After more than seven months of remote work in firms throughout the Americas, many work-from-home (WFH) evangelists have already declared victory for their cause. The Covid-19 pandemic and the shift to WFH has not led to a marked drop in productivity, and plenty of studies suggest it may have had the exact opposite effect.
Nearshore companies are keenly aware that remote work capabilities are critical to their long-term survival. From now on, ITO and BPO providers will have to prove they can transition seamlessly to WFH in the event of another Covid-like crisis.
But the WFH revolution is unlikely to have a positive impact on Latin America’s emerging technology hubs. Little is known about the long-term impact of WFH on talent development. However, we can safely deduce that permanent remote working will not lead to greater engagement of BPO agents or enhance networking opportunities for software developers.
“I believe there is some negative impact because of not being close to other people,” said Giuliana Corbo, CEO at Nearsure, a remote-first IT outsourcing company. “It’s easier if you can ask a question and the other person is right next to you.”
Corbo added that projects need not suffer because of remote work, but said an extra effort is required to ensure team members align.
“There are a lot of communication channels that help us to avoid that kind of [misalignment] problem,“ Corbo said. “In software development, there has been a culture of remote work for a long time now.”
Nevertheless, Corbo said the pandemic had created new obstacles for WFH arrangements.
“Being a remote company before Covid and after Covid gave us a more complete view,” she said. “It’s totally different. [Employees] used to have their own space and their kids were at school. When they finish work, they cannot just go to the gym, for example.”
The Discipline to Rest
Early research suggests culture plays a key role in how employees adjust to WFH arrangements. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, based on a Harris Poll of more than 2,000 people, showed that Mexican employees were having a harder time striking a work-life balance than workers in the five other countries surveyed: China, Germany, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. Of the Mexicans surveyed, 52% of over-40s and 59% of under-40s agreed that it was difficult to balance personal responsibilities while working from home.
Many factors could be driving that remote work fatigue. In general, Latin America has a young workforce, and young people are struggling with WFH. They are more likely to be sharing their home with roommates or parents. They are also more likely to be caring for young children while maintaining a fulltime job.
“People have spoken about burnout because they are working until 8 or 9 at night,” Eduardo Campos said. “But people need to schedule time to have lunch or to be with their family.”
Eduardo Campos, the CEO and founder of the software development outsourcing company ScreenIT, said that managers and teams had to develop strict discipline to thrive in current conditions. However, the issues he had observed were due to engineers allocating insufficient time for rest rather than not working hard enough.
“I don’t see managers asking team members to stay late to continue working,” Campos said. “It is team members working late without having that discipline of resting at the correct times.”
Campos said routine and regular breaks were vital to maintaining creativity under WFH conditions.
“People have spoken about burnout because they are working until 8 or 9 at night,” he said. “But people need to schedule time to have lunch or to be with their family… They should not be in front of the computer answering emails or taking video calls.”
Networking Suffers Under WFH Arrangements
The economic fallout of the pandemic has already hurt experimentation and creativity at an organizational level. According to IDG research conducted in April, more than half of IT leaders expect their supply chain will suffer continued disruptions in the next 12 months, impacting their ability to innovate. That has negatively impacted their exploration of emerging tech solutions such as 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things.
But the long-term implications of WFH models could be more damaging. The Nearshore’s premier tech ecosystems – places like Guadalajara, Medellin and San José – all established themselves by building networks of private entrepreneurs, investors and government officials. With events and conferences on hold, executives may struggle to grow their networks. Some recruitment initiatives have stalled, while others have moved online, where the potential for creative collisions and random interactions is limited.
To minimize the negative impact of remote work on creative collaboration, effective digital tools are key. Platforms with videoconferencing capabilities, collaborative white boards and tools for capturing workflows help to mimic the in-person communication needed to succeed with Agile methodologies. Some firms – including the Nearshore provider Avantica – have begun incorporating virtual and augmented reality into their remote collaboration processes.
But according to Sebastian Menutti, Industry Principal at Frost & Sullivan, we are still some way from being able to replicate the workplace from a remote environment.
“Regarding creativity, although remote collaboration tools have been dramatically improved over the last eight months… There are still some aspects of the creative process that do require face-to-face interaction,” Menutti said.
As a result, he expects hybrid models will become the standard for providers across the Nearshore region. Remote work will continue, with employees visiting their workplaces for more imaginative, collaborative projects.
“I think both creativity and productivity will remain strong in this hybrid environment,” Menutti said. “The tools have been created and the processes have been refined in these months. I have good expectations around creativity and productivity.”