Is Latin America ready to work from home?

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Disasters and public health situations such as the expansion of COVID-19 (coronavirus), make us rethink the way we interact on a daily basis, from a simple greeting and how basic services are offered, to how to maintain business continuity and teamwork. Today, while watching the news, I wondered if we, in Latin America and the Caribbean, are ready to work from home so as to diminish risks?  

It is clear that there are certain people who do have the appropriate organizational, operational, and legal systems and plans to work from home. And while many governments have thought about this, the reality is that other more urgent and immediate needs have taken precedence and the planning of these practices have been neglected. Now, however, given the expansion of the coronavirus, we are faced with an emergency. The question is: How prepared are we to implement an emergency and contingency plan in Latin America? 

It is true that in general, the health sector is better prepared to activate immediate responses, since in this context, it is the one that faces the most challenges. It is also clear that all sectors, public and private, should have up-to-date business and service continuity plans. It is in this area that I believe that there are three disaster risk management lessons in preparedness and response to natural hazards, that can contribute in today's conversation about how to provide continuous services in emergency situations :

  1. Appropriate systems for the labor force to work from home: The most important thing in providing services is to ensure that the workforce feels safe. In order to accomplish this, there should be a system that provides the option of working from home. This means flexible hours and permit options, as well as security measures allowing people to work outside the office.
  2. Appropriate infrastructure to facilitate critical work: The work force must have the necessary equipment to access computer systems and programs safely and reliably.  In order to respond to requirements remotely, investment in computers and adequate technology is a priority. Another important consideration is the physical space needed outside the office for an employee to do his or her job.
  3. Comprehensively trained workforce: Employees must be prepared not only to perform their own work in an emergency, but also cover that of their colleagues if they are unable.  Ideally, they should have a support back-up plan ready for such cases.

Undoubtedly, there have been considerable improvements in preparedness for emergencies and disasters. Many countries already have more options and are generally putting them into practice. It is at times like this, when there is an advantage through the willingness and intent of governors and population to promote policy changes and improve plans and processes that strengthen the resilience of the general population and in their workplaces.

Even though these plans should be considered before a disaster or emergency occurs, right now these three lessons can be transferred to the relevant context to be ready for an apt response. Many other lessons can be adapted from disaster risk management, depending on the situation. It is essential to prioritize an efficient and safe response by the workforce for immediate needs to continue services. 

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Joaquin Toro

Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

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