Bosses in South Africa want workers back in the office

 ·17 Nov 2022

New data from KPMG’s latest CEO outlook survey revealed that most South African CEOs expect their workforce to be back in the office full-time within the next three years, and none of them sees fully remote work as being a permanent fixture.

The annual report, which is globally driven, draws on the perspectives of 1,325 CEOs across 11 markets to provide insight into their three-year outlook on the business and economic landscapes – including South Africa.

Of the CEOs surveyed, 76% of South African CEOs still envisage employees working in the office full-time within the next three years – compared to 65% globally. Only 24% of the local CEOs said they may continue with hybrid working arrangements over the same period.

However, the report found that not a single CEO in South Africa sees full-time remote working arrangements as a viable option within their respective businesses – indicating that South African CEOs prefer their workforce back full-time in the office within the next three years.

By contrast, 7% of global CEOs see fully-remote working arrangements as the model of the future, while 38% say that hybrid working would be part of their companies’ employment structure.

KPMG CEO Ignatius Sehoole noted that these findings are unsurprising given the challenges companies face over the next three years in South Africa.

“I can understand why South African CEOs don’t see fully-remote employee arrangements working in the country, as South Africa is expecting, and is experiencing at this moment, rampant load shedding throughout the rest of 2022 and well into 2023,” he said.

This sentiment seems to be justifiable, as Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer noted on Tuesday (15 November) that the public should anticipate increased load shedding until the power utility’s key maintenance work and repairs to major units are completed over the next six to 12 months.

Sehoole added that this prospect of continuous load-shedding would create efficiency problems, given that many employees working from home may be unable to complete their work when the power goes out and they lose internet connectivity.

“While employees may want to see an adoption of hybrid and fully remote working in the workplace, power instability and ailing infrastructure in South Africa are steering businesses away from it,” said Sehoole.

He added that these findings would likely spark a debate on the topic, as many employees are increasingly demanding work-from-home flexibility in favour of a better work-life balance given their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in employees becoming more accustomed to a work-from-home lifestyle.

More interestingly, labour experts speaking on a panel at Nedlac earlier this year agreed that the way business is conducted in South Africa has shifted permanently and that the working world – at least in terms of office jobs – is never going to return to the pre-Covid nine-to-five model of in-office employment.

However, the unstable energy prospects in the country and lack of support for remote working by South African CEOs suggest that the way business is conducted in South Africa may have no choice but to return to an in-office environment.

Read: Strict new transformation laws coming for South Africa – what you need to know

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