When Covid arrived, the world of work changed, with huge pressure on businesses to embrace work from home (WFH). And what we soon discovered was that the barriers facing businesses looking to transition to WFH were much more significant in some countries and regions than in others.
In highly developed countries, like the UK, moving from the office to home was an unusual challenge, but one made easier by the fact that most people had an internet connection at home and some space in which to work – even if it was just the kitchen table.
Compare that with India and the Philippines, two countries very popular as destinations for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). The latest research on popular BPO locations by Ryan Strategic Advisory places them at number one and two respectively. So how did they cope during the pandemic and what is the attitude to WFH now in these countries?
There were many challenges in the Philippines. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) rated internet speed the slowest in the entire region. There are only three broadband subscriptions for each one hundred people – compared to around 41 in the UK. The UN Broadband commission ranks the Philippines very poorly for access to the internet.
Unbelievably, some companies in the Philippines sent their employees home and then fined them for not having good enough broadband to be able to effectively work from home. Many companies in the customer service sector were forced to partner with local telecoms players leading to a situation where it was only possible to initiate a WFH strategy if all employees had high quality broadband at home.
India faced similar challenges. While BPOs could ensure that internet quality in the office was always effective, it was much more difficult to guarantee good connectivity with people working from home. India has even less access to broadband at home than the Philippines, with just 1.6 connections per 100 people.
As late as November 2021, around three-quarters (72%) of Indian employees that were working from home said that their internet speed was not good enough to create an optimal working environment.
The Philippines government has insisted on BPO employees all being back in the office from last month – effectively delivering a government ban on any WFH customer service work. This is not because of the poor quality infrastructure, it is because many BPO companies accept grants and tax rebates to locate their offices in specific locations – if everyone is working from home then all these financial incentives are pointless.
Now how do all these employees feel now the pandemic is more than two years old?
In the Philippines the message is clear, 9 out of 10 employees want to either continue working from home or expect to be able to some of the time. In India, just one in five employees would prefer to work from an office and 91% want more control over their work location and hours in future.
So what’s the message we can take from this? It’s clear that popular BPO destinations, such as India and the Philippines, really struggled with the transition to WFH. With few homes connected to high quality broadband it often required support from the telcos to facilitate the transition.
But now people in these locations have upgraded their internet connection and had experience of WFH it seems remarkably similar to locations such as the UK and US. These employees want more flexibility and more control over their working hours and location.
This may be a challenge if companies have a strong culture that is based on being present in the office, but executives need to pay close attention to these preferences. Any company that wants to be seen as an employer of choice now needs to offer more flexibility as standard. This is how you will attract the best talent. Even the Wall St banks have now acknowledged this.
It’s going to be difficult in regions like the Philippines, where the government is telling workers to all get back to the office, but eventually the message will be clear – people want more flexibility at work and WFH is an important lever to achieving this.