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Are offices in retreat?

The pandemic changed our relationship with work with new work models being implemented in companies all across the globe, and it appears that there is no turning back. Among these models is one that only a decade ago would have been unthinkable: Flexible Paid Time Off. Also known as Flex PTO, it offers employees unlimited paid time-off during the year. This benefit, offered by companies such as Netflix, General Electric and Virgin, seeks to engender teamwork, goal orientation, and engagement in work environments. This model promises to change workplace dynamics and is already being used by VTR in Chile.

28 May 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic has abruptly upended the paradigms that used to govern the world of work. Mandatory lockdowns led many companies to rethink their policies and try out different models that put employees at the center of their organization. Given this context, flexible systems have gained the most ground.

 

Reinventing the office: The first office we have record of was created on December 31, 1600 by the British East India Company. In these offices, row upon row of clerks handled the Company’s accounting and administrative affairs. Several centuries have passed since then, and despite the enormous technological advances made, particularly in the last hundred years, little or nothing has changed workplace dynamics. This is why, even before the health crisis, there were many questions as to whether the “office” as we know it today reflects the present times and adequately meets the needs of modern work teams.

  • “It’s no longer the place where we are expected to spend fixed amounts of time and adhere to rigid meeting schedules. Most of us who used to work in an office can work from home, from a coffee shop, a friend’s house or from a coworking site,” points out David Mott, founding partner of Oxford Capital, a real estate investment firm in London, in an interview with the BBC.
  • Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University who specializes in remote work, maintains that workspace flexibility is vital, and that two days of home-based work per week would be optimal for achieving a good work-life balance, while reducing stress and commute times.

 

The Flex PTO model is a new work modality, common in countries like the United States and in companies in the technology and telecommunications sectors, and also perhaps one of the most disruptive. Flexible Paid Time Off’s (Flex PTO) main feature is that working hours are no longer structured solely around the needs of the employer.

  • With this model, employees, in coordination with their work teams and managers, can request unlimited days off in addition to their legal vacation time to be used as they see fit, as long as workplace objectives are met.
  • The employee does not need to explain requests for time off since the aim is to allow her/him to pursue activities and personal interests in ways that are harmonious with work duties.
  • The model is founded on trust as the basis for good labor relations and encourages collaborative work as the way to achieve organizational objectives.

 

What’s happening in Chile? VTR is the first company to implement the Flexible Paid Time Off (Flex PTO) model in the country, in addition to their use of a hybrid—on-site and remote—work system for 80% of their workforce.

  • Its parent company, Liberty Latin America (LLA), is promoting a flexible labor model throughout the region, in keeping with new trends in the world of work.
  • Flex PTO, a benefit used extensively by companies such as Netflix, Dropbox, General Electric and Virgin, reflects a profound paradigm shift in ways of working and workspaces.
  • The only condition for VTR employees is that they and their managers agree in advance to the dates and duration of the time off so as not to affect the team’s work in fulfilling its objectives.
  • As Alejandra Jalon, VTR’s Vice President for People explains, “Over time the business world has come to understand that after everything has been said and done, it is the employees who make the company. Therefore, if we do not have employees who are in love with the company, who like their work, who want to go to work and do it with passion, we will probably not have happy clients, and I feel we have understood this relationship.”

 

Gaining ground: The first harbingers of the effectiveness of workplace flexibility were the “digital nomads,” who would settle on a beach or in the countryside of an exotic locale and work from there while enjoying their environment. However, there are other more recent models that are also interesting to analyze.

  • There is the hybrid model, which entails working in the office one or two days a week and the rest of the time remotely, though this flexible work style will require updated labor laws in many countries.
  • There is also the remote “plus” model, i.e. one week in the office followed by three weeks of working remotely. The advantage is that it allows people to live farther away, but also provides face to face work time with their team at least once a month.
  • Yet another model that is gaining ground is the “hub and spoke,” where companies reduce their headquarters space and implement satellite spaces around the city. This gives employees the option of working from the location that is most convenient for them, while avoiding time-consuming daily commutes.