Will COVID-19 change our way of working? Latin American outlook

How companies in Latin America can take advantage of the situation to improve employee productivity and experience.

August 07, 2020

Recently, various experts have shared opinions on how the pandemic will or will not change the way we work. In this article our team of Integrated Portfolio Services (IPS) explores how corporate office work is being affected and how companies in Latin America can take advantage of the situation to improve employee productivity and experience.


Will it change the way we work? And if so, how and how much? These are the questions we ask ourselves as we’ve seen the change in our working environment in recent months. From one week to the next, millions of people around the world found themselves in the need to take their work home, something that was unimaginable for many employers until a few months ago. And now it is the status quo. Also, as the economies of the European and Asian countries begin their process to the new normal, the question that arises: “Is Latin America ready for the changes that will arise from the pandemic?”

Home office in Latin America

Based on an employee survey conducted in Latin America, we found that almost 50% of our colleagues had never done Home Office. This is only half the story. According to a study conducted by Citrix Mexico to six countries in the region (Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Peru), less than 50% of workers could work from home, and in some cases even less than 25% such as Brazil and Peru.

For Gustavo Gomez, Vice President and General Manager for the northern region of AT&T in Mexico, in countries like ours, doing Home office is not only a technological challenge but also a social one as it exposes the inequality due to the digital access. Not all companies can invest in infrastructure to have devices with access to a secure connection to protect their information.

Also, there is an issue related to human capital. Implementing flexible work policies requires a transition process that ensures that workers can and know how to use the new tools, and, of course, the support of companies.

A process of change makes the foundation for designing and implementing necessary guidelines, policies, communication, and infrastructure.

The next question to answer is: “How to make the use of our offices more efficient in a new way of working.”

At IPS we are convinced that spontaneous meetings, and face-to-face time, are fundamental for increasing productivity and innovation. That is why we chose a flexible scheme that, while allowing workers to work from home, also promotes sharing spaces designed especially for the type of activities they perform. It has an advantage, not only in terms of real estate costs, but also in terms of the talent attraction and retention, and of course, in terms of the connection with each other, which is so characteristic for Latin Americans.

It is no surprise that in Latin America, the connection with our colleagues and social circles is a fundamental part of the way we work and live. According to the Happy Planet Index, the region occupies the top six of the first ten places on the scale, which measures the well-being among other things.

Short-term return

As a result of the pandemic, several countries are developing schemes for safe return to offices ensuring that a necessary distance is maintained, and economic activity can be recovered (we even designed a new service for this). And while it’s clear which goals we want to achieve with these schemes, how to properly implement them remains a mystery for most.

Carlos Kolmans, Regional Director of the Integrated Portfolio Services at JLL Latin America, foresees a decrease in the densification of spaces prioritizing the employee health and the reputation of companies.

He says that, however, users still feel uncertainty, it will fade away as the actions imposed by governments and companies have good results and users themselves seek to re-establish the social ties that are so characteristic of businesses in the region.

The most significant changes will be made by companies. He comments that "... before, we had to do a lot of work with the executive committees to convince them that there was natural mobility and that we could take advantage of the unused office spaces that in Latin America add up to 40%. What happened today is that the same committees think that they do not need offices and that employee productivity is maintained at the same level or is very similar to being in the office without investing in physical space.”

This means that at least for now and for some years to come, our return to the new normal will be surely limited with all the health checks, access, and undesirable shifts for many workers.

JLL's research team recommends paying attention to four areas to make the return as easy as possible:

  • To prepare the business for a restart of activities considering new supply chains.
  • Human resources should prioritize the protection and welfare issues to ensure productivity.
  • The financial impact will be multifaceted. The cost of the health emergency, mitigation, and resilience plans, as well as solutions, training, and recovery, should be considered.
  • Communication with the whole organization is essential to provide transparency. Thus, clear protocols and guidelines should be established for the workforce, clients, and partners.

For our Research & Strategy team, the focus should not be on returning to the office as soon as possible. Instead, we need to think about how we need to change our offices to bring back the employees and come back to stable business activity, and also to know which areas are the essential ones to be back to the office first. It will also depend on what policies and measures each country has taken.

Also, they highlight that a slowdown in the investment activity is expected in the short term. Besides, the delays in launches are expected, and long transaction periods are becoming more evident. A consequence of the health measures should be implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

The future of work

So far, we have talked about the advantages of the home office and the importance of planning a return respecting the distance and hygiene measures, but what will happen in the long term when the pandemic ends?

Carlos Kolmans mentions that two things will happen gradually that will innovate the offices. First, the deconstruction of office spaces, which will imply that, while the activities such as customer visits, training sessions, meetings, and other collaborative activities will be continued, employees will have the opportunity to work from anywhere, at home or anywhere else.

Second, there will be a more liquid workforce, focused on projects rather than routine jobs. This human capital will also be adapted to the companies’ short and medium-term needs, helped by the deconstruction of physical space.

Finally, he mentions that this will vary greatly from company to company. It will depend on how progressive they are and how much capital they have to invest in these initiatives.

In this regard, Christian Beaudoin, Director of Research & Strategy at JLL Chicago, mentions that there will not be a unique way in which we will work in the future. It will be a gradual process that will depend on the Region, Country, City, and company.

Home office is neither for everyone nor will it be permanent for most. According to a study conducted by his team, only 5% indicated a preference to work remotely permanently. According to the same survey, 65% of people answered that they’d like to choose whether to work from home or the office.

It coincides with the Latin American study, where 46% of workers would like to choose where to work based on their needs as opposed to 5% who would like to do home office more than 15 days a month.

The secret lies in getting the best of both worlds. Giving workers the option to choose where to work would not only improve employee satisfaction but will also increase formal and spontaneous collaboration, exchanging ideas, decrease the real estate costs. Also, it can be used as a differentiating factor to attract more and better talent, as well as to retain it.

It is a trend that was already on the rise before the pandemic. To innovate, people should have the opportunity to sit, chat, share ideas, create strategies together, and communicate face-to-face. On the other hand, the culture of an organization is being created, when people are in a space, where they can share opinions, create activities for their teams, and set rules. It will hardly be replaced by videoconferencing, or remote activities.

Finally, in the disruptive times, we currently live in, it is necessary to have direct communication with our colleagues, especially in times of uncertainty. Here, we’re talking not only about the pandemic, but also about innovations in technology, and new emerging companies creating new services.

If you want to know more about our services and the future of work, feel free to visit our service presentation.  We have a whole regional team tailored to your ambitions.