[OPINION] Our BPO workers are essential in this pandemic

We've passed the second week of the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), and we BPO workers have already transitioned to work-at-home arrangements, working in shifts following company and government directives.

We’ve been busy helping our counterparts in the Visayas and Mindanao prepare for their own lockdown experiences. After all, we who are first to face difficulties should do everything to ensure that those who will inevitably follow are better equipped to face their trials. 

Even at this moment, some businesses are still operating, requiring their employees to report on-site. I remember the stories on Facebook of a supermarket cashier who had to walk from Pasay to Makati just to report to work, and of the delivery boys who had do their delivering on foot. (READ: Frontliners in a bind: Health workers fined P5,000 for backriding)

And like them, BPO workers provide essential services during this pandemic. 

Most people think that BPO companies are inconsiderate because they continue to operate even nowI understand the sentiment. I truly do. But why single us out? 

“Hindi rin ba tayo frontliner? Ano bang akala nila, sila lang ang nagtatrabaho? Na sila lang ang essential?” one of my colleageus chatted in exasperation. (READ: [OPINION] No to frontliner-shaming!)

Gross misconceptions

Last Wednesday, my internet connection acted up and I had to contact the network service provider. After a few minutes, an agent picked up the line, asked about my concern, and together, we proceeded to do the troubleshooting steps – to no avail.

“Teka lang, sir, tawagin ko po ‘yung supervisor ko," she said. 

I smiled and asked, “Ah, so pumapasok pa rin kayo on-site?” 

No answer. After a few minutes, we did another round of troubleshooting that solved my problem.

From solving internet problems, to taking food orders, to answering insurance inquiries and government service-related questions, there will always be a contact center agent ready to help you solve your problems in the midst of this pandemic. Kaya kung gagamit po kayo ng ruler, make sure po to use the same ruler for all. ‘Wag naman po short plastic ruler ang pang-measure at pamalo 'nyo sa iba, tapos sa amin long metal ruler; nasaan ang hustisya? 

Contrary to popular belief, BPO workers, our frontline agents, do not merely answer calls – we provide solutions systematically, creatively, and with increasing empathy at every moment. We endure bad, unreasonable behavior. We endure insults, racial slurs, and condescending comments even from fellow employees from other sectors. (Ay call center agent. Ah taga-BPO. In the name of all workers, I rebuke you!) Human labor, in all its forms, even within this dehumanizing global capitalist system, has a dignity of its own that should be upheld at all times. 

Please understand: this COVID-19 pandemic is the first of its kind and every measure we take continues to be a work in progress. Work from home arrangements are not as easy as it sounds. BPOs work with highly confidential information and it is our duty to be the champions of data security. We have security policies and protocols that must be followed – add to this the challenges in equipment and network infrastructure.

In a normal situation, employees work in shifts and take turns using company equipment. But network connectivity continues to remain a challenge for work-at-home arrangements. A secure, reliable, and stable internet connection is needed. This setup also holds true for other industries that rely heavily on an internet connection for their operations. And given the expensive but sorry state of our internet, we try to make do with what we have.

A lot of workers continue to work despite and through this pandemic to sustain their lives, and in so doing help us access necessary products and services. We can cry out of frustration, but at some point, we understand that while businesses could and should shell out generously in times like this, unplanned spending, cutting, stalling, and suspending operations can lead to reduced take-home pay, and worse, bankruptcy and closure for our workplaces.

And if some BPO sites continue to be staffed by agents on different shifts, their welfare and safety are of the utmost priority. Free and proper food and accommodations are ensured on-site. Testing and medical services incurred due to COVID-19 are covered by health care insurance. Shuttle services are provided and salaries, benefits, and other incentives have been released early and fast for all employees.

I have no illusions about the goodness of people, and business altruism is something that I always question. But what I am certain of is that we do not lack good people who try as hard as they can to strike a balance in protecting the lives and livelihood of their fellow employees in times like this. And at the end of the day, some people will need to make the hard calls to make sure everyone has a workplace to return to once this pandemic ends. – Rappler.com

Dom Balmes is a communications professional in the BPO industry and a struggling writer.