Hector Garcia, lead of legal and compliance express centre LATAM and Canada, Bayer

Building a new legal compliance division during a pandemic is not for the feint hearted. Hector Garcia, lead of legal and compliance express centre in LATAM and Canada at Bayer shares how he has managed the challenge of building a new brand new in-house legal team remotely.

The Bayer legal and compliance express centre for LATAM and Canada is changing the way it provides compliance and data privacy services, as well as how it handles compliance investigations.

I started this new role at Bayer in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic broke. As a result, I had to build a whole team remotely. The entire hiring process occurred virtually as I was not able to travel to regions such as Brazil and Costa Rica.

For me it was a very challenging experience. Building a new team, training new employees and taking them through the on-boarding process remotely is not typically the best way to start a new team. Yet, that was the situation and we all had to cope with. At the same time, we were developing a new digital platform, and I had to interact with developers and people in charge of that project virtually as well.

Additionally, time zones were a challenge as I had to schedule calls with Germany, Brazil, and Costa Rica. Managing my time and my agenda was very difficult, even though I had been working from home. I am based in Colombia and because of the pandemic I do not have the opportunity to travel. Therefore, hiring had to be been done in three different ways. For the first round we planned to hire 12 people, most of them located in Costa Rica and Brazil. I preformed 50 interviews virtually in the first wave. For some key positions I would have preferred to travel to Costa Rica or Brazil, but it was simply impossible. Overall, it was a very demanding process, but I am very happy with the outcome and with the people we were able to hire.

As a leader I like to empower and trust my team. This is not the first time I have had to manage people in other countries, so for me empowerment is key when leading a team.  In this case I have had to trust more as it is impossible for me to have a meeting in person with members of my team. I delegate more, and empower people to adjust and adapt to our new reality. We set up weekly goals, and we have follow-ups to see how tasks and activities are tracking. Although we do not have face to face meetings, we have been able to manage things effectively.

Travelling to other jurisdictions is one of the things that is going to be reviewed after the pandemic, because we have been able to prove that we do not have to travel to other countries to make things happen. I believe that every company is going to cut on their travel expenses. For example, I have not had to travel to Costa Rica or Brazil. I am managing teams in both countries and everything has been going well. Yet, if we have a serious or sensitive case to investigate we may need to travel thereto perform the investigation in person. Overall, companies realise that it is not necessary to be present in the country to make things happen.

External firms may need to reevaluate the way they deliver services as a result of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, law firms in Latin America did not understand the necessities of clients and companies. They approach things in an ‘old school’ way. For example, if there is a new law  I need to know whether I am able to do something or not. External firms will prepare a 100 page legal opinion, citing all the articles of law, including any decisions from the Supreme Court that may pertain to that matter. This is very old school – maybe as legal counsel or as a lawyer that is something that I need to know and review – but the business does not need that volume of information. They just need to know if they can do something or not, and if they can, what would be the best way to do this, outlining the risks and consequences of the issue.

I am fed up with long legal opinions that do not say if our request is possible or not until the very end of the document. However, I think after this pandemic external firms will need to reinvent the way they provide services, and the way they interact with clients and think they will need to be faster in delivering services when providing advice to their clients. The world has changed, and the way firms interact with and provide services to clients will also need to evolve.

Another important aspect of changing times is managing the mental health of employees. At Bayer we have virtual actives for employees to relax and forget about the current situation. For example, we have yoga classes every week, we offer webinars with specialists in psychology, COVID-19 and a range of other topics. That is a very good way to offer employees alternatives to help them relax, and to think about something beyond work.

I have noticed that on team calls people ask how their peers are doing in their personal life, or about their family. This is useful to check in and talk about something that is not related to work, it is good to just check in, and see how people are and if they need anything from the company. One of the main things we need to be aware of is the ‘speak up’ mindset. Now everyone is at home, it is not possible to know what they are doing or be present at all times and we may miss some potential compliance infringements. We need to be closer to people because of this situation so they can raise any concerns. That is something important to keep in mind, especially in the legal and compliance teams. In the past, it was easier to interact directly with people, and preform training face to face, but now as you know that is not possible.

As a result, digital alternatives to interact with people are becoming more important. At Bayer, we are developing a digital platform to start a teaching the people to move from emails or phone calls to a more digitized solution. I think that is going to be the future. We are setting up teams and solutions in shared service centres around the world, for example in Costa Rica and Brazil. Overall, I think we are going to have to change our mindset on how we provide our services. We need to be more agile and we need to be more straight to the point.