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BPOs working from home won’t create white elephants – developer - Tewani sees falling demand opening doors for other sectors

Published:Wednesday | August 5, 2020 | 12:05 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
This photo taken on Monday shows a building under construction which is expected to host a business processing outsourcing offices on Municipal Road, Portmore, St Catherine.
This photo taken on Monday shows a building under construction which is expected to host a business processing outsourcing offices on Municipal Road, Portmore, St Catherine.

Real estate developer Gordon Tewani is unperturbed by the thought that he could struggle to find occupants for his multibillion-dollar complexes under construction in Portmore, St Catherine, if outsourcing firms get a permanent extension to the current work-from-home model first introduced to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Tewani said he has no fears of that happening any time soon as there are a wide range of options for the buildings.

“I am not perturbed because there will always be use for well-designed buildings in a location that’s growing. They could be converted in a small way for schools or reconfigured for hospital purposes,” he said.

Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, some 13,000 workers were placed on the work-from-home regime, and while it is not clear how many will be asked to join that number moving forward, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica Gloria Henry noted discussions with Government are ongoing regarding the right ratio.

“That is something that is to be decided on, whether they will be asked to carry a 70-30 or 60-40 ratio of persons in office against those working from home,” she said.

Tewani sees no reason that would necessitate a complete shutdown of all global services operations once the COVID-19 protocols, including sanitisation and spacing, are strictly observed.

“I cannot predict what will happen in the future, only God knows that, but I feel good about things,” he told The Gleaner. “I have started one building, which will be finished soon, and we gonna start another one, but we must keep in mind the Government will not be asking every worker to go home. That is unreasonable and I don’t believe that it will ever happen.”

The businessman’s mammoth $3.5-billion investment in construction of three multilevel buildings on Portmore’s Municipal Boulevard will be able to accommodate 240,000 square feet of global services operations, pulling in 1,500 people per building at any one time and upwards of 4,500 each on a shift system.

One building is nearing completion with construction of the others far advanced.

The outsourcing sector has brought an estimated investment spend of approximately US$400 million to Jamaica per year, and there are now more than 60 companies operating mainly in Montego Bay, Mandeville, Portmore and Kingston, while other locations are increasingly opening up.

Henry said that behavioural change necessitates having some persons working remotely and that the work-at-home regime is mainly being used to complement working from the offices so that social distancing can be maintained.

“It is something that is now a requirement that some persons work remotely. In addition, seats that are transferred to work from home can be easily filled with new business, which could be used to help drive economic growth,” Henry said.

The sector currently has an extension to the current work-at-home arrangement until September 20.

Henry said that sector players are asking the Government to extend the arrangement to at least the end of the year.