As COVID-19 continues to transform our lives, millions of people worldwide are working from home. For experienced remote workers, little has changed from day-to-day. For others who are new to remote work, normalcy is being redefined. During these extraordinary times, the COVID-19 has also influenced business process outsourcing organizations. In this article, we’ll explore how remote work has been affected by business process outsourcing. We’ll begin with an overview of business process outsourcing. Then we’ll explore the question: “Why do companies use business process outsourcing?” Next, we will look at specific ways that BPO companies are adapting to these changing times and moving forward. Finally, we’ll highlight the benefit of improved well-being to remote works from autonomy.
The researchers Anton Joseph and Paul Mathew collaborated on a research paper which highlighted remote work and telecommuting “as an opportunity for employment generation, reducing carbon footprint, widening ICT application, technology access for the rural population and, increasing beneﬁts for employees. It leads to a more energy-saving environment without adversely impacting proﬁt.”
One of the studies cited in the research paper looked at a work-from-home experiment in a city located in the southwestern region of the United States. In 1995, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, launched a telecommuting program based on research that showed that 50% of workers were interested in working remotely or had jobs that were a good fit for remote work. Six months later, the city shared that their telecommuting plan “helped to avoid 1.4 tons of pollutants to the air and a total reduction of 97,000 commuting miles.” That’s like taking a cross country road trip from New York to Los Angeles 34 times!
Energy conservation is one of the few benefits of remote work. Business process outsourcing organizations can also use remote work to find talent, increase productivity, and improve employees’ well-being.
What is business process outsourcing?
Take a look at this list:
- Pay for a delicious meal at your favorite restaurant.
- Use a ride share service to take you somewhere.
- Schedule delivery of groceries to your home.
- Bring your car to get an oil change.
- Visit your dentist for a dental cleaning and checkup.
The examples above are tasks where you can pay for value to solve a specific problem in your personal life. Have you done at least one of the items above in the past six months? If so, you’ve used delegation to have someone take care of a task for you.
Here is another version of the list with more details:
- Pay for a delicious meal at your favorite restaurant. → Delegate a cooked meal.
- Use a ride share service to take you somewhere. → Delegate driving.
- Schedule delivery of groceries to your home. → Delegate shopping for groceries.
- Bring your car to get an oil change. → Delegate an oil change.
- Visit your dentist for a cleaning and checkup. → Delegate teeth cleaning.
Businesses use delegation, as well. For example, a coworker may ask a fellow team member to take care of a specific task. However, when an outside party begins to handle a task, then it is known as outsourcing.
The consulting firm Deloitte describes outsourcing as “the contracting out of the management and enhancement of business function to an external partner that can involve the transfer of people, processes, assets, and definitely responsibilities.” When an organization uses business processes outsourcing (BPO), they are delegating specific business processes to a trusted partner.
Nike, IBM, and Slack are just a few of the brands that use BPO.
Why do companies use business process outsourcing?
Imagine you are a partner in a design agency and lead a talented team of 7 remote graphic designers. Your client base is growing. When you get on the phone with new clients, you “feel in the zone.” You can almost see them smiling through the phone. However, other parts of your business need attention, like bookkeeping. Although you have a basic understanding of your financial books and how your business is doing, you cringe at the thought of accounting.
One morning, as the sun peeks through your bedroom window, you have an aha moment:
“What if we partnered with a bookkeeper to handle the day to day upkeep of our business finances?”
You grab your phone and text your business partner about the idea. Almost instantly, your phone buzzes, and you see a text that says, “Let’s do it!” Your wheelhouse is creative work, not bookkeeping, so you start on the task that day. You reach out to your network for recommendations. Over the next week, you have conversations with five bookkeepers to find one that is the right fit for your business.
This story is an example of outsourcing a specific business process. Similar stories could unfold for other areas of a business. For instance, you could get help with your sales system, customer support, human resources, customer relations management, and more.
Let’s circle back to the story above with the partner in the design agency. Consider their point of view by putting yourself in the shoes of the partner.
Can you describe some benefits of outsourcing bookkeeping?
Here are a few that come to mind:
- Piece of mind: “This is one less thing to have to worry about.”
- Save time: “I’ll have a pulse on how my business is performing. I won’t have to fumble around in the accounting software for hours and hours every month.”
- Reliability: “I went through a thorough vetting process from an initial list of 5 potential candidates. This person is detailed and organized.”
- Lower risk: “My bookkeeper is an expert in their domain. They can keep track of the day to day books to help my business avoid costly accounting mistakes down the road.”
- Make more money: “I can focus on higher-value work like bringing on new clients who need design work.”
The partner recognized the need to get some help in an area of the business where they aren’t strong in. This is an example of playing on your strengths.
Gretchen Rubin, a speaker and the author of The Happiness Project, said that we should work on our strengths instead of our weaknesses.
“How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row?” she said.
“It’s difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won’t enjoy the process. If you don’t find pleasure or reinforcement along the way, then unless you have the willpower of Ben Franklin, you’ll soon give up. But you don’t have to be good at everything. Life offers so many chances to use one tool instead of another, and often you can use strength to get around a weakness.”
This powerful concept of using strengths to overcome a weakness can also carry over to business. Organizations turn to outsource as a way to play to their strengths. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, they outsource specific areas of their business, so they can focus on what they do best.
How are business process outsourcing companies adapting?
BPO companies took action quickly as COVID-19 began spreading around the globe at the beginning of 2020. China was the first country to ask employees to work remotely, and other countries followed afterward. By allowing employees to work from home, companies providing business processing services could continue to serve their clients.
One example of this resiliency happened with Computer Generated Solutions. As a provider of BPO services, they shared, “CGS transitioned nearly all of its 7,500 global employees to work remotely. We have managed to transform from a brick-and-mortar company to a virtual company in a matter of days via our business continuity plan and remain 100 percent operational. While we’ve always prided ourselves on offering around-the-clock, scalable solutions, we want to assure you that this commitment has never been more important and accurate.”
In the past, BPO companies may have been hesitant to explore remote work. Now it is becoming the new normal where millions of people are working remotely from home.
This transition to remote work has had some challenges. For example, leaders at these organizations had to find answers to questions like:
- How do we communicate remotely?
- How can we ensure security for our employees who work remotely?
- How do we set up our employees for success when working from home?
These challenges have proved to be minor setbacks and have been countable. For instance, team meetings that were previously in-person are now being held on video conferencing services like Zoom, WebEx, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.
A spokesperson at the National Association of Software and Service Companies commented on this transition: “Today, almost 70-80% of the BPO industry’s workforce is working from home – possibly the largest work-from-home scale project anywhere.”
This momentous shift to working from home has also had positive effects on employees.
Improved Well-being for Remote Workers Through Autonomy
A feeling of control can have a powerful impact on an employee’s performance and mental health.
In 2004, the researchers Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Paul Baard conducted a study on workers at an investment bank in the United States. They found increased job satisfaction between employees whose bosses offered “autonomy support.” These bosses provided ongoing support in the following ways:
- Saw issues from the employee’s perspective,
- Shared helpful feedback and information,
- Offered ample choice over what to do and how to do it?
- Encouraged employees to try new projects.
Then something remarkable happened. Job satisfaction increased, and so performed the job. Moreover, individual improvements can have a domino effect and spread throughout a company.
For instance, in a study at Cornell University, 320 small businesses were examined. Half of the companies granted autonomy while the other half used top-down direction. The businesses that leveraged autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented organizations. Even more, the firms who chose autonomy had one-third less turnover in staff.
What these studies are suggesting, in other words, is that autonomy is like a seed that can be planted. With some care, employees begin to thrive, which then helps a business grow, and it isn’t limited to a specific industry.
Remote work in itself has a sense of autonomy. Employees who work from home get a say in where they work in their homes. That is a small but meaningful sense of control, and that matters.
Angela Duckworth, an author, and professor talks about the difference between beginners and experts. “At the start of an endeavor, everyone needs encouragement and freedom to figure out what we enjoy. We need small wins. We need applause. Yes, we can handle a tincture of criticism and corrective feedback. Yes, we need practice. But not too much and not too soon,” she wrote in her eye-opening book Grit. “Rush a beginner and you’ll bludgeon their budding interest. It’s very, very hard to get that back once you do.”
Provide clear direction for employees who work remotely. Then allow them to forge a path on how to complete work. Next, provide helpful feedback, so they understand how they are performing. This is how you create a virtuous cycle of happy employees. And as we saw in the Cornell University study above, happy employees are likely to stick around longer and help drive business growth. But there is more.
“Contemporary research shows that generally, happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens,” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says.
Remote work has become a crucial part of business process outsourcing. BPO firms, with millions of remote employees, spread out across the world, are continuing to serve their clients even in these uncertain times from COVID-19.
Would you like to like to learn from experts who have grown distributed teams?
To learn more about the impact that business process outsourcing has on remote work, listen to Running Remote Online panel discussion with key experts in this area such as Derek Gallimore from Outsource Accelerator, Maren Kate from Inde.co, Marge Aviso from TeleworkPH, and Cody McLain from SupportNinja.
Register for the next Running Remote Online on August 12 to take part in more interesting discussions on the impact of remote work in different industries. The headliners of the event are such well-known industry leaders as Sam Parrv from The Hustle, Andrew Filev from Wrike, and Eric Schuetzler from Beam Suntory.
In this article, we’ve highlighted the impact of business process outsourcing. We began with a primer on business process outsourcing. Then we answered the question: “Why do companies use business process outsourcing?” Next, we looked at specific ways that BPO companies are adapting to these changing times. Finally, we touched on a personal benefit to remote workers with improved well-being from autonomy.