Dragoș Ștefan, President of ABSL in an interview for Ziarul Financiar
April 9, 2020
How has the activity of BPO centers and call centers changed during this time when everyone works from home?
The business services industry has been one of the first sectors which implement the necessary measures for employee safety.
According to a survey conducted by the Business Service Leaders Association in Romania (ABSL), regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, even from the mid-March, 98% of the companies in the industry took as a main measure: working from home.
So, in 43% of the companies in the industry, a percentage between 90 – 100% of the employees work from home during this period. 20% of companies replied that around 70 – 80% of their employees now work from home, while in 16% of companies the percentage of employees working at home is between 50 – 60%.
Meanwhile, these percentages have increased.
Other measures taken by the companies in the industry are: the limitation of the internal meetings, the change of the work schedule to avoid rush hours, daily sanitizing of the offices, home delivery of equipments, and, in some cases the acquisition of the technical equipments necessary to carry out the activity of the employees at home.
Fortunately, the business services industry is perhaps the best prepared for insulation. Even the outsourcing concept says this intrinsically. There are activities that are done by definition by distance. 57% of the companies in the industry appreciated in the survey that they will work in this way indefinitely. According to the survey, working from home has been one of the most attractive benefits for employees in recent years, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, 71% of companies gave employees the opportunity to work from home, at least one day a week as a benefit.
How teleworking changes the call-centres and BPO centres?
I think this period brings additional challenges to both the operational and management teams. Remote coordination is more difficult, but not impossible. In order to limit any negative impact on the quality and productivity of the work, most companies in the industry establish daily online meetings and reports, very clear objectives and use communication, monitoring and performance analysis tools. Teleworking brings elements of slight latency into operations, but it is not a phenomenon that will impact the business. Many members of ABSL had functioning plans in case the physical headquarters of the company is inactive, that were implemented within a few days and now the activity can be performed more normal.
Also, there were situations in which the work of some employees did not allow teleworking, and the companies decided to offer them trainings in order to do something else during this period.
From a productivity point of view, things are comparable to the situation in which we work from the office, because productivity depends on the working discipline of the operational teams and the attention of the managers.
All the employees in the industry have better understood that in this period our industry is a privileged one because we can continue our activity with the help of teleworking. We are one of the few economic sectors that still have financial stability and financial predictability during this critical period for the Romanian economy.
I think this period has made us more responsible and we all want the industry to move forward.
Unfortunately, our industry does not reflect the economic reality of Romania, for most sectors it is a difficult time.
Although the business services industry has easily adapted to the new situation and with teleworking, our clients from Europe, USA and Asia will be affected, which will have an impact on the business services industry in Romania. Probably we will not have such a large volume of projects, especially being affected companies that have clients in the area of production, insurance, receivables, the automotive or tourism industry.
Although, our industry contributes significantly to the budgetary reality, it is not a benchmark for Romania, as neither Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara, Iasi reflect a concrete image for Romania. The economic activity is suffering during this period and even though our industry has adapted easily, our customers are suffering. For example, contractors who based their activity on services offered to our industry are quite impacted by the absence of our employees in offices. All these aspects translate into less taxes to the state budget, which nevertheless feels a huge pressure from the direction of the health, unemployment and pensions sectors during this period. We already notice other countries in the European Union: Germany and Austria are looking for solutions to reopen the activity of the small entrepreneurs, which as in Romania are the backbone of the local economy, being the ones most affected by this crisis.
Do companies in the outsourcing industry still hire in this period?
In my opinion this period brings more stability, so the recruitment volumes have decreased. Online interviews are still being conducted, but there is not much job searching in our industry so much during this period. In principle, the recruitment process that they have already started is completed during this period or those who have chosen to leave are replaced. All interviews are done online, and the documents are also signed online. Moreover, companies send by courier, at the employees’ home, the equipment to use.
The HR departments are dealing with the part of online training during this period and with the development of the career for the already trained teams.
I think it is important that the Ministry of Education does not freeze the school/ university year. The economic impact of removing a whole generation of graduates from the labor market is a non-quantifiable one at this major moment and will affect the duration of the post-crisis recovery. The business services sector will certainly not be able to support the constant annual growth that has had, if such a decision is taken.
How do the job interviews for BPO centers and call centers are now proceed?
All interviews now are taking place online by using different platforms. According to EU law, new employees must also have occupational medicine, and there are small delays here, because it cannot be done online and at the moment there are fewer offices available.
Do companies in these two branches of industry employ people from small cities or from the countryside? If so, will this practice remain and after this crisis has passed?
Some of the member companies had this facility implemented, to recruit from smaller cities using teleworking. We do not want to relocate the entire working population in Bucharest and in the big cities.
In our industry it is less relevant where the employees work. It is important to have the necessary knowledge and a good internet connection.
There are companies where a large percentage of the operational team works remotely, because they live in smaller cities.