Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

Requiring BPO workers to work onsite might cause loss of top talents

May 21, 2022, 1:15 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

After adjusting for two years in work-from-home arrangement—which more often entailed longer and more stressful work hours—employees of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies would rather have WFH set-up than return to office work what with monstrous traffic on the way to work and back.

Besides, BPO employers must spend more if their employees return to office work because they must reorient and retrofit the office spaces again back to the pre-pandemic arrangements, they must remove the plastic boundaries in between tables and ensure that social distancing and mask-wearing are strictly observed always, especially in common areas like the canteen or gyms and smoking areas.

Imagine how call center agents would look and sound like with masks on while talking to overseas clients—where chances are they have already abandoned their masks.

Some BPO companies have expressed their desire to transfer to other countries where hybrid work arrangements, rather than onsite, are encouraged. Still other BPO companies would rather lose their tax perks if only to keep the WFH or hybrid work arrangement than requiring employees to stay in office.

In the Philippines, the BPOs are regulated by the Philippine Export Zone Authority (where most BPOs are located), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (for the tax perks granted to PEZA locators) and the Department of Finance through the Fiscal Incentives Review Board.

The drive to get people back into offices is clashing with employees who have embraced remote work as the new normal. Some have quit their jobs after their bosses required them to go back to the office.

While companies from Google to Ford Motor Co. and Citigroup, Inc. have promised greater flexibility, many other companies have praised the importance of being inside offices.

There are companies that say remote work diminishes collaboration and company culture. But legions of workers think that if anything, the past two years have proven that much work can be done from anywhere, without the lengthy commutes on crowded trains or buses.

The singular reason why government wants all employees to return to office is to perk up consumption, to help the economy. People tend to spend more when outside their homes, which effectively sustains other businesses near offices.

The order to return to workplace took effect on March 31, after which companies lose their tax incentives.

90 percent want hybrid/remote setup

Nine of 10 employees preferred a hybrid or remote work setup, according to a survey of 8,184 workers by Sprout Solutions in January.

“The sentiments of employees stem from a love of work and the flexibility to work on one’s own terms, but feel that there is a lack of support to make it sustainable in the long term,” Sprout Solutions Chief People and Customer Officer Arlene de Castro said.

A December study by the Institute for Labor Studies (ILS) of the Department of Labor showed that only 62 of 275 companies surveyed said more than half of their employees could work remotely.

“The number of employees eligible for work-from-home and telecommuting ranges from 13,676 to 16,852 or 16 percent to 18percent of the total workforce covered in the survey,” it said.

Work-life balance

Work-from-home arrangements allow employees to have work-life balance and flexibility, Rene E. Ofreneo, a professor emeritus at the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations, said.

“Work-life balance is very important. The traffic already returned and is again a problem for workers. It also affects productivity,” he added.

No drop in productivity


One edge that employees have is a two-year track record of working remotely without a drop in productivity; many have even reported the opposite.

Working from home let them cut out the commute, be their best both at home and at work, have more time for their children and cut concerns about coronavirus exposure.

The government should consult workers instead of forcing them to go to the office, Ofreneo said as he suggested that PEZA, DTI and DoF and the BPO workers “should find the correct approach.”

“It’s ironic that they have been talking about global competitiveness. Part of being globally competitive is that you are very flexible and agile. Working from home is part of the adjustments to the global challenges of staying in business and being competitive,” he said.

Improve mass transportation

Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said the government should improve mass transportation and improve the traffic to help employees returning to the office.

He also said the decision to allow remote work is a company prerogative, adding that some industries could benefit from it.

“It is the decision of the company,” he said. “If the company is fine with on-site work, they can do that. While some employees would like to work from home, they are not the ones paying the salaries. It’s the company.”

Ofreneo said the government should support remote work setups.

“Not only will working from home stay. It’s about to expand because of how advanced the world is now. If we have good internet connection, the business system and work arrangements will continue to evolve,” Ofreneo said.

My take

I agree that government must encourage remote and hybrid work arrangements. (Hybrid is scheduling how many times a week an employee can work in office and at home).

If BPOs desire to have their tax perks removed, then why force the issue. The BPO companies are more concerned about continuity, productivity and a fulfilled workforce. If their employees go grudgingly to office work, then half their time would be spent moping and grumbling rather than working with good spirits.

The government must worry if BPO companies decide to pull out of our country because they find themselves without any employees—with attrition rates so high even during the pre- pandemic and talent piracy so fast—and they can’t rely on fresh graduates to do the job because they lack the skills for it. Training new talents certainly cost so much.

We don’t want to be losing more investments and jobs, do we?


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