Colombia removed the legal hurdles standing in the way of businesses willing to extend remote work for an indefinite period.
The Colombian government approved a new law that requires companies to bear the operational costs of remote workstations. This means they should pay for electricity, Internet and water spent by their home-based workers.
Not everything is bad news for the companies, though. Unlike the Philippines, the Colombian law does not deny incentives to companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs) for moving computing equipment out of their workplace.
SEZ companies will remain entitled to the financial incentives as long as they don’t hire anyone outside their zone, clarified Fabio Andrés Osorio Salgado, tax director at JA Del Río, a Latin American auditing firm in Colombia.
“The goal behind setting up SEZs is to create jobs for the local community,” he said during a conversation with Nearshore Americas.
Now, Salgado says, things are far more flexible. You can either have remote-working arrangements with all employees or adopt a hybrid working model, under which employees work partly on-site and partly remotely.
Not everyone buys that argument, though. Adriana Escobar, Partner at CMS Rodríguez-Azuero, an expert in labor law, told local Spanish publication El Nuevo Siglo that “this aspect [of the hybrid work model] is mentioned with ambiguity.”
The new law complicates the adoption of a hybrid working model, she said, pointing to its main clause that requires employers to finance the operational cost of remote workers. According to her analysis, the new law makes no mention of a hybrid work model.
However, the ordinance makes it clear that no employee can work at the office once he is registered as a remote worker. For employers, it makes no sense paying for the employee’s remote workstation while office infrastructure is still being used.
Salgado says employers can modify the agreement in consultation with the employee, rolling out a hybrid model for as many employees as they want.
The Rise of WeWork in Colombia
A large majority of the Colombian workforce labored remotely until mid-2021. As the intensity of the pandemic decreased, they began trickling back into the office.
Today, almost 50% of them are working in an office full time, according to the latest study by Citrix and Onepoll.
The biggest beneficiary of the pandemic and its resultant impact on the job market is perhaps WeWork, a New York City-based co-working space vendor with a huge investment from Japanese conglomerate Softbank.
Occupancy at the office-sharing firm has grown by more than 40% in Colombia since early 2020, according to noticiarcn.com. The company’s officials said that they were seeing an almost 350% jump in the number of workers using their facilities.
In addition, demand for desktop computing devices has also gone up significantly. Sales of new desktops have grown more than 150% since January 2021, almost a three-fold increase compared to the first three months of the pandemic.