Call Center Workers Can Work from Home

The Indian government will allow agents to work off-site in a move to lower operating costs and attract less mobile workers

BPO agents can work and still enjoy their home ambience. The government has given its go-ahead to agents working at call centres, other service providers included, to work from home.

The decision, thus, fulfils a long-standing industry demand to lower operating costs and bring in more people, including women and the physically-challenged, into the BPO workforce.

According to a recent memorandum issued by the department of telecom (DoT), the concept of work-from-home agents has been introduced for companies registered under other service providers (OSPs) category which would have to pay a Rs 5-crore bank guarantee for this purpose. Services like call centres, network operation centres, tele-marketing, tele-education, tele-medicine and tele-trading come under OSPs.

"It's wonderful news. It will help fight attrition and traffic blues, lower costs, and allow many more people to join the workforce. It's a great move, but I need to look into details," said Genpact president & CEO Pramod Bhasin.

Confronted by rising costs and slowdown in major markets, leading BPO firms, Genpact is a case in point, were experimenting with work-from-home initiatives for employees in functional domains like finance, legal and HR.

"This could be the game-changer for India and the industry. It could make attrition problems history. However, the devil is in the details and we need to see the terms and conditions," said Quatrro BPO Solutions MD Raman Roy. Nasscom former president Kiran Karnik added: "The industry has been asking for this for long. It would allow those who are home-bound like differently-abled people and women to work in the BPO industry and earn, too."

But BPO firms are already voicing security concerns which, they say, would not allow them to make full use of the concept. "Clients have a whole host of security concerns and access to information to employees is allowed in a tightly-controlled environment. Security concerns reduce the lure of work-from-home and it's no longer a viable option for us," said Firstsource Solutions chief technology officer Sanjiv Dalal. "We can provide the same data privacy controls at home electronically," countered Mr Bhasin.

Some BPO companies took the line that there was no clarity on interconnection between local and international telecom networks. Indian laws prohibit such interconnection. But in its absence, agents working from home won't be able to call an international customer using their domestic telecom network.

"Agents could call their companies and be routed to the international customer on a secure line. Similarly, inbound calls could be received at the company's office and then, directed to the agent sitting at home," suggested Business Process Industry Association of India chief Sam Chopra.

The telecom department has done away with the condition that OSPs only have outgoing landlines equal to 10% of the inbound landlines along with a security deposit of Rs 10 lakh. The bank guarantee has been reduced from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 50 lakh and from Rs 5 crore to Rs 1 crore for sharing premises/equipment between international OSPs and domestic OSPs. OSPs, however, would be required to submit an annual return to the registering authority.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.