Covid-19 pushes remote working to the fore
Publish date: 25 March 2020
Issue Number: 328
Diary: Legalbrief Workplace
Until now, only the most forward-thinking companies have fully bought into a distributed workforce. Andrew Robinson, executive director at Sisebenza, writes in a report on the HR Pulse site that the rest paid lip service to the idea while clinging to the belief that their people were only really working if they could see them at their desks. But, he says, as the highly contagious nature of Covid-19 has made itself felt, this has had to be quickly put aside. Almost overnight most companies have had no choice but to embrace flexi working. And, Robinson writes, to their surprise, they’re discovering what those early adopters already know: technology connects us all, all the time; you can trust your staff to do their jobs from home, and flexi working offers many unforeseen benefits. He writes that these are the main factors that will entrench a new world of work, the flexible work economy. Robinson writes that Covid-19 has released the genie from the bottle – or the worker from the office – and there is no putting her back in.
SA is several years behind much of the world in adopting ‘remote working’ but now, as in the rest of the world, the need to limit Covid-19 infection rates is likely to force many SA companies to have employees work more from home. And, a Business Day report quotes experts as saying, once the trend takes hold, it will be difficult to turn back the clock. It’s difficult to get an accurate estimate of the popularity of remote working. But, the report says, research by Jack Hammer, the US-based executive head-hunting firm with offices across Africa, says that of SA companies polled, 80% say they will offer remote working options to job candidates. Esther Canónico, a UK-based author, researcher and consultant on organisational behaviour who lectures at the London School of Economics, believes that while traditional offices will always have a place – companies need people on site and some employees like working there – the need for vast, expensive corporate HQs will diminish. She agrees that the coronavirus will force companies that have resisted the idea to reconsider.
Professor Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA in Healthcare Leadership programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School said SA companies now join millions of businesses across the globe forced to ‘learn fast and on-the-job how to manage a completely remote workforce’. But, says a Skills Portal report, work in the time of corona – remaining productive while staying home to 'flatten the curve' to contain the impact on a strained healthcare system – presents unprecedented challenges for workers, business and the economy as a whole. To stay on track while working from home, Schoeman advises: operate in a business-like manner; set aside a separate, dedicated workspace, free from distractions, and customise it with the equipment and connectivity you need to be productive; limit and manage disruptions and interruptions; set down clear boundaries for family and friends and establish a routine; keep to your daily routine; stay ‘in the loop’; stay professional and be connected; and maintain your physical and emotional health. For employers fearing lack of productivity in employees working out of sight and without conventional supervision, Schoeman said several studies had shown remote workers having greater productivity due to fewer interruptions, such as colleagues popping in for a chat, and fewer inefficient meetings.