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‘TOO EARLY TO SAY’ where trends are headed–Leechiu

Conglomerates, BPOs divided on return to office

The push to bring employees back into the office and reverse pandemic work-from-home (WFH) arrangements has divided two of the country’s biggest employer groups, Leechiu Property Consultants CEO David Leechiu said.

On opposing ends are the large conglomerates, which have poured massive investments developing urban centers across the country, and the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, which has thrived and expanded amid the shift to remote work during the past two years.

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“With all of the conglomerates we’ve spoken to, many of them, 95 percent of them feel that going back to the office 100 percent as soon as possible is the solution,” Leechiu said during a briefing on property trends on Monday.

He said their reasons included the lack of productivity at home and increasing risks from data breaches.

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A multisectoral plea from business groups and property giants recently urged workers to return to the office, saying their presence in business and commercial centers were part of the “journey to postpandemic normalcy.”

But this puts them at odds with BPOs, many of whom are large tenants within business centers.

It also comes amid higher transportation costs triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the familiar problems of road congestion and lack of adequate mass transportation for workers.

WFH arrangements

Leechiu said BPO companies are acknowledging that “work from home should be made much more available to a wider labor pool.”

While other businesses cut their workforce at the height of the pandemic, BPO companies continued to hire employees. They were poised to further expand this year but their office space demand has lagged significantly because of remote work options, Leechiu explained.

Should this trend continue, he said there was a risk that a “chunk of companies” would begin to terminate office leases in a few years.

“It might be too early to say where this is going,” said Leechiu, adding there would be further discussions when a new administration takes over after the May 2022 elections.

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Lack of empathy

A collective of IT and BPO workers also condemned the government’s “utter lack of empathy” in ordering them to fully return to their physical offices by April 1.

The collective, which counts thousands in its fold, backed the tandem of Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan, noting their “capable servant leadership” and “pro-BPO” government stance was what their industry needed.

In 2021, industry revenues grew by 12 percent to $28.8 billion while headcount expanded by 8 percent to 1.4 million workers.

Two groups “IT and BPO professionals for Leni-Kiko” and “BPO employees for Leni and Kiko” formed the collective, which decried the “unyielding position” of the Duterte administration, noting this was “unreasonable and unconscionable.”

The interagency Fiscal Incentives Review Board has ordered Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza)-registered firms to fully repopulate their offices by April 1 or lose the fiscal incentives as special ecozone registrants.

“We, BPO employees, have more than earned our keep during this pandemic. We continued to work productively at odd hours, deliver services to offshore and global clients despite the challenges of the pandemic, and help create new jobs in the country,” said the group in a position paper dated March 27.

“BPO companies have spent a significant amount of resources to protect staff during the pandemic due to this administration’s miserably inept COVID response, such as employee shuttles, accommodations and vaccinations.”

BPO grew revenues by 1.4 percent to $26.7 billion in 2020 despite the hard lockdowns as the industry shifted to WFH mode. It also expanded headcount by 1.8 percent. INQ

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TAGS: bpo, Business, David Leechiu
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