Nearshore Americas

Monterrey and Sutherland Proved Resilient During First Wave of Covid

Businesses in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León appear to have handled the pandemic reasonably well, compared to other parts of Latin America. The capital city, Monterrey, has proved resilient, even as the state surpasses 18,000 accumulated cases of Covid-19. Several outsourcing-based providers, such as Sutherland Global, have yet to record a positive case.

Monterrey is a major commercial hub, and one of the most industrialized centers in Latin America. Multinational players such as KIA, Toyota and Boeing have operations there, along with more than 400 companies in the IT sector.

“Productivity in Monterrey ranks highest in the country and the city is a talent magnet due to its top-ranked universities,” says Héctor Tijerina, director of investment at the Ministry of Economy and Labor of the State Government of Nuevo León.

Héctor Tijerina, director of investment at the Ministry of Economy and Labor of the State Government of Nuevo León, Mexico

Tijerina told Nearshore Americas that work-from-home (WFH) has been a viable solution for businesses during the pandemic. “Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, BPOs in Monterrey have been transitioning to home offices to protect their employees from potential exposure and to ensure business continuity in a safe way,” Tijerina said.

The top five BPOs in the city are Teleperformance, with 4,500 employees, Atento, with 3,000, Arvato, with 1,700, Sitel, with 1,200 and Sutherland Global, with 800 workers. Francisco Robert, country manager for Sutherland Global in Mexico, said the company was one of the first out of the blocks with WFH, taking the initiative to arrange for the protection of workers even before the government published regulations.

“When this whole thing started, Mexico only had about 50 cases of Covid-19,” Robert said. “The position of governments in Latin America was a bit too relaxed.”

Instead of waiting, Sutherland decided to implement internal measures to prevent infections.

“We wanted to anticipate and make sure none of our employees would be exposed,” said Robert. “Our top priority was exactly that, to make sure we would anticipate any risks.”

For Sutherland, there was no “wait and see.” In March, the company began to put together a business continuity team and also a dedicated team to properly support employees and internal and external customers.

Communication was key. “We were tailoring this to fit all audiences, using information from official sources, including the Centers for Disease Control. We were putting together the troops. We were seeing what was happening in other geographies,” Robert said.

Fransisco Robert, country manager for Sutherland Global in Mexico.

Five months later, Mexico has accumulated nearly 450,000 cases of Covid-19. But Sutherland has not been impacted in either its Monterrey or Mexico City locations.

How Did They Do It?

Twelve days before the government issued its own guidance, Sutherland initiated WFH, rapidly transitioning staff over a three-week period. The company introduced temperature testing, health screenings and entrance and exit controls at their sites.

Sutherland also ran a live forum on social media, answering frequently asked questions on health. The company also tripled cleaning services and staff and cancelled site visits from outsiders.

The goal was to guarantee that service disruption was not an issue for either customers or employees. At the moment, social distancing is less of a concern, as 94% of Sutherland staff are remote working.

Robert points out that WFH achieved three objectives at once: protecting employee’s health, providing them with job security and guaranteeing them an income. “We are proud that as of today, Sutherland in Monterrey has not had the need to put anyone on furlough, fire anyone or send anyone on forced vacation,” Robert said.

According to the Information and Communications Technology Cluster in Nuevo León (Csoftmty), 80% of their BPO members managed to smoothly tranisition to WFH.

“The [rest] are still working on the process,” Tijerina said. “It is not easy having to transition to home office in a limited period of time. However, thanks to technology, it is not impossible either,” he said.

Companies are increasingly offering online training, Tijerina said. He added that adapting to government health and sanitation regulations had not been a problem, a fact he attributes to the strong business culture in the region.

From Surviving to Thriving

Meanwhile, Robert is keeping his fingers crossed that health indicators will remain positive for Sutherland. The communication model the company has adopted is leading to lower staff attrition and benefiting the company’s bottom-line.

“We worked with our clients to develop a WFH solution using the right technology to ensure that business would remain,” he said.  The company also addressed security issues by migrating to a company-owned network.

WFH staff were provided with their computers from work and two monitors, plus a UPS battery to prevent disruption to calls. “We wanted everyone to be sure that if there was a power outage they would have at least one hour of power,” Robert said.

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Given the changes, costs were lower than expected. The company offered employees equipment that had previously been used for training. In total, the company has spent less than US$100,000 on their transformation to Covid-19 conditions, with triple shifts and cleaning also included.

Sutherland global services

As a result of the pandemic, Sutherland has actually seen its business grow. “You read [that] everyone is shrinking,” Robert said. “However, we started to see our clients requesting additional resources… We have grown by 35% in two months, adding 200 jobs. Financial performance is in a really healthy state.”

The Monterrey center is set to exceed its profit projections for the new financial year by 10%, Robert said, principally because attrition has fallen. “People appreciate retaining their job,” he added.

Amid the pandemic, absenteeism is down to 3% – half its level before March. And the company is hopeful that its high standards will continue to safeguard workers.

“We are trying with all the measures we have taken… to remain with zero cases,” Robert said.

Avia Ustanny-Collinder

Avia Ustanny-Collinder is a senior editor at Nearshore Americas and an award-winning business journalist residing in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

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