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News Article

COVID-19 Transformed Mexico’s Working Culture

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 03/17/2021 - 14:10

Businesses will move to a hybrid home-office model after the pandemic, said experts during the panel, “Transforming the Working Culture in Mexico – Lessons From COVID-19,” moderated by Pablo Gónzalez, Managing Director for Latin America Research. Nevertheless, companies will need to adapt if they want to make this transition effective.

Gónzalez asked experts how their respective companies have fared in 2020 and 2021. Paola Fernández, Chief of People and Performance at grocery delivery service Jüsto, explained that the pandemic proved to be beneficial for the company. “We are among the industries that benefited from these challenging times,” she said. Fast growth also brought challenges the company needed to tackle, she added. The CEO of Estafeta, Ingo Babrikowski, said his company did experience strong growth, as well. “Almost everyone ordered goods over internet last year, even if they never had done so before,” he said. As a result, the company tripled its client service staff and hired over 4,000 new workers for permanent positions. An investment of US$100 million is already destined to grow capacity further in 2021.

Most industries faced significant challenges, however, said Jorge de Lara, General Manager & VP GCS Latam of American Express. As a result, companies managed to learn a lot over 2020. “We have seen promising results in 1Q21. In certain industries, we see signs of recovery,” de Lara said. This gives reason for optimism in 2021, although de Lara stressed not all companies would benefit.

Nevertheless, panelists agreed that Mexico provides ample opportunities to work through the obstacles the pandemic still poses. De Lara explained that small companies are crucial during this stage of economic reactivation, so American Express outlined playbooks that have already yielded promising results. Furthermore, the flexible work trend has allowed American Express to make good use of talent throughout the country, now that location was no longer essential.

Méndez sees plenty of opportunity in flexible workspaces. “Many anticipated the fall of our industry and our business,” said Liliana Méndez, Director of WeWork for Mexico City. However, she highlighted that companies implementing home office began experiencing issues regarding integration, collaboration and innovation. “We expect demand there to double or triple in the next five years,” adding that trends from the US often replicate in Mexico. Babrikowski agreed that flexible work spaces are a growing trend. However, he warned that this does not necessarily mean less space in general. “People need to feel welcome when they come to the office. Therefore, it cannot happen that there is no space available for someone showing up at the office. This would only discourage clients,” he said.

Either to weather the storm or make use of great new opportunities, companies will need to get the best out of their human resources, as well. Several trends can be noted in this regard. Fortunately, working from home has not affected productivity much, as 45 percent of webinar attendees answered that proactivity became somewhat higher for their company during the pandemic. “Perhaps people feel more in control of their time and their day in general,” theorized Fernández. But working from home can also increase working times for employees. “I do really see people working way more than they did before,” she added. For Fernández, working more is not always the answer; it is much more important that employees know their exact mission and output.

Babrikowski agreed that home office can be beneficial. “It is something we want to maintain,” he remarked, pointing toward the flexibility this grants to employees with or without children to organize their lives more easily. However, he does not think home office will replace physical work completely. “You lack important creativity and casual chats when you stay home,” he said. Méndez highlighted that not everything people think they know about millennials is necessarily true, either. “The current generation indeed prefers flexibility,” she stated. However, millennials also enjoy socializing and therefore want to return to the office.

De Lara stressed the importance of flexibility in office time for a better work-life balance. He favors a hybrid model, which can combine the sense of belonging an office provides with the enhanced freedom of home office. “I believe we are indeed working more, so burnouts need to be prevented,” he added. González, on the other hand, sees one benefit home office has brought to the Mexican context. “I think we are past waiting until 9 p.m. for the boss to leave, like we always do here,” he said. Self-monitoring of one’s schedule is also important, remarked Babrikowski. “With home office, you need to respect time and define working hours,” he said. “The time people save by not being in traffic is time for themselves, not time to work.”

The feeling of attachment or belonging to a company without being physically present at the office was another topic discussed in the panel. For Fernández, the feeling of belonging grows when workers know what they need to do and how this contributes to the company’s overall results. “We need to make sure that people are certain about what we expect from them,” she said. A clear goal can also prevent strict supervision, since results can be checked occasionally.

To foster a sense of belonging, Estafeta organized events and sent out gifts. Strong communication skills from the side of the company are essential during these times and a proper working space during the week is just as crucial, which is why the company sent its employees a good chair and arranged for stable internet connections. However, the most important element, Babrikowski explained, was trusting employees to do a good job at home.

Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst