Atelier Lumikha – a Different Kind of Back-office

posted on 6th June 2014 in Business with no comments

Lumikha Team Building - Dumaguete BPO heads to Siguijor for Customer Service and Communication Training

Why Move a BPO from Manila?

In 2013, after a decade (give or take) doing business in Metro Manila, we moved our office to Dumaguete City. It’s the best thing we ever did for several reasons.

For one thing, Manila is a tough on people. Actually, to be fair, its not all that hard on wealthy people or expatriate people with a cushy expat package. But not everyone has a beemer & driver whisking them off to Eastwood Cyber City and back home to Ayala Alabang on off-peak hours. There are, as they say, a million stories in the city. Lowly BPO types who occupy the lowest rung on the ladder have plenty of stories. Many are quite grim. The status quo: leaving two or three hours early to get to work; worrying about robbery on the way to work; arriving at work to repetitive, difficult work. Working nine hours and commuting two to six hours a day.

Manila Salary People Mash onto the MRT

For another, remember that bottom rung, the one with most of the people who feed the beast for call center and business process work? The Beast needs lots of people to support garbage disposals, check insurance forms, encode medical records, and taking calls from people who want to learn more about that medical alert system for Grammy or how they can consolidate their student loans. The Beast looms large in Manila where every BPO executive will tell you that getting, keeping, developing, motivating talent is their number one challenge. All this means that once you have gotten, educated and developed some talent you can be sure someone else is ready to take that talent away. In this fashion, you can go right ahead and do the same thing over again because, through everything, the Beast will keep growing and gobbling people to take care of those remote service jobs that people in their home economies can’t be bothered to do at a competitive rate.

I could go on, but I’ll stop after one last dig. Manila is an urban nightmare. As Felino Palafox of Palafox Associates put in a recent talk I attended put it, “Firms send urban planners to Manila to see how not to do it.” Limited green space, a pedestrian hostile environment, perpetual traffic, flooding, etc. conspire to make Manila a mess of grand proportions.

In the end, leaving Manila was a choice about changing our collective quality of life. That said, several of us (myself included) commute to Manila. When your employees are exhausted all the time, they can’t do great work nor are they very happy. Competition for talent is cut throat and will only get worse. Besides the abundance of people, Manila isn’t all that great a city from a lifestyle perspective.

Contrast that to Dumaguete with four universities and a dozen colleges graduating plenty of fresh, energetic and qualified talent. Our office is next to the ocean, overlooking a boardwalk where people congregate to exercise and hangout each morning and evening. A long commute from the next town over is something like fifteen minutes. Beach and mountain activities abound. The area could be purpose built for outdoor activity.

Outside Dumaguete

A short distance out of town, biking around.

Back to Atelier Lumikha

Part of the exodus from Manila was the idea that many of the assumptions about BPO operations probably make as much sense as the idea of six hour commutes or endless Six Sigma courses or the “Table of Penalties” section in every Philippines company handbook. I figured perhaps we shouldn’t stop at changing geography. Maybe its time to shed some of the things that have become received knowledge in our business, conducting back-office operations from the Philippines.

So we’ve been working at this for a few months: hiring good people, doing work, trying things a different way — with varying degrees of success. This project is the exposition of that evolution simvastatin generic.

A rambling concoction of commentary about business and living in the Philippines, travel around Asia, things read and opined upon.