Why your boss doesn’t want you to work remotely in South Africa

 ·25 Aug 2022

Almost two and a half years since the Covid-19 pandemic took its first major leaps, it is safe to say that the world’s way of working has been altered, potentially forever, noted financial services firm PwC.

While many companies swiftly moved into survival mode and accelerated their adoption of digital ways of working, other divergent approaches emerged. As widely reported, many companies have felt there is no need to require their employees to work from an office in the future, abandoning this requirement altogether, it said.

“Others have insisted that employees return to the office full-time, despite employee pushback where there is no need to perform their functions from a specific location and the fact that, as a result, many simply no longer see the point of commuting daily.”

In a 2021 survey, 36% of executives said that a loss of corporate culture is the biggest challenge and makes them resistant to adopting hybrid working environments, though there are conflicting views on this, suggesting that where companies invest sufficient
time and resources, they can thrive in the new era of work.

PwC said that employee pushback has reached new levels and the byproduct of the pandemic that is the Great Resignation has been discussed at length in the time since the first calls were received to return to the office

For the time being, the answer to this predicament is a permanent hybrid working arrangement – particularly for employers hesitant to permanently give up, or who don’t know what to do with, their office space – though, even to this approach, some employers are resistant, it said.

Where productivity levels have been maintained or even heightened by the remote working movement, the question is why don’t employers want employees to work remotely?

“A lack of trust might be the quick answer, though we think it is more nuanced than this,” said PwC. It has long been said that to succeed in the corporate world, you have to ‘play the game’ – which means networking with the ‘right’ people, making yourself known, putting in (and being seen to put in – long hours to show your commitment).

The success of remote work over the last two and a half years seems counterintuitive to this decades-old textbook approach to corporate success in a society of capitalism: level upon level of management controlling long hours of work and an army of subordinates from the office, said the professional services firm.

“By its very definition, management is the art – or science, depending on who you ask – of controlling people or things; and with remote working, some managers may feel that their ability to do so has been reduced.” PwC cited a recent study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management that found that 67% of managers said they spent more time supervising remote workers than onsite workers.

In addition, 72% said they would prefer all their subordinates to be working in the office.

Where employees are not, or cannot be, trusted to manage their work at a distance, it is more difficult for management to keep track of everyone, argued PwC. If hybrid working arrangements are here to stay, hiring and onboarding of new employees are bound to be similarly done: from a distance — so how do we overcome our fears that we cannot trust what we cannot see and build trust from afar?

Consider an employee who joined a company between March and July 2020, and who didn’t meet their colleagues in person for several months thereafter. “Seasoned employees may have found working from home to be liberating, but many new joiners
probably struggled through an island of isolation. Building trust with someone new can be tricky when you’re at a distance. This is because you can’t connect and can’t come together with colleagues in the ways we’re used to experiencing, said PwC.

The office is not dead

PwC pointed out that office time is not dead and working remotely is not a foregone conclusion. “On the contrary, and like all social contracts, working remotely or non-standard hours in a team should be managed through basic rules or principles,” it said.

Where a company offers flexibility and autonomy, employees should be expected to give a matching level of effort. And while these may be second nature to many people, some colleagues need to see things in writing, the firm noted.

The core principle should be that, while working remotely or flexibly may mean that you’re not at your laptop 24/7, one’s flexibility should not be to the detriment of everyone else, and this can be supported through a robust team working policy that considers, inter alia:

  • Mutual respect in managing the workloads, timelines, and deadlines of those who depend on your work;
  • While you work flexibly/remotely, your team should know how and when they can contact you (during working hours, and what to do in an emergency;
  • Being responsible means working when you say you are, adhering to work delivery timelines, and not abusing the system when no one is ‘watching you’; and
  • Managing where and how we work means that, if you are not working from your office, you should be working in an environment where you will be most productive.

Read: It’s not worth driving into the office anymore in South Africa, workers say

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