Bangalore like Manila, the coronavirus pandemic paralyzes the functioning of localized services, pushing the large companies on which they depend to relocate jobs or accelerate the passage to automation. With the confinements in force in India and the Philippines, the restrictions are creating a logistical nightmare for call centers and other back-office services, localized in these countries by international companies because of the lower cost of local labor.
But, because of the strict rules governing access to confidential data like bank data from customers on the other side of the world, the teams of these localized services can hardly work at home.
And many Filipino and Indian employees live in overcrowded housing with a poor internet connection. Some companies do not even have the means to provide their employees with home office equipment such as laptops.
Anxious to remain operational, some companies have therefore chosen to have employees living at their workplace. But the practices have come under heavy criticism from unions, which have received information from some quarantined workers locked up in their offices, said Mylene Cabalona, president of the Business Process Outsourcing Industry Employees’ Network (BIEN).
In early April, the Financial Times published photos he said of workers sleeping on the floor of a call center in the Philippines, living in what the newspaper described as inhumane conditions.
While some large companies that rely on one of these localized call centers ask consumers to stop contacting their customer service, others have already announced that they plan to recruit hundreds of people in their country of origin, where they could better adapt the situation.
Robotization accelerated by the pandemic
But in the longer term, the coronavirus pandemic is also likely to accelerate the passage of automation for this type of service, which will see artificial intelligence perform tasks now devolved to men and women, experts say.
Artificial intelligence doesn’t go on strike, it can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and poses fewer problems, says Michael Czinkota, professor of international trade at Georgetown University in Washington.
The economic impact will be violent
The Covid-19 accomplished in six eight weeks what the aptitude of automation had not been able to do (…) in more than five years, declares AFP Ilan Oshri, professor at the school of management of the University of Auckland. The relocation of jobs and the increased use of artificial intelligence will have a major economic impact for countries like India and the Philippines. Localized services support millions of people and generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue.