Work from home not going anywhere in South Africa

 ·29 Jan 2024

As employers and employees in South Africa continue the tug-o’-war over work-from-home, big companies like Nedbank and others are not steering away from hybrid working models introduced almost three years ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 saw an unprecedented shift in how people typically work. In many sectors, working from home or remote work had become a necessity overnight.

However, as the world has slowly returned to “normal” in the years folling the end of the pandemic, employers have started reversing their positions on remote work and encouraging – or forcing – their workforced to get back to the office.

This has not been a universal position, though.

While some employers encourage a full return to the office, others still promote a remote or work from home policy. For those looking for a ‘middle ground’, the hybrid working model remains the best option.

In terms of employers, in KPMG’s Southern African 2023 CEO Outlook, 72% of Southern African CEOs said that they support a return to in-person/onsite work within the next three years.

Senior content marketing manager, Amy Kirkham wrote that the benefits of on-site work, and thus the reasons for these views, are because a “physical workplace brings people together…helping to boost productivity, foster connection, and attract and retain top talent in [an organisation].”

However, the remaining 28% of CEOs believe in hybrid or remote ways of working.

Venture Workspace did a survey of 94 South African companies, with results showing that 60% of the respondents have embraced the hybrid work model, choosing coworking spaces as their new places of work.

Additionally, 44% of the respondents have made a resolution never to go back to the constraints of traditional offices.

Employees not biting

While the bosses want workers back – workers aren’t keen on the return.

Recruitment agency Michael Page conducted a survey of hundreds of professionals and job applicants based in South Africa to gauge their views of their working environments pre and post Covid.

The results showed that employees had a more positive view of remote and work from home scenarios:

Source: Michael Page

Director at Michael Page Africa, Julien Raze said that “top talent will also consider what flexible work arrangements companies can offer.”

“Now more than ever, candidates need to be convinced they are making the right decision for themselves and their family,” he added.

Some employers also support this.

Nedbank argues that the work from home model has many benefits for the employee, including that:

  • It allows for a more flexible schedule, leading to a better work–life balance;
  • It eliminates the daily commute, saving time and money;
  • It can increase productivity, as there are fewer distractions and interruptions from office mates.

Regarding the daily commute consideration for example, a report published by MasterDrive South Africa includes research that shows that increased traffic and stressful commutes can prevent workforces from performing at their best. This is said to be because the daily commute often leads to a large percentage of employees arriving for work already emotionally exhausted.

“As employees return to work, they will again contend with stressful morning commutes,” said MasterDrive CEO Eugene Herbert. Such factors are often drive some employees to want to pursue the hybrid, remote or work from home model.

Additionally, the real estate sector has been impacted by the rise in remote or hybrid work. “The remote work phenomenon has transformed what people seek in a home,” said Richard Gray, CEO of Harcourts South Africa.

“There’s a growing demand for properties that can accommodate home offices and offer a better work-life balance,” he added.

What about the downsides?

While the prospect of working in a space of your choosing does have its pros, there are evident cons.

Work from home employees have indicaticated instances of “diminished collaboration and communication, increased loneliness and being unable to unplug” – and studies show that what remote workers gain in efficiency and productivity, they lose in harder-to-measure benefits such as creativity, innovation, teamwork, trust and empathy.

Additionally, Harvard studies have shown that working from home risks erasing personal-professional boundaries – leading to people not working from home, but ‘living their jobs’.

The hybrid model – where employees spend some days working from home and other days at the office among collegues – has emerged as a potential balancing system, where workers can get the best of both worlds.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, companies that make use of this working model are said benefit from improved productivity, employee satisfaction, and a more diverse workforce.

Nedbank South Africa adopted a hybrid working model in 2021, and said it remains committed to hybrid working.

“Two years on, we continue to be compelled by the ability to get work done across a blend of work locations,” said Nedbank.

“As we evolve to meet the demands of our business, we continue to enhance our hybrid practices to work best for our clients, people and business going forward,” the bank added.

“We appreciate the practical benefits of being able to work remotely, and also emphasise the many benefits that intentional in-person engagement on our campuses provides – for connection, collaboration and the growth of our people.”

Read: The work from home dilemma in South Africa

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter