Does Working from Home Really Help Southeast Asian Start-ups?

These founders advise against it

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 14 Mar 2017

working from home

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A smartphone light flashes in the dark. Then, there starts a vibrating, ringing alarm. With her smartphone almost falling off the bed, Gia wakes up at exactly 5:00 am in the morning to start her daily grind. At around 6:00 am, she should be at the nearest bus stop so she can have an ample amount of time to get to her office before 8:00 am in the central business district of Makati, Philippines. She works as a business development associate of a fintech start-up that requires her to go to the office everyday. She’s 24 and just like other millenials in the region, traffic is an inevitable part of her day.

In other Southeast Asian countries, an increased travel time over the years has been observed, too. According to a study by Regus, travel time in Malaysia is increasing by five minutes per way each year since 2012. This explains the surprising amount of work done by Malaysians during their commute time — work emails (52.8%) and reading important documents (43.3%).

With increased travel times as one major reason for pushing work-from-home set-ups across the region, is working from home a viable option for start-ups?

A lot has been written about the benefits of working from home, such as increased productivity, a better work-life balance, and happier employees. For instance, Walter Chen writes in his Inc. article, “Because when you work remotely, nothing is given to you; you have to actively build the work life that you always dreamed of. And you can be the most productive you’ve ever been.”

And some of the world’s top companies, such as Google and Intel, encourage their people to telecommute.


Work from home, but not totally

However, some Southeast Asian founders advise against it. “Not on a full time basis. People can work from home if there are circumstances that prevent them from coming into the office,” says Paul Rivera, co-founder and CEO of Kalibrr, a Philippine-based online job-hunting and recruitment platform.

“Permanent work from home is bad for employees, especially if they are [the] young ones, as they lose a lot — by not being in a formal office environment — such as serendipitous exchange of ideas and being able to interact with management. There's so much you learn just by observing and interacting that you don't get working from your couch,” he explains.

He adds, “Work from home is great if you're a consultant, which means you're typically much older than the average millennial.”

Similarly for Ashwin Jeyapalasingam, co-founder and COO of CatchThatBus, a Malaysia-based online bus booking platform. “I still believe in better collaboration when people are working together, so no [to an absolute work-from-home set-up].”

However, they do take into account certain employee needs. For instance, the company allocates 12 work-from-home days for each employee, which they can apply for as they would their normal annual leave allowance.

“It allows people to save their leaves for actual holidays, rather than waiting for IKEA to deliver, and also our expat staff to have more time back in their home countries with their family,” he adds.

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