‘Not Much Confidence’: Taiwan Struggles Against Work From Home Following Rise Of Covid | Taiwan
WWhen Amanda asked a colleague to bring her laptop home from their tech firm’s office, anticipating that Taipei was about to join the ranks of global cities suddenly working remotely, managers refused to release him. She told him to catch it anyway, and soon enough, the Taiwanese capital was placed under restrictions amid a shock coronavirus outbreak. His company quickly sent an email to the entire office saying that 50% of the staff would stay at home.
“But there were still reminders that working from home means you’re working from home and your equipment should be connected at all times, and you’re supposed to be working eight hours and it’s not a vacation,” he says. it.
“There is not a lot of confidence.”
Taiwan has recorded more than 1,400 cases of the Kent Covid-19 variant since Friday, the first major outbreak the island has seen since the start of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the entire island was placed on Alert Level 3 of a four-tier system, which includes people who are asked to work remotely when possible. It has caught people in the dark and is forcing companies to tackle a deeply ingrained culture of presenteeism, which requires people to show up to be counted.
“The Taiwanese work culture is incapable of believing that its employees can work effectively from home,” says the Taipei writer Kathy Cheng, which collects anecdotes about various attempts or refusals to allow home work.
There are many cases where working from home is not viable, such as in Taiwan’s dominant manufacturing industry, and the problem often affects disproportionately more vulnerable workers. The government says it does not want to impose a lockdown, and in the absence of a government order, companies that should be able to switch to remote work have struggled to make concrete plans, or have instead put in place a strict supervision at work.
Some totally resisted and on Taipei’s first day of work below level 3 there was still a significant number of commuters.
“After the pandemic situation got serious in Taipei (and many companies have already started working from home), management always insisted that it was safe to go to the office,” says a working woman. for a major clothing manufacturer.
One woman said her human resources representative claimed that employees could not be trusted to work from home; another reported that their managers suggested instant polls to see if people were at their desks; others have been asked to turn on GPS tagging of their location when working from home. Intense mistrust and resistance in the midst of a health crisis has sparked frustration.
“It is unfortunate that for the past 18 months or so, as the pandemic raged outside Taiwan’s borders, businesses in general have not actively tried to develop contingencies and strategies for a transition to remote work, ”writes James Bell, founder of a Taipei food company.
The Level 3 alert encourages companies to facilitate flexible working, but no financial or childcare assistance has been announced for parents, even after schools have closed.
Amanda, who did not want her real name published, appreciates her employer’s efforts to send workers home, but says there is no flexibility for employees who have children who need the support. home schooling, or for those who live close to the office and can avoid public transportation. The division between who should enter and who should stay at home was also left to the ministries.
“Some people ask us to come half the week; some do it for a week, a week off… you just mix people up willy-nilly, ”she said, adding concerns about the ventilation in the sealed, air-conditioned building.
Taiwan will likely see further restrictions imposed if the outbreak is not contained quickly, and health experts have expressed concern that authorities and the public – having lived mostly without Covid for so long – are not aware of the most recent information on how it is transmitted.
However, not all companies struggle with the arrangements. Law firm Winkler Partners immediately closed its doors to the public on Monday and said most employees would work from home. Tern Bicycles’ Taiwan office went into work-from-home mode two weeks ago when cases started to rise, with its sales manager Matthew Davis saying he largely addressed the issues after taking precautions similar at the start of 2020.
“We have around 60 employees, a mix of around 80% local staff and 20% international staff… It is a challenge for everyone to get used to the different environment and switch to online communication. only, ”he said. “[But] the biggest part was biting the bullet and making the decision.
Davis, who has lived in Taiwan for 16 years, says the culture of presenteeism was not just imposed from above, but he hopes the current situation could bring about mass cultural change.
“We always focus on employee performance and capabilities, not physical presence… We believe this is the way to go and how to recruit and retain the best employees. Perhaps there are efficiency gains that lead to a better work-life balance.