INTERNET connection quality will determine work-from-home productivity, while data protection needs will influence when outsourcing firms fully return to on-site work, industry officials said.

The transition back to on-site work could be measured in months instead of weeks for companies that remain productive while employees work from home, Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) Chief Executive Officer Rey E. Untal said in an online interview in late June.

Companies will also assign at least some employees to work from home to maintain physical distancing measures on site.

Some outsourcing companies may accelerate the move back to their offices, especially for areas with poor internet infrastructure.

More employees are able to return to work in areas with more relaxed lockdowns that will allow them to use public transport. In some of these areas, home-based internet infrastructure is also poor, accelerating the shift back to offices.

“There’s no cookie-cutter answer. It varies from company to company,” Mr. Untal said.

As of late June, 81% of outsourcing employees in the Philippines were deemed productive, with 59% working from home and 22% on-site.

At the beginning of the lockdown in March, 40% of employees were working from home while 10% were working on-site. This increased to 58% work from home and 15% on-site by May.

Some companies are shifting to some degree of long-term home-based work.

Singapore-based outsourcing company Everise Philippines announced last month that it was hiring 2,000 Filipinos to work from home.

Everise Chief Executive Officer Sudhir Agarwal said in an e-mail that 50% of its entire workforce will be working from home for the foreseeable future.

This model has an effect on the recruitment process, where prospective employees with reliable bandwidth connection have the upper hand.

“For new hires we test speeds and we have a requirement pre-screening to hire people that meet minimum bandwidth requirements,” Mr. Agarwal said.

The company had spent the last two years developing a work at home and desktop software solution that its workforce transitioned to during the lockdown. Everise moved 90% of its global workforce to home-based operations at the start of the stricter lockdown in March.

“We were in the fortunate position to have the foresight to create a work at home business model. Luckily, we could transition quickly to that model, and to scale up from that model as well, because our business increased after the pandemic started,” Mr. Agarwal said.

“Not all BPOs have been as fortunate. Many of them will have to work hard to put in place a business model that we had already spent two years developing.”

Teleperformance Philippines said 20,000 of its 47,000 employees were working from home at the end of June.

Teleperformance Chief Operating Officer Mike Lytle in an e-mail said that the company is retaining non-voice and lower-bandwidth projects for home-based operations, while “sensitive” projects remain on site.

IBM Philippines Government and Regulatory Affairs Executive Princess Lou M. Ascalon in a webinar in June said outsourcing contracts did not sufficiently cover data protection measures for the shift to work-from-home operations during the lockdown. Some clients have asked for noise-proof workspaces in employee homes to reduce interference.

Outsourcing companies are using data security technologies, with Teleperformance using cloud storage, multi-factor authentication, and other controls.

For now, both Teleperformance and Everise are looking at a “blended model” of both home and office setups.

IBPAP’s Mr. Untal has said that there are limits to what companies can do in a work-from-home setup because of infrastructure and security considerations. He said that the industry is working with government agencies to improve employee transportation and to increase their productivity as the lockdown eases. — Jenina P. Ibañez