Work from home set to become new norm for BPO sector
Some of the leading developers of space in western Jamaica are now taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the COVID-19 sparked work-from-home (WFH) arrangement, which some outsourcing firms are expressing an interest in expanding.
Some players in the Global Services Association of Jamaica are hoping that the more than 16,000 workers that are now participating in the home-based regime will be allowed to continue until year end. They are also exploring the idea of a permanent arrangement, which could see up to 25 per cent of the workforce involved in that initiative.
“Any statement at this time is premature,” said Dr Guna Muppuri, chairman and CEO of Indies Pharma. “ … but based on the nature of the business, security could pose a problem (for an expansion to WFH).”
Muppuri has developed Bioprist Knowledge Parks for the outsourcing sector at three locations across two parishes in western Jamaica, creating a combined 197,958 square feet of space for up to 10,000 employees.
The business process outsourcing (BPO) sector was one of the green shoots of the Jamaican economy, amassing a workforce of nearly 40,000. However, all operations were ordered closed on April 22 after the Alorica Call Centre in Portmore, St Catherine, became the epicentre of a surge in coronavirus cases nationally. Firms supporting essential services were allowed to continue.
Interestingly, Muppuri sees a growth in the WFH system as an opportunity for more business for developers of space, especially if social distancing becomes the new norm.
“I am very bullish, I am a risk-taker,” said Muppuri, a medical doctor by profession. “I am still building, but I do not believe a cure is very far from us.”
However, Mark Kerr-Jarrett, managing director of Barnett Limited, the operators of Barnett Tech Park in Montego Bay, cannot envisage a Jamaica with a social-distancing lifestyle.
“It is far too early to speak on any impact, but I am hoping that this all ends soon,” said Kerr-Jarrett. “The Government has been tremendous in their management of the pandemic, but there will come a time that we will have to return to our normal lives because we are Jamaicans; we are social animals, this will not work for us.”
Kerr-Jarrett was on course for the August 2020 completion of an 80-square-foot three-storey business centre being developed to house supporting services for employees at the outsourcing firms located at the tech park, when COVID-19 struck.
According to his projections, the business centre will have catering services, a day and night care system, corporate offices, as well as smaller operations, such as the doctor’s office, remittance services, pharmacies, and convenience stores. The second floor will offer units for rent or lease to small supporting entities, while the top floor will be outfitted as incubators for start-up companies in outsourcing.
Barnett Limited, which has a capacity for approximately 800,000 sq ft of productive space and another 200,000 square feet for commercial and support services, currently houses VistaPrint, which was the first occupant, after they purchased and built a state-of-the-art facility of approximately 115,000 sq ft, and along with a rented space of 50,000 sq ft by Advanced Call Centre Technologies, and another 200,000 sq ft operated by Conduent Jamaica represents almost 7,500 seats.
Prior to COVID-19, Barnett Limited completed the spanking new 75,000 sq ft building for Conduent Jamaica, at an estimated cost of about US$9 million. Back then, an increasing demand for space in the global sector gave a promising look to the investing community, but despite the fallout from COVID-19, Kerr-Jarrett won’t give in just yet.