Companies embrace remote work during pandemic

By John McPhaul

A hybrid work model that combines office work and remote work is the predominant trend among companies in Puerto Rico during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted this summer by Puerto Rican consulting firm Retention Strategies.

The results showed that only a third (32 percent) of the companies surveyed have managed to fully reopen their offices with staff, while 16 percent operate exclusively with remote work; the majority of companies (52 percent) now operate with a hybrid model, by combining in-office work with remote work.

Likewise, employee productivity levels seem to not be adversely affected by operational changes. A full 44 percent of participants indicated that the productivity of their workforce has increased in the pandemic, while 41 percent believed that productivity remained the same.

“The purpose of this survey was to examine the status of companies in terms of face-to-face work versus remote work, but we were also very curious to know what were the lessons learned, the challenges, and how organizations worked to overcome them,” said Sandra Román, human resources consulting expert at Retention Strategies.

The survey, conducted in June, consulted 68 representatives of companies in Puerto Rico, from 16 industries.

Román emphasized that the respondents shared concerns about various work obstacles they face due to the pandemic, which include “the difficulty of maintaining social distancing in office settings and that workers with children are very concerned about the lack of childcare centers, as well as the uncertainty of where they would leave their children if there is no reopening of schools in August.” The situation is further complicated when, in many cases, the only family members available to watch over the children are the elderly, who are among the groups at high risk of coronavirus infection.

Regarding the return of employees to offices, 63 percent of the participants answered that their companies did not have a firm date for reopening. Among those with planned dates to return, a third (33 percent) estimated it would be in August, and 13 percent said it would be in September.

“Of course, this was before new cases of COVID-19 emerged in July, which led the government of Puerto Rico to resume some of the previous measures, such as the closure of bars, cinemas and gyms and the restriction of 50 percent in restaurant capacity. This situation is likely to cause delays in returning to face-to-face work for many companies,” Román said.

Among the lessons learned, the survey participants identified the importance of having access to adequate equipment and technology to be able to bring company work to their homes. Two of the characteristics that companies identified as keys to the success of their transition during the pandemic are the creativity and flexibility of their work teams to work remotely, face-to-face or hybrid.

“A large part of the responses emphasized the importance of having a comprehensive medical plan, since the pandemic came to remind us all that the health of employees is one of the most valuable resources a company has,” Román said.

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