Despite the lack of mandatory quarantines or any other extremely restrictive measures, Costa Rica continues to have the lowest COVID-19 related mortality rate in the region. The lack of hard restrictions allowed leaders of IT, BPO, and shared services centers in the country to have a higher degree of flexibility in determining where workers would be located and how to restructure delivery operations.
A study conducted by the Costa Rican investment promotion agency, CINDE, shows that 100% of the country’s services sector is regularly operating, and 98% is implementing work-from-home at least five days a week. Of that total, 83% have between 91% and 100% of their employees working remotely.
Timothy Scott, Public Affairs Manager at Intel Costa Rica, told Nearshore Americas that globally the corporation has taken notice of how Costa Rica has been able to skillfully manage the crisis, maintaining a cooperative tone between the government and the business sector.
Intel has two centers of excellence in Costa Rica, one focus on global corporate services and the other on research and development, with a total of over 2,000 employees. “Between 80% and 85% of our employees are working remotely. Those that are not are mostly in the research and development center, in positions that require direct handling of equipment that we have in our facilities,” Scott said.
Despite having just 15% to 20% of employees working at Intel’s ops centers, Scott says that strict safety measures were put in place, from increased social distancing throughout the facilities and especially in the cafeterias, to regular sanitization.
As of last week, Intel hasn’t been visited by Costa Rican health authorities. However, the company is open to inspections, and protocol for such visits are established.
The success of work-from-home (WFM) is due, in part, to the country’s improving telecommunications infrastructure. But another key factor has been the introduction of a remote work law, which gives companies legal protections around WFH initiatives.
Robert Pettibone, site leader for Proctor and Gamble Costa Rica, told Nearshore Americas reported that the experience with Internet connectivity has generally been positive for workers based at home.
“We have not had any infrastructure or broadband challenges. People can work from the office if their home networks are unavailable, but our employees have not had the need to leverage this option,” Pettibone said.
“Effectively, 100% of our employees are working from home. They have only had to come to the office when their physical presence is needed. For example, signatures are required on government or banking documents, an employee is having an issue with their computer, or an employee needs to collect physical documents from the mailroom,” he added.
Both Pettibone and Scott said that the Costa Rican authorities have been in close touch with them as have other international businesses, all of them eager to learn from best practices in the wake of the virus outbreak.
Scott said that Intel has informed the Ministry of Foreign Trade of every measure they have taken, which are based on Intel’s international expertise. The case is similar with P&G.
“The government has wanted our thoughts and input into the measures they are enacting. Consistent with the Costa Rican Government, our top priority is to keep our employees, their families, and all Costa Ricans safe,” Pettibone said.
Costa Rica will resume hosting international visitors beginning June 30th.
“We are partnering globally with NGO’s and Governments to help those most in need. We are providing meals to families in need, we have provided product donations, and we have provided financial contributions to promote and expand testing,” he added.
Flexibility and Risk
Countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have enforced rigorous quarantine and lockdown measures to contain COVID-19. In some cases BPOs have been particularly hit hard, with some being closed by health authorities.
Franco Archila, CEO at Cuentame BPO, has experienced this first-hand. Cuentame BPO has operations in Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Archila says the experience has been very different in both countries.
“In Guatemala, it was very bureaucratic to keep call centers working; they were in a grey zone. In Honduras, it was not possible. In Costa Rica, we had the flexibility to suspend some of the contracts temporarily with our agents, to avoid firing them,” Archila told Nearshore Americas.
Cuentame has a small operation in Costa Rica, with only 70 agents. Starting at the beginning of March, the company put in place plans to reduce agent density, increase social distancing and perform deep cleaning on a routine basis. Many other BPOs in the country adopted similar practices – choosing to keep facilities open while also ramping up WFM programs. Despite that, Cuentame registered around 30 positive cases of COVID-19 among their agents in Costa Rica.
“We had constant communication with the authorities, and we started to implement more strict sanitizing measures after that. A doctor from the Health Ministry was assigned to supervise our cases, and everything was very straightforward, under the mandatory work risk insurance and the paid leave with the Social Security system,” Archila said.
Cuentame continues to operate, with some agents working remotely, and they plan to reincorporate the temporarily suspended agents shortly.
Costa Rica initially had hoped to allow foreign visitors to enter the country in mid-June. Those permissions have been delayed. Officials now say they will resume hosting international visitors beginning June 30th. Of course there is no guarantee that date may get pushed back deeper into the summer.