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Redefining Work in Latin America

The future of work is flexible, but Latin American leaders have yet to strike the right balance between remote and in-person work benefits.

  • June 2022

Across Latin American countries, most leaders agree that the future of work is flexible. This is what a recent study titled “Redefining Work Models in Latin America,” conducted by WeWork and HSM with support from Egon Zehnder, largely found: An overwhelming 81 percent of respondents ranked the hybrid work model as their top choice, a trend that is aligned with what we’re observing across Latin American organizations. The survey gathered answers from more than 10,000 leaders and executives in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. 

In this post-pandemic reality, several companies have been delineating their new workplace policies, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and how they can tap into the benefits of both remote and in-person work to advance employee engagement and wellbeing. For in-person time, the sweet spot seems to be two days a week for most (42%). Participants mentioned obvious benefits to it, such as less time commuting (93%) and reduced operating costs (71%); but interestingly, they also believe a hybrid work model enables better time management (61%), increased focus (57), and improved employee and team productivity (54%).

Flexible work seems to be here to stay. However, Latin American leaders are grappling on how to properly shape company culture—75 percent of them value the integration between departments and employees that physical presence may promote. How can they lead effectively and foster cross-collaboration when human interaction is limited? The answer is not definitive, but it may entail adding new elements into the leadership umbrella—employee’s health, wellbeing, work-life balance as means to boost engagement. Perhaps leaders will need to establish a “full package” that will serve as a foundation for teams to perform and thrive. 

Based on the survey findings and what we’ve been hearing from clients, I discuss below some topic areas that are top of mind for Latin American leaders today. 

Creating Collective Unity

An Egon Zehnder study released in 2021 revealed that 7 in 10 leaders globally said remote and flexible employees might be passed over for leadership roles because they have less physical visibility than those working on site. With Latin Americans’ clear preference for flexible work, leaders must intentionally instill a sense of purpose and skew away from a distinction between employees who show up in person and those who don’t.

Work with your HR department to ensure managers are equipped to enable employee collaboration regardless of their location, physical or online. Additionally, as a leader, you can draw inspiration from some lessons learned during the pandemic on how to instill a sense of collective unity in your team—from recognizing employees’ contributions to optimizing workplace day-to-day operations utilizing technology and communications tools. Employees need to feel they are contributing and being heard in order to effectively embrace the work.

Office Space: To Downsize or Not?

Part of what incentivizes an employee to show up to the office is the physical space. Pre-pandemic, staying behind closed doors was “normal” for some employees in the office. Now, that notion seems outdated because a strong argument to entice people back is the collaboration and interaction office spaces allow for. Still, individuals need a quiet space to focus on specific tasks that require a lot of attention, highlighting how challenging it can be to design the optimal space where people work, collaborate, and perform. Latin Americans are attuned to these challenges, as the HSM/WeWork study shows: 41 percent of companies have already decided to downsize their offices, assuming that not everyone will be there at the same time. This signals that flexible work policies are now embedded into companies’ long-term planning.

Job Positions and Compensation

Now that flexible work is a reality for most Latin American companies, some questions are looming over the future of the workforce. Will the shift to online work propel workers to seek parallel jobs with distinct physical and virtual dedications? Will we go back to the morning and late afternoon traffic in big cities, where people can stop physical work and continue it a few hours later in a more productive way? Will companies adopt “job sharing” positions in which two employees have the same job? Very few companies have tested this model—usually associated, for example, with a return to partial maternity leave for one of them (as at Unilever), but could this now become the norm? And what will be the impact on the performance evaluation of these people sharing the same function?

These questions will shape the strategic direction for many companies. They also pose a new layer of complexity for leaders, who will need to expand their skillset and traits, including humility, sound judgement, courage, dexterity, curiosity, and their capacity to adapt and influence outcomes. Only by tapping into such skills can companies fully leverage the benefits of implementing any changes. 

Moving and Adapting Forward

Leaders have many questions without answers, but they’ve come a long way in figuring out their operating model since the pandemic’s onset. It’s safe to assume the physical office will probably not end. Rather, people will adapt how and why they use this space. Company culture, perks, and benefits will also keep shifting to accommodate stronger calls for flexibility and work-life balance in the workplace (which now surpasses the office), but perhaps so will accountability systems.

Against this backdrop, leaders will need to intentionally tap into their ability to listen and assess if the current culture supports business goals while promoting employee engagement and wellbeing. They will also need to adapt their leadership style to continue supporting innovation, growth, and positive business outcomes. There’s no universal truth to what “new work” looks like, but the call for flexibility is clear. The question that remains is what leaders will have to do or change to adapt more quickly—and successfully—to this new model.

Click here to download the “Redefining work models in Latin America” study.

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