As workforce managers seek ways to provide service and reduce costs amid Covid-19, a move to outsourcing might seem like a possible option. But if outsourcing presents challenges in normal times, they are amplified in the current worldwide pandemic environment.
SIA’s Lexicon of workforce solutions ecosystem terms defines outsourcing as:
“Use of an outside business services vendor (and its supervised personnel), either on the customer’s premises or off-site at the vendor’s location, to perform a function or run a department that was previously staffed and supervised by the customer directly. (Sometimes, but not necessarily, limited to situations where some or all of the customer’s previous staff performing that function are hired by the outsourcing vendor.)”
Here are some issues to prepare for when considering outsourcing as part of your program, especially when it comes to call center roles.
Equipment. Getting the equipment to workers can be difficult, a challenge that is exacerbated when they are working from home during the pandemic. Having a solid plan for how to disperse needed equipment is essential — including, for example, where it will go, who signs for it and who sets it up. And keep in mind that it may be even harder to get it back; there is usually a higher turnover in call center-type roles, and with turnover comes the challenge of getting the equipment returned.
Uninterrupted internet service can also be a concern for outsourced workers at home since they need enough bandwidth to handle the call volume and call quality. “Some enterprise buyers have had to incur the expense of paying for the internet service or for faster internet service,” says Dawn McCartney, VP of SIA’s CWS Council.
Expense reimbursement. Some states — California, Illinois and Minnesota, for example — require that workers be reimbursed for expenses incurred while working from home if their role was expected to be on-site. These costs could include internet, electricity, mobile phone service, etc.
Productivity. How will work-time be monitored? Usually, in a call center environment, systems can keep track of things like talk time, auxiliary time and idle time. However, with remote workers, productivity numbers and idle time are not easily obtained, if at all.
Worldwide economies. Organizations utilizing outsourcing strategies must pay close attention to the economic disruptions and shelter-at-home mandates caused by the pandemic in that could impact their offshore resources in foreign markets.
For example, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday extended its Covid-19 lockdown until the end of May. The world’s largest lockdown affects 1.3 billion people and has been in force since late March. Call centers and IT services firms in India that function as the world’s back office are struggling to piece together work-from-home solutions and other business-continuity plans amid the coronavirus lockdown in India, Reuters previously reported.
The global outsourcing industry is also being disrupted as lockdowns from Bangalore to Manila prompt firms to “reshore” jobs and, with AI, to move further away from needing humans at all, livemint reported. Australia’s Telstra and Optus and Britain’s Virgin Media — all of which have offshore units in India and the Philippines — announced plans to recruit hundreds of staff back home. And Telstra, which heavily relies on its Philippine facility for customer service, initially said it would hire 1,000 temporary workers, but later raised that figure to 3,500.
Most outsourcing relationships are somewhat complex, says Chris Paden, director of contingent workforce strategies and research for SIA. “They are not the type of relationship you can just quickly jump into as a pivot.” A move from contingent-worker-augmented staff to a fewer number of outsourced workers may be in the cards, and it may be a decision people are making because of the pandemic, but it is not likely usable as a “quick-fix button.”
So if you are considering outsourcing, do your due diligence. If we have learned anything over the past few months, it’s that the world as we know it can quickly change and require the redesign of your workforce. Keep all your options open — even outsourcing.