Business unusual for BPOs in the COVID-19 aftermath

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Business unusual for BPOs in the COVID-19 aftermath

Gloria Henry

Monday, June 01, 2020

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While the world collectively prepares to reopen its doors and ports, business unusual is the new normal.

The outsourcing industry would, on the surface, seem to be a sector that by definition is designed to withstand the vagaries of our new COVID-19 reality better than most, and to some extent it has.

However, it is also an industry almost entirely reliant on people power, and the contagion shows us no one is immune. It also reminds us that employee workplace safety must always be our top priority in any work setting, irrespective of the prevailing health environment.

The Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) continues to guide its members and affiliate stakeholders alike in driving a workplace cultural revolution to place greater emphasis on the people motive in order to sustain and grow profits.

Speaking of numbers, here are some cold, hard facts.

1.Up to 60 per cent of operators in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector were not required to close when the Government of Jamaica announced the new containment measures, as they were designated as essential service providers.

2.Additionally, some 13 sector companies voluntarily shuttered their main location operations, and deployed their staff to work from home instead.

3.As of May 7, BPO operators who were deemed to have satisfactorily passed Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) site assessments have been permitted to allow non-essential workers to return the work on company premises.

Our number one priority as an association remains the personal and economic welfare of all Jamaicans and overseas partners.

The necessary balance of ensuring income generation is sustained while taking every health precaution is not a popular topic right now, but it is a most vital discussion point.

In order to protect the few industries that still have the capacity to generate critical foreign exchange, we must let facts not emotions guide our decision-making processes.

Meaning, as long as all MOHW protocols have been met and signed off, then we have a duty to shift this vital growth engine from a neutral position and slowly but confidently transition into drive mode. Doing the reverse is not an option.

Some more facts:

1.Over the two-week period of the initial local BPO sector shutdown, an estimated US$13.4 million, or approximately J$1.7 billion in sector revenue was lost.

2.For the five weeks since the April 22 announcement, nearly US$42.5 million in losses would have been realised, with some overseas clients considering relocating their business to other jurisdictions. This in light of an increased demand for outsourced business processing services as a result of the pandemic-induced economic fallout.

3.Every single employee of each BPO operator contributes significantly to their local residential economy. Additionally, the various linkages to workers' spend are directly affected by their disposable income. So food and beverage and transportation, in particular, would be adversely affected. The loss in revenue tracks in the tens of millions of dollars weekly, across various support sectors for cluster zones like Portmore, St Catherine, and Montego Bay, St James.

Virtual reality

The GSAJ currently has 44 per cent of its workforce working from home, and a recent survey shows that the majority of companies have devised some form of incentives for these remote workers.

While this topic has not been widely discussed, it is our belief that to secure the health and viability of employees and investors alike, focus on workplace safety has to include all workspaces.

At some point in the work cycle, work-at-home staff members will be required to interact with fellow employees at the company's location. The prospect of cross contagion will remain a reality now and even after vaccines have been administered.

Some protocols to take into consideration include:

1.Periodic COVID-19 testing for remote employees and those with whom they share their dwelling

2.Cleaning and sanitisation protocols for homes to protect these workers

3.Counselling and engagement sessions for on-site and work-at-home employees, to address anxiety and potential post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related issues

4.Most companies have already invested in monitoring devices, but those who have not, should consider investment in power supply and information security hardware and software for remote workers

We must be willing to accept that we have no choice but to shred some old practices and embrace the new paradigm of the “new work order”.

It will take time and it will often be painful. However, the range of direct and indirect beneficiaries in the world's fastest-growing sector are not alone on this new battlefront.

Organisations like the GSAJ and Nearshore Americas in tandem with local, regional, and international governments and stakeholders understand that the lowest hanging fruits must be harvested for the rest of the economy to regenerate and grow again. That's just common sense.

Gloria Henry is the president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica.


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