Working Happy: Open Office Space 2.0, Latin America Style

Argentine companies are adding to the international trend to open up workspaces and make them transparent and fun.

Globant keeps it loose
Globant keeps it loose
Ana Broitman

BUENOS AIRES â€" In trend-conscious Argentina, companies are embracing new ways to keep employees happy, and among them is the "open-plan" office.

This kind of office design has come to mean an absence of closed spaces, boxes and partitions. Instead, airy office schemes are designed to foment easy, friendly and even playful interaction. It's a concept that continues to fine-tune itself around problems related to noise and lack of privacy.

Víctor Feingold, CEO of Contract Workplaces, a regional company that designs office spaces, says it's about generating happiness in the workplace. "If we create conditions wherein every person is as happy as they can be, they will be more creative and the firm will do better," he says. "You don't want to tie people to a desk, but humanize the office to make it more productive."

Feingold says "new-economy" companies that have no traditions to follow can hold onto their original "garage" mentality. "They are places where people actually want to go and work and are great at attracting talent through motivation," he says. "It's unstoppable and extending to other sectors."

Resale website Mercado Libre has worked with Contract Workplaces in designing its offices in several Latin American countries, including Brazil and Colombia. Because it started out with an open-office concept and equal work spaces for all its workers, it now faces new challenges and needs arising from its inexorable growth.

Lucila Siboldi Bengolea, Mercado Libre architect and office management supervisor, says its spaces are evolving. "The game room is taken into account at the very start of every project, but now we add the ping-pong table, sofas, a space for breastfeeding and hair and manicure parlors," Bengolea says. "We are also giving a lot of space to art that includes anything from graffiti to interventions by local artists."

Guillermo Willi, "chief people officer" at IT company Globant, says his firm was born with the same notion, "an open, transparent office where communication flows and there are no physical barriers to exchange." He believes this helps generate ideas because links and comments circulate freely and feed creativity, although there are some closed-door spaces for when privacy is necessary.

Office design evolves further after a space is used and employees offer feedback. For example, the conference room, which has hammocks, was extended with spaces associated with outdoors, leisure and sustainability (such as a barbecue, a terrace and a little garden). There are also rooms with musical instruments for use by so-called "Globers," or Globant employees participating in competitions the company organizes.

Decision flow

Its offices in Mar de Plata were built in what used to be the city's Museo del Mar (Sea Museum), and it has kept a good part of its shell collection, a fish tank and visiting spaces for school parties and local residents. "We offered our employees a different space, while keeping it accessible to the local community and preserving what was already there," Willi says.

Tech firms aren't alone. Kimberly-Clark, which makes hygiene products, also sought a space to fit its new open-space policy. The firm redesigned its offices in Puerto Madero, the upscale Buenos Aires waterfront, to create a brighter, open and flexible environment. It has projection spaces for presentations, work tables, lockers and sofas with views onto the dock. There are also two innovative rooms: the Tribune with cushions and floor seating, and the Ideas Garden, a circular space with "stimulants "on the walls for creative meetings or for people just to sit and think.

The company's personnel chief Cinthia D'Agatha says the change meant replacing traditional cubicles with tables shared by teams. "We wanted to work in a more integrated manner without closed offices," she says. "The decisions flow that way and things happen faster."

While meeting rooms still exist for teleconferences or moments of private discussion and concentration, she says the "change of format was an inspiration to other countries" like Chile, where Kimberly-Clark created "highly innovative offices" using the Argentinian model. "We were pioneers," D'Agatha says with pride.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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