The Virtual Assistant: The New Age of Offsite BPO

In the 1989 Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams”, Ray Kinsella is a farmer from Iowa who hears a whisper while walking through the corn fields.

“If you build it, they will come”.

The whispers continue to befuddle Ray until one day he sees a vision of a baseball diamond in his corn field. Much to his wife’s chagrin, Ray works tirelessly to build the baseball diamond. After several months of waiting and putting his family in near financial ruin, legendary baseball players long deceased finally appear and take Ray to a journey to rebuild his troubled relationship with his father.

This isn’t a review on famous movies in the 80’s. But in a lot of ways, companies are set up with the premise that if you build the facility, business will come. When the BPO industry in the Philippines blossomed in 2006, growing at an annual rate of 46%, call centers which accounted for 70% of receipts, mushroomed in the key business districts of Makati, Ortigas and Quezon City. Real estate developers put up buildings with a greater allocation for commercial property than residential to accommodate the exponential growth of the BPO industry. Owners of commercial spaces converted these to seat lease facilities to house BPO operations. Companies that were still reeling from the global collapse of financial markets in 2007 continued to acquire outsourcing services and employ remote workers in order to lower costs of operation.

However, as the global BPO industry became competitive, long-term contracts with clients became a rarity as businesses had more options to explore. The lack of long-term contracts did not make it viable for outsourcing services providers to build or lease private facilities for clients. The industry was vulnerable to economic forces and fell to the machinations of supply-side economics. Lower pricing meant lower margins and outsourcing services providers had to look for ways and means to improve profitability without compromising quality of work.

Thus, was born the niche for Offsite BPO operations.

Offsite BPO refers to the use of remote workers employed by the outsourcing services provider who are not housed inside leased premises. They may or may not have set working schedules but the work place is mobile. They can work from home, from the coffee house, a restaurant or an internet shop. All they need is a reliable, convenient laptop, tablet or smart phone and good internet connection. The highly mobile, remote worker is more commonly referred to as the Virtual Assistant or VA.

Whereas before, the Virtual Assistant was used primarily by small business owners who had limited access to capital, nowadays, the Virtual Assistant has figured prominently in the operational frameworks of mid to large sized companies. There are several reasons why a Virtual Assistant becomes valuable even to big business.

Lowers employment cost

A Virtual Assistant is an independent contractor and is a proprietor of an enterprise. The company does not pay the Virtual Assistant standard government mandated benefits or increases.

Higher level of Productivity

A Virtual Assistant does not go through the same inconveniences as a regular employee who works in a leased facility. Since the VA works primarily at home, he or she does not have to contend with the hassles of traffic and the daily commute to and from work. He or she can designate the hours to be allocated on a project. Even if the work schedule is specified by the client, the VA has the flexibility to put in the required hours to complete the project.

Less stressors equals better, more effective performance

A regular employee not only has to deal with the hazards of a daily commute but has to allocate a budget for food and other expenses. A Virtual Assistant has lesser expenses and usually, saves up more of his or her income at the end of the month. Most of all, a VA does not have to contend with the usual politicking and back-biting that occurs in a leased workplace. Thus, there are less stress factors to affect productivity and performance.

Spreads out the cost of operation without adversely affecting profit margins

Outsourcing service providers have developed a hybrid framework which integrates onsite operations with regular employees and offsite operations using Virtual Assistants and other remote workers. The objectives are to bring down the cost of pricing points, accommodate the budget of the client without compromising profit margins and the quality of work. The ratio of onsite to offsite workers will depend on the requirements of the project and the budget of the client.

Provides contingencies.

The use of Virtual Assistants presents viable options for clients in the event circumstances that impede the conduct of operations

The use of Virtual Assistants presents viable options for clients in the event circumstances that impede the conduct of operations arise. Examples would be power outages, flooding of access roads and main thoroughfares, natural calamities and technical issues with IT among others. In the Philippines, it is a common strategy to hire Virtual Assistants from the provincial areas as part of the company’s disaster recovery measures.

With the use of virtual assistants, businesses no longer have to build their “Field of Dreams” and risk financial ruin if contracts are cut short or if they ever materialize like “’Shoeless’ Joe Jackson” in the movie. Companies can be rest assured of staying within cost parameters without compromising quality of work and service in their effort to improve profitability.