Large number of South African workers will likely be based at home permanently

South African businesses predict that in three years’ time a third of their staff (33%) will still be working from home.

This is not a significant change from the current pandemic and lockdown-driven level of 38%, research by global advisory, broking, and solutions company Willis Towers Watson shows.

A total of 66 employers in South Africa who have around 207,000 employees participated in the firm’s flexible work survey, which was conducted in September and October 2020.

The survey shows that, although some workers will head back to the office once it is safer to do so, remote working, which was used by just 4% of staff in South Africa three years ago, is seen as a long-term strategic change.

“The sudden boom in home working will become a permanent shift with many benefits for businesses and their staff,” said Melanie Trollip, director of Talent and Reward at Willis Towers Watson South Africa.

“Businesses see that, in a world beyond Covid, flexible working arrangements can boost productivity, attract talent, and support diversity. The challenge for businesses now is to rethink how work is designed and rewarded so they can improve performance, and control costs and risks.”

Trollip said that some staff have been worried that remote working will mean that jobs are offshored to other countries. Others are concerned that employers will pay them according to where they live – a move which major companies in some countries are considering.

The survey found that 85% of employers will pay remote workers the same as in-office employees next year, regardless of their location. 41% say that they are not concerned where most work gets done.

Firms are also not planning to use flexible working to shift jobs to other countries. On average, businesses expect that 5% of jobs currently being done through flexible working arrangements will be offshored over the next three years.

Much depends on the employer, as almost two thirds (62%) say they will not relocate any such jobs.

Playing catch-up

Despite the high levels of remote working anticipated in the future, many South African firms are poorly prepared. Only 15% said their current job architecture fully supports a flexible and agile workforce, while 20% said it did not support it at all.

A quarter (24%) of employers still do not have a formal policy to manage flexible working arrangements, while 61% only created a policy this year.

“Covid turbo-charged an existing trend towards flexible working, and now employers need to catch up. The ways work is structured, how it gets done, where it gets done, and how pay is managed are all still based on people working in an office within geographically-organised teams. That needs to change if a business is to prosper,” said Trollip.

“Employers now need to take a step back and examine the future state of their organisation and decide how they can make the most of their new agile workforce.

“Many firms are looking at how they should now mix pay and rewards, and how they can best motivate and engage their people,” she said.


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Large number of South African workers will likely be based at home permanently