South African workers are saying ‘no’ to the office – but load shedding could push them back: CEO

As load shedding continues to disrupt the productivity of the South African workforce, returning to the office is becoming an increasingly attractive prospect.

John Jack, chief executive of Galetti Corporate Real Estate, says many companies have invested in backup power solutions such as generators, inverters and renewable energy sources to ensure continued operations when Eskom load shedding is in force.

Eskom has cut 2,276 gigawatt-hours of electricity from its grid this year in comparison to its record of 2,521 gigawatt-hours in 2021. The company’s current energy availability factor is sitting at 62%, having decreased from last year’s capacity of 65%.

“South Africa is experiencing some of its worst power outages since 2021 and we are well on our way to a new record in 2022,” said Jack. He added that many businesses are opting for backup power solutions such as UPS systems and generators others are moving off the grid completely by installing solar power.

“Despite the economic turndown, companies are investing heavily in backup solutions and this will bode well for them in future with many tenants looking for properties with backup power. In addition, it provides a stable environment and ensures sustained business activity.”


The impact of load shedding on productivity

Economists from Alexander Forbes have indicated that stage 6 load shedding costs South Africa over R4 billion each day.

“The majority of local businesses are heavily reliant on electricity and the lack thereof threatens to destabilise the economy. The fact is that it is exceptionally difficult to work from home during load-shedding hours, and many businesses with hybrid workplace policies are struggling to maintain productivity as a result,” Jack said.

Jack explained that both corporate and small business productivity has been affected by the ongoing load shedding because of failing internet connections, missed deadlines as employees aren’t able to complete tasks on time, and disruptions to supply chains from the reduced output of goods manufactured.

Staff are having to redo work owing to lost data and are generally forced to take a longer period to complete their work.

“The drive to obtain backup power supply has been fuelled by a need to ensure continued operations despite the unreliability of the national grid.  It is now a necessity, no longer a luxury, to acquire backup power supply at your place of work,” he said.

Generators and other backup power supply solutions are costly and are often not affordable to the average homeowner. This means that those working from home are having to deal with continued disruptions to work productivity caused by load shedding, which has left some residents with no power for up to nine hours a day.

“Power cuts have had a severe impact on employee productivity and the health of our economy. This is why corporate spaces should not only invest in backup power solutions but encourage a full return to the office to ensure that valuable hours are not lost to load shedding.”

He explained that for smaller businesses struggling with cash flow who may not be able to afford the upfront costs of a generator and the cost of diesel to keep it running, a heavy-duty Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) device or an inverter may be a more affordable option.

“For many businesses, all that is required for continued operations is a strong internet supply and plug-points to charge devices and desk lamps,” he says. “A UPS or an inverter can keep the internet going and power plugs until the power and cost less to run than a generator.”


Its good news for the office sector 

Jack indicated that an increased employee reliance on company office space for continued power supply will encourage many companies to renew their leases and even take out more floor space to accommodate the return of their staff to the workplace.

“The bottom line is that the costs of lost productivity and reduced output are far more deadly to a business than the costs of investing in premises with an uninterrupted power supply where employees can work as normal, he said.

“In cases where a company has given up their physical premises and allowed employees to work fully remotely, we are seeing a trend of employers paying for their employees to work from co-working spaces with generators or other continued power supply sources. This enables employees to benefit from the uninterrupted power supply they could access at an office while retaining the flexibility of their current working arrangement.”

“While Covid-19 restrictions decreased the overall demand for commercial office space, load-shedding will likely have the opposite effect.”


Read: Work from home will lead to changes in leave and time off in South Africa

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South African workers are saying ‘no’ to the office – but load shedding could push them back: CEO