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The Big Opportunity for LatAm: Remote Work

By Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro Mejia
Latin America
Editorial Credit: Inna Bigun / Shutterstock.com

For centuries, holding a job was tied to one’s ability to physically show up for work to execute the role’s requirements. However, as technology has evolved over the last decade, this requirement has begun to change. Forward-thinking companies have realized that focusing on deliverables, not time spent-in-seat, sends a message to employees that they are actually trusted to complete the work they’ve been hired to carry out, in turn making them more proactive, motivated and committed.

Despite this, Latin America has been a bit slower in the transition due to some limiting factors. As highlighted by the Harvard Business Review, countries in LatAm such as Colombia, Brazil and Argentina are highly resilient to internet traffic surges, yet are lacking a robustness of digital platforms, thus face additional obstacles in the journey towards virtual operations.

Although the preconceived notions around office work were already beginning to change at a slow pace, ultimately COVID-19 became the single most important factor in accelerating this change. In a matter of days, the world was placed on lockdown. Buildings with rocketing rent prices that housed thousands of employees sat virtually empty. Many employees were left unable to complete work outside their office without access to a secure portable computer. Companies that never planned for this scenario had their operations completely disrupted.

Enter remote work.

Remote work, defined as work that can be done without commuting to an office, is not a new concept. Some companies, like Basecamp and Bunny Studio, were built to operate like this from inception. Others, like Unilever, practice flexible working and have a healthy mix of remote & in person work. But prior to 2020, most companies hadn’t ever considered making remote work an option before being suddenly forced into it. Now, after more than 100 days in lockdown, it looks like remote work is not going to be a temporary phenomenon. Last month Twitter announced it will allow its employees to work remotely ‘forever,’ and shortly after, Quora announced its ‘remote first’ policy.

As companies adjust to Zoom meetings instead of in-person “meetings that could have been an email” and learn how to use effective virtual collaboration tools, the realization that remote work has both productivity and financial benefits has started to sink in. The forced change, although disruptive at first, has been welcomed by companies. So much so that 34% of companies in LatAm will opt for remote-first policies post-COVID as highlighted in a recent survey from Search Lationamérica.

We spoke to organizations in the region to see how their experience in shifting to remote work has been, how prepared they were to embrace the change, and what the future of work looks like in LatAm:

Coca-Cola FEMSA

Coca Cola’s biggest bottler, FEMSA, has operations in 10 countries in LatAm. For inter-office communication purposes, the company already had video conferencing tools installed for easy and efficient communications. However, the software was strictly office-based and the company had to act quickly to allow employees to use the tools regardless of location.

Working from home was completely new for the organization and it took some time for them to understand that the same productivity and results could be achieved with no employees physically present at their offices. As teams learned to collaborate virtually and processes and results were not affected, FEMSA is now considering implementing work from home policies for all employees once confinement is over.

Unilever

As part of a global sustainability strategy implemented over a decade ago, Unilever began to implement flexible working policies called ‘Agile Working.’ There are no personal desks, comprehensive technology infrastructure is in place to enable remote work from anywhere and awareness campaigns encourage workers to go to the office only if absolutely necessary.

The plan has been a complete success for both sustainability and culture. Because of this, the sudden closure of offices did not affect Unilever in any way. In fact, instead of focusing on adapting to remote work, they were able to focus on dedicating resources to help alleviate the effects of the pandemic by donating essential items and making €500 million of cash flow relief available for smaller suppliers and customers in LatAm and the world.

Acámica

As lockdowns began in Europe, the Argentinian Edtech startup was quick to understand the same measures were headed their way. They made the decision to go 100% remote both operationally and administratively almost immediately.

Based on the SCRUM methodology principles they were able to quickly and smoothly transition to working from home. Acámica will work this way throughout all of 2020 and hope to begin 2021 with a new office concept that defines the physical space as a place to make connections with co-workers and the Acámica community.

Bunny Studio

Bunny Studio and its sister companies, founded by the renowned Colombian entrepreneur Alex Torrenegra, was initially created with remote work in mind. Employees have the option of working either from an office of their choice, if there are several employees in the same city that can share the space, or from home. Because of this, the sudden lockdown had no effect on the company’s productivity or operations as all processes were virtual from the start.

The company has always differentiated itself by offering a remote work structure to current employees and interested applicants. The attractive added benefit allows them to have access to great talent regardless of location. Their next step: testing out the 4 day work week.

Generally speaking, LatAm has always played catch-up with North America, Europe and Asia when trying to achieve similar tech, trends and infrastructure. However, because of the pandemic, it is now clearer than ever that remote work will set a more even playing field for the region. Regardless of company size, industry or culture, work as we know it has completely changed and the ‘virtualization’ of offices will now be the norm, ultimately benefiting all. An even more connected world with access to the best talent, an ultra diverse workforce and safe employees will hopefully create balance during this unique part of history.

Welcome remote work, and please, do overstay your welcome.

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