana to keep track of their projects, and share files using apps like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box. “The actual tools don’t matter, what matters is that your team is able to orient your work flow around the tools,” Dizon says.
But keeping your employees productive is about much more than just finding the right tools for tracking projects. “What’s the overall philosophy and the culture of your company? If you go into the tools, that’s already further down in the dicussion,” Dizon explains. “You have to make sure that your company has a shared culture and driving mission, and that your culture supports a remote working environment. For us that means knowing what our common goals are, the steps to get there and how to track all of these in an objective way. And that’s where the tools will come in. If you don’t know what you’re tracking, then it doesn’t matter what tools you have.”
In Dizon’s experience, having a remote working environment isn’t just beneficial to employees, but employers as well. Because his employees are happy, they’re much more productive and likely remain loyal to the company. Rather than enduring a four to six-hour commute and feeling tired before they even get to the office, his employees start fresh. Sometimes they even willingly work longer hours, just because they don’t waste time dealing with traffic. If they need to take the morning off or do errands during the day, they’re free to do so, because their productivity is measured in terms of output rather than hours.
“They love that you’re giving them a good amount of control over their time, and we have very few people leaving the company. And if you’re tracking your productivity, you should be able to see a jump in productivity in the long term,” Dizon adds. “Of course in the short term you may have to figure out how people can work together efficiently, so don’t expect immediate productivity gains. But you know, once people are used to it, you should see better productivity gains than people just being in the office.”
On top of having happier, more efficient employees, Dizon is able to hire from a much wider pool of talent. In fact, this was his main reason for setting up a remote working environment 10 to 12 years ago. “To get the best [people], you don’t want to limit yourself to people who are in a 10-15 kilometer radius from your office,” he says. “The best writers don’t necessarily live near the office and there are a lot of really good people who actually live abroad or in the province. Our company has people who live in the province who, when they do come to the office, they have to take a three- to six- hour bus ride. So our most inefficient days are when people actually come to the office.
For employees, the usual concern about working from home is that they might get bored or lonely without the usual office banter. For this purpose, the team at Altitude Games has a separate chat room where they can share articles, memes, jokes, and generally get to know each other.
They also have Co-Work Wednesdays, which are completely optional. “Sometimes people get cabin fever—you don’t want to work from home all the time. So there’s one day in the week where you know there will be other people in the office,” Dizon explains. “To maintain the culture, we also have team parties so that we can still build those bonds that are easier to forge when you’re still in a typical office environment.”
If you’re interested in starting a telecommuting company from scratch, transitioning your existing company to a remote working environment, or even just establishing a couple of days where your employees can work from home, you can email Gabby Dizon at [email protected].
“I’ll share a deck of how we do our remote work. If people are really interested in making a change, then there will have to be a serious consultation with the stakeholders—usually the head of a company or the head of a department, along with their HR and their team leads because it has to be something that all stakeholders support,” Dizon says. “For example, if it’s an idea of the team leader but HR won’t allow them to do that, it’s a process that will take a little bit of work and time, but the benefits are really great for people who manage to make the transition.”