The halo around the work-from-home (WFH) concept is fading in South Africa as concerns about diminished productivity and motivation, as well as connectivity problems, gain traction.
A recent Workday study involving 1 031 South African employees reveals that 96 % of remote workers experience connectivity issues, with 53 % struggling to stay motivated.
Major overseas companies are already shifting gears to remedy the challenges employees face when working remotely, with nine out of 10 set to require employees to return to the office this year, according to a 2022 Resume Builder study.
Zoom, the video communications company that became synonymous with remote work during the pandemic, ordered its staff back to the office in August, favouring a “structured hybrid approach” and informing workers who lived within an 80 km radius of a Zoom office to work “in person” at least twice a week.
Rob Kane, Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) chairperson and CEO of Boxwood Property Fund CEO, says, “The move towards remote working has yielded mixed results, with some companies noting a decline in productivity and company culture, and employees struggling without the normal banter and support they enjoyed in the office. Now, a paradigm shift is on the horizon, with many businesses feeling the need for employees to return to the office, reconnect with colleagues and mentors, and maintain productivity levels.”
Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, which surveyed 20 000 people in 11 countries, found that 85 % of business leaders believe hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive. For many, productivity is still measured by the number of hours spent at a desk, rather than targets delivered to deadline.
“Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t ‘see’ who is hard at work if they’re not at their desks. As a result, productivity paranoia has set in, and is contributing to WFH becoming an unsustainable business strategy,” adds Kane.
Microsoft’s Index shows that compared to in-person managers, remote or hybrid managers are more likely to struggle to trust that their employees will perform optimally (49 % vs. 36 %) and report that they could not “see” the work their employees are doing (54 % vs. 38 %). As a result, employees are overwhelmed by the volume of digital communication and information – from emails to messages and video calls – they have to process to “prove” they are working.
BEARING THE BRUNT OF WFH
Kane says all levels of employees require face-to-face engagement in the workplace. Young professionals, in particular, need the experience of working in groups with their peers and mentors to learn the ropes in any line of work. “We have noticed a definite EQ deficiency in those who have chosen the WFH option.”
A recent PwC survey of 1 200 American workers reveals how WFH is detrimental to young employees’ productivity. The findings show that the least experienced workers need to be in the office the most, with 34 % of respondents with less than five years of work experience being more likely to feel less productive while working remotely.
Furthermore, only 30 % prefer being remote for no more than one day a week. “WFH decreases collaboration and training for more junior employees. Young workers may feel less included in the business operations, or even within their team, resulting in a considerable decrease in their ability to connect with colleagues and find their place in the organisation.”
ECONOMICS OF WORK FROM OFFICE
Kane says among some of the most common challenges experienced by the global workforce, South Africans is also having to contend with ongoing load shedding, which makes it exceptionally difficult to work from home for hours on end. It is also almost impossible to schedule meetings with large teams.
“We have seen that the businesses and sectors that have brought their staff back to the office have more integrated teams, a stronger culture, are more agile and have put Covid well and truly behind them.”