Colombia Passes Remote Work Law, Paving the Way for Hybrid Offices

Colombia has removed legal obstacles that stood in the way of companies wishing to extend remote work for an indefinite period.

The Colombian government has approved a new law that requires companies to bear the operational costs of remote desktops. This means that they have to pay for the electricity, internet and water spent by their home workers.

However, not all is bad news for businesses. Unlike the Philippines, Colombian law does not deny incentives to companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs) to move IT equipment out of their workplace.

Companies in the SEZ will retain the right to financial incentives as long as they do not hire anyone outside their zone, said Fabio Andres Osorio Salgadotax director at JA Del Río, a Latin American audit firm in Colombia.

“The goal of creating SEZs is to create jobs for the local community,” he said in a conversation with Nearshore Americas.

Now, says Salgado, things are much more flexible. You can either have remote work agreements with all employees or adopt a hybrid work model, where employees work partly onsite and partly remote.

However, not everyone buys this argument. Labor law expert Adriana Escobar, partner at CMS Rodríguez-Azuero, told the local Spanish publication El Nuevo Siglo that “the appearance [of the hybrid work model] is mentioned with ambiguity.

The new law complicates the adoption of a hybrid working model, she said, pointing to its headline clause that requires employers to fund the operational cost of remote workers. According to his analysis, the new law makes no mention of a hybrid working model.

However, the order clarifies that no employee can work in the office once they are registered as a remote worker. For employers, it makes no sense to pay for the employee’s remote desktop while the office infrastructure is still in use.

Salgado says employers can modify the agreement in consultation with the employee, rolling out a hybrid model for as many employees as they want.

The rise of WeWork in Colombia

A large majority of the Colombian workforce worked remotely until mid-2021. As the intensity of the pandemic lessened, they began to return to the office.

Today, almost 50% of them work in an office full-time, according to the latest study from Citrix and Onepoll.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic and its impact on the job market is WeWork, a New York-based coworking space provider with a huge investment from Japanese conglomerate Softbank.

The office-sharing company’s occupancy has increased by more than 40% in Colombia since the start of 2020, according to noticiarcn.com. Company officials said they were seeing an increase of almost 350% in the number of workers using their facilities.

Additionally, the demand for desktop computing devices has also increased significantly. Sales of new desktops have increased by more than 150% since January 2021, almost triple compared to the first three months of the pandemic.

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