Teletrabajo: Psychosocial benefits of Colombia’s work from home program
Teletrabajo is being promoted in Colombia as a new type of modern work model for both the private business and government sector, where employees are set up to work from home as long as they have an internet connection and a connecting device such as a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
The aspired goals of the program are job creation and better quality of life for all Colombians, including vulnerable groups such as mothers as head of household, people with disabilities and people who live in isolated geographical regions. But I think every Colombian will be able to benefit from the opportunity to work from home, whether it is working one day a week or working all week.
The flexibility to start your day without having to worry about sitting in traffic is a big stress relief, not to mention, it saves you money on gas, lunch or public transportation.
More people will be connected to the internet and that is a good thing, according to a global study where they reported that emerging countries with high GDP per capita incomes were correlated to high internet usage rates. But most importantly for me is that telework can give a single parent more space to manage their family while earning an income, which is something I experienced firsthand growing up.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old and growing up, my mom worked from home caring for five kids throughout the day.
Being a full-time babysitter was one of few work options for a single mom and an immigrant. I am sure she could have made more money working in a warehouse or factory like she did when she was younger, but working from home provided a value that no employer could match during the early 1980′s.
Working from home afforded her autonomy and flexibility; she could manage and schedule her time as she thought best and she did not have to worry about finding transportation to work. She was the tia for good friends and family when their sick kids needed a place to stay. She was also thrifty because she saved money on my after-school childcare. Reflecting on the career choice my mom made back then, helps me better understand why I choose to live a work-from-home and semi-nomadic lifestyle in Colombia today.
I currently make my living by teaching online for a few universities in the United States and I have the ability to work from wherever I call home. When I meet new people here and share with them what it is that I do, they will oftentimes respectfully nod, but tell me they do not understand. They understand the concept of online teaching, but they do not understand the technicalities of a remote job.
Any Colombian citizen can register to take one of the many online classes and certificates offered by SENA, but some still ask how often I need to travel back to the university. I guess that is a fair assumption considering when I tell my colleagues back home that I am joining the conference call from Colombia, they assume that there is no high speed internet connection where I am living in Barranquilla. I assume most would not know that Colombia has an emerging technology industry with high-speed internet connections.
Colombia won the Government Leadership Award 2012 for Vive Digital, the country’s aggressive plan to bring high speed internet and telecommunications to over 700 municipalities. That aggressiveness is why Colombia is able to work swiftly on their plans to integrate telework into their evolving workforce much like the United States, EU, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay.
The overarching goal of Teletrabajo is to improve the quality of life for Colombians, because doing so, can lower costs and increase productivity for Colombian businesses. President Santos, along with the Ministry of Information Technology and Communication (MinTic) and the Ministry of Labor, signed into law the Decreto 0884 on April 30, 2012; building upon the standards created in Ley 1221 of 2008 under President Uribe. The legislation defines Teletrabajo as a labor model that consists of paid business or service activities performed offsite, for a third party, using information technology and communications. This means that any job done at home, at a cafe, or any area that provides wifi connection can be considered telework. And the growing broadband coverage across the country makes this possible; better internet connectivity means more people across the rural and urban areas of the country, can work and play an integral part in growing the Colombian economy. Businesses can create new jobs and/or revise old ones to promote working from home. The number of telework employees across the country is indicative of this growth.
According to a recent MinTic report, there are a total of 31,533 telework employees with the majority working in the capitol city—23,485 telework employees residing in Bogota, 3,012 residing in Cali, 2,850 residing in Medellin, and 2,186 living in other cities of the country. There are 4,292 companies in total who employ 14,224 to work in the service sector, 13,379 to work in the business sector, and 3,930 to work in the industrial sector. Examples of service sector jobs are customer service-related and can offer technical support, such as providing help desk services. Examples of business sector jobs include project management or accounting and payroll. Examples of industrial sector jobs include architectural and engineering professions. Companies such as EcoPetrol, SENA, and various Department agencies have all signed pacts to implement telework into their workforce. Telework in both the private and public sectors is considered voluntary, so both employer and employee have the right to discontinue their contractual job agreement when there is not a good fit. The Teletrabajo program provides technical resources for creating work from home opportunities, as well as a framework to guide businesses and employees on their benefits and rights.
This is by far the best argument for telework. It provides employees flexibility in choosing where and when to work. If a doctors appointment, school appointment, or any other important matter needs attention, having the flexibility to attend to it in the morning or in the afternoon reduces stress and increases familial harmony.
Less stress involved with daily commute
It does not take long to learn about the traffic that plagues the big cities here in Colombia. I have heard horror stories of people sitting in traffic for up to three and four hours at a time. A study conducted by researchers at the Universidad de los Andes, reported a chaotic future for Colombian traffic. In 2010, the country’s population was estimated around 45,500,000 people with 3 million cars and 2.4 motorcycles registered and on the roads. By 2020, the researchers forecast 59.9 million people with 4.6 million cars and 5.9 million motorcycles will be registered and on the roads, and by 2040, 61.7 million people with 10.4 million and 12.9 million, respectively. Without any foreseeable improvements and investments, the city roads and infrastructure will have a hard time withstanding all that traffic, not to mention, the commuters’ stress level.
An important aspect of the Teletrabajo program is to help vulnerable groups live a better quality of life. People with disabilities face more challenges than people without when commuting to and from work. In 2011, there were 861,386 people with disabilities registered in Colombia with the majority over the age of 45 and in need of traveling to work. Public transportation, like the TransMilenio (which serves 1.7 million riders daily) can be challenging for a person with a disability to take and especially if they happen to use a wheelchair. Taking a colectivo bus is out of the question because they are not handicap accessible. If a person with a disability has a difficult time commuting to work, then the choice is usually not to work and that creates isolation between them and their community and becomes a burden on the government. Working from home provides autonomy in being able to earn a living wage while promoting social inclusion that comes with working with others in one’s community and virtual environment.
Mothers as head of household is another vulnerable group that this program hopes to assist. Out of the 35% of single-parent families in Colombia, most are single-parent mothers as sole providers. These single mothers are the caretakers, breadwinners, drivers, cooks, and managers of their families. These women are oftentimes the caretakers of extended family such as elderly parents and younger siblings. Creating telework jobs, along with providing online education and training, allows these women to better provide for their families. Also, extended paternity leave is an emerging trend across the Westernized countries. In Colombia, paternity leave is a maximum of eight days. A father who works from home has a chance to spend more quality time with their newborn and children.
Being able to adjust your schedule according to your daily needs, being able to spend more time at home with family and being able to work without having to worry about sitting in traffic or riding public transportation sound like great reasons for telework, but not for the people who enjoy the structure of an 8-5 job. Working from home has drawbacks as well. Businesses may not have the IT infrastructure to support telework. The company culture may be team-based and management may require their employees to be at their desk every day to monitor productivity. Lack of discipline and time management can make telework seem harder than traditional work and missing out on office politics and relationships can make telework seem lonely. But President Santos is working hard to change how Colombians define work in this country. The government is hoping to enroll more people this year than last, and efforts such as the Ministry of Labor’s manual called Libro Blanco is their attempt to provide as much information to businesses as possible.
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