Heading south: experts explore future of work in Latin America

Four WORKTECH Events in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador in 2022 examined some of the most important themes for hybrid work – from virtual reality and leadership to office redesign

What are the new challenges faced by companies in a world in which hybrid work is here to stay? What role will new technologies play in the different ways of working, leading teams and even relating to others?

These were some of the topics which were addressed in the 2022 edition of WORKTECH LATAM, the most important international conference on the future of work organised in Latin America by Contract Workplaces, a leading regional company dedicated to the design and construction of people-inspired corporate spaces.

Lima, Quito, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires were the venues for WORKTECH events in 2022, which brought together top-level speakers to analyse –from an innovative and disruptive perspective– the different aspects of the new work scenario in front of an audience of decision-makers from companies belonging to different industries.

Reality vs. virtuality

Metaverse, virtual and extended reality and artificial intelligence were concepts repeated throughout the day, and the pros and cons of incorporating these new technologies into work dynamics were analysed from different perspectives.

In his talk, Gabriel Gurovich, business disruptor and President of Cuponatic LATAM, raised the question of whether the human factor could be totally replaced by a combination of technological tools that bring a tailor-made leader closer to each employee.

According to the speaker, by adding a highly realistic virtual assistant –created, for example, using the deepfake technique– to an AI engine that takes into account the amount of digital information that each person leaves on the network, an organisation based on virtual leaders could achieve results as sophisticated as those of some motivational marketing platforms. ‘However, something new technologies cannot replace is people’s ability to set a strong purpose in the face of the challenges ahead, to rise above adversity through resilience, to keep walking and to engage others. No matter how sophisticated our artificial intelligence systems are, humans are irreplaceable,’ Gurovich concluded.

Víctor Feingold, CEO of Contract Workplaces, analysed the positive and negative aspects of implementing the metaverse. One of the key concepts of his talk revolved around the ethical limits of these new technologies: ‘If our attitudes, feelings and behaviours can be induced and conditioned by our perception of our environment and our bodies, and if much of the future of work will be oriented towards activities within Metaverses created by third parties, who will define the boundaries, rules and ethics of these environments? In that sense, the debate on privacy and its ethical framework will be key in turning this powerful tool into a technology that improves our lives and enhances our humanity, which is ultimately the essence of who we are: people, not avatars,’ he said.

‘Who will define the boundaries, rules and ethics of these metaverse environments?’

Regarding its implementation in the work environment, the Contract Workplaces executive considered that ‘working in the Metaverse will allow easy access to content, attract offshore talent, reduce or eliminate commuting times and reduce environmental impact, as well as capture real-time data that, combined with AI, can help improve processes and strategies. But, for a long time to come, it does not look like the Metaverse will replace the energy that is generated when people meet, nor will it replace serendipity, innovation, creativity, cultural cohesion and a sense of belonging’.

‘Technology should help us solve problems,’ said Martín Sciarrillo, CTO of Microsoft Argentina, during his presentation, and he added that ‘in terms of how technology helps us to meet this desire for greater in-person contact, the Metaverse is really valuable’. Sciarrillo also introduced the industrial Metaverse as a way of applying this type of technology in the workplace. “Those of us who work in technology believe that it will help us transform reality for the better,’ he said.

In that regard, Fred Willans, Accenture consultant in the UK, stated that: ‘Notwithstanding all the benefits that these new technologies can bring, companies that want to adopt them must have a solid strategy that relates to users’ daily workflow and new ways of working, as well as the company’s needs and customers’ preferences.’

He explained: ‘This means establishing a policy regarding the devices and components that will be required for the system to be effective; actively managing user acceptance of extended reality within the demographic and cultural diversity of the workforce; exploring new ways to engage people both professionally and personally; providing appropriate training with a specialised cross-functional team that includes representatives from IT along with other areas such as HR; and creating meaningful content, among other things.’

Willan concluded: ‘Of course, this will require developing effective security measures to ensure the invulnerability of information and the privacy of personal data,’ adding that ‘this technology will not replace the need for a physical workspace but will be a complementary tool to enhance the employee experience’.

Leaders and teams in hybrid world

In these new scenarios, leadership skills have been challenged and those in this role will have to unlearn habits and relearn new skills to lead teams effectively. In this sense, Santiago Fernández Escobar, CEO of Acros Training, mentioned some applicable premises during his talk: being protagonists and taking control of our responses and decisions about the context; learning to trust; prioritising attitudes over skills; being able to manage negative emotions; making sure one has sources of ‘emotional fuel’ and, lastly, learning to quickly let go of what no longer works.

According to this psychologist and business coach, ‘it is all about trying to help our smarter side to be a bit more powerful and our more powerful side to be smarter’.

Reimagining working spaces

Offices and their new role in the post-pandemic era were assigned a separate chapter during WORKTECH LATAM.

However, in discussing space, the interference of technology was also present. Ulrich Blum and Lorena Espaillat Bencosme, representatives of Zaha Hadid Architects, emphasised the great importance of data collection in shaping the workplaces of tomorrow. The question posed by the experts is: how can we design efficient workspaces that take into account the most meaningful connections between people, along with their needs and preferences?

‘How can we design workspaces for the most meaningful connections between people?’

Some of their research indicates that optimising people’s ability to make a physical connection is vital to improving collaboration and teamwork. ‘But it is not just about the amount of people we see, but also about the quality of their visibility. If I have someone in front of me, I will have a completely different relationship with that person than with someone sitting behind me or next to me. Proximity also makes a difference,’ said Blum, and he added: ‘We are using technology to understand people better and how they will use the building in the future.’

Kay Sargent, from architectural firm HOK, shed light on how to design for equity, diversity and inclusion to create offices and corporate buildings ‘where everyone feels welcome’. According to Sargent, the key is creating spaces in which everyone has choices and feels in control. She urged architects, designers and developers to ‘plan for inclusion’ in their spaces.

Lastly, Philip Ross, founder and creator of WORKTECH Events, dared to reimagine the modern office by unravelling established working habits and concepts. The futurist presented several cases of companies such as Lego, Google and Amazon, among others, that are implementing different strategies to ‘magnetise their teams to the office’. For example, they are reinventing their campuses in order to achieve social –rather than work-related– interactions among their collaborators and provide them with personal and group experiences that include different types of activities to spend more than a day in there.

From the point of view of design, the concepts of network and circle (imitating campfires with friends) are also embodied in spaces to create meeting places, and spatial sequencing allows for the diversification of office use according to each person’s goals and the creation a route.

Lastly, Ross reflected on the impact of all these changes on organisations’ physical level: ‘It is about reinventing the purpose of companies so that they align with the interests of their teams.’

Contract Workplaces is the Latin American partner of WORKTECH Academy.
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