01942: Weather Resilient Service Industry

PAGASA Ruby Projected Path as of 05:00PM
I'm currently at the office despite the steady rains and the looming threat of typhoon tropical storm Hagupit / Ruby making its way closer and closer to Metro Manila. Recent updates peg that the storm has changed course and is making a path that takes it closer to the metropolis than before, although it is moving quite slowly. That's not a good thing since steady, continuous rain does a lot more damage to Metro Manila and its substandard drainage systems than fierce winds. Project NOAH has yet to issue any particularly worrying rainfall warnings just yet, so things venture on. The 05:00pm PAGASA advisory maintains that Metro Manila is under storm signal #2 although Ruby has weakened somewhat.

Friends and family (Tobie chief among them) urged me not to go to work, but of course I still did. For as long as the streets are passable and the office has power and telecommunications connections, the call center industry goes on. To be fair it's typical that most businesses, especially those in the retail and fast food industries will do everything that they can to stay open. It's easier for other offices to close shop for the day and let folks go since some of their work can be deferred or perhaps handled via telecommuting arrangements. Service-oriented companies don't have a much of a choice. Just think about all the people who didn't have to go to work today and had the option of going to the mall or even just ordering fast food delivery. The expectation is that those businesses remain open even though your office didn't require you to go to work. Such is the burden of the service industry.

Call centers just feel particularly weird since they also support offshore customers and thus try not to focus too much on prevailing conditions at home. The BPO industry is already notorious for ignoring local holidays since they don't apply in the US or whichever country the BPO supports, and so folks still need to go to work. And then most companies require 24/7 support anyway, so the foreign holiday equivalents don't apply either. Again, all service-aligned companies are like this. Call centers are just especially notable since they're big and represent maybe 3% of the GDP of the Philippines or something. I don't have the specific numbers in front of me right now.

The storm is expected to make landfall once more - this time at Batangas) by 06:00PM today. The full force of the storm is expected to be felt in Metro Manila sometime between 10:00PM-11:00PM. This is also the time that most call center folks go to work. For today, this is the time I am expecting to be able to go home. Fun times.

The call center world is a tough industry, I don't think anyone has any arguments counter to this. We have the same problems of other service-oriented companies like retail but the massive infrastructure of a technology company and a workforce that rivals the manufacturing industry. Any policy decision made by the call center leader is bound to affect thousands of people at any given time. And thus its easy for such decisions to attract attention.

Thus the rallying cry of call centers during adverse weather situations like this - Do stay safe, but please try to come to work as much as possible. We'll be grateful that you do so - at least for the next 24 hours.