PRETORIA (The Southern African Times) – The majority of South Africans prefer working from home, even it is only some of time, and a hybrid work model presents an ideal option for the future of work, speakers participating in the second yearly Future of Work conference said.
The virtual event, held on October 13, was hosted by CNBC Africa in partnership with Vodacom Business, Seacom Business and Forbes Africa.
Delivering the keynote address, Rwanda Minister of Information And Communications Technology and Innovation Paula Ingabire said the pandemic had revealed the benefits of remote working, and that the future of work should, and would continue to be hybrid.
She noted that the demand for flexibility in working hours and location had preceded the pandemic and that the pandemic showed that it was possible to implement such flexibility.
She pointed out that the majority, about 80%, of people wish to work from home at least some of the time throughout the week.
Ingabire said the new normal was that boardrooms had shifted to an online platform and that employees want greater flexibility.
Ingabire highlighted that studies have shown that most employees improve in productivity when working remotely, as they have more control over their time and personal lives, and are not subjected to long commutes. This also makes them more willing to work longer hours if necessary, she said.
However, she emphasised that people still needed human contact, and sometimes needed to be in the office or on site for operational requirements.
Therefore, a hybrid model was ideal but had to be properly implemented.
Ingabire said a mindset shift was needed, to focus on improving productivity and output, rather than to focus on how many hours an employee spends inside the office.
She said managers needed to rather create an environment for employees to fulfil their potential.
Policymakers, meanwhile, should focus on how to bridge the digital divide to ensure no one was left behind in the new era of increased work-from-home flexibility.
Ingabire pointed out that many employees had adjusted well to remote working when forced to by the pandemic, with business models having moved online, and businesses continuing to operate and actually accessing larger markets.
Further, she suggested that companies and the public sector had to think critically about upskilling and reskilling staff.
Ingabire also mentioned the need for technology and automation to be seen as tools to empower better efficiency and productivity, rather than putting jobs at risk.
She also emphasised the need to invest in soft skills and critical thinking.
Other speakers agreed that remote and hybrid working environments are here to stay and that there is a need to plan for it properly, rather than the improvised ways of working that shaped the early stages of the pandemic.
This requires thoughtful, empathetic planning, that considers the way people work and the different roles, building the correct culture and mindset shift for both employers and employees, and upskilling management and workers to adapt.
Tech One Global CEO and cofounder Lars Jeppesen pointed out that the shift to remote working and a hybrid model would likely have happened anyway, regardless of the pandemic, with the world moving in that direction owing to advances in technology, and people having called for it for a long time.
However, this would have taken a lot longer had the pandemic not forced companies’ hands, and this showed that it was possible.
Tétris MD Emma Luyt said that, for employees working remotely, or on a hybrid model, companies could measure productivity through setting a list of deliverables.
She pointed out that just because workers are not at the office all of the time, does not mean that they are not working.
She cautioned managers who are in the office not to show preference to employees who also come in, because they have more facetime with them. Rather, she emphasised the need to focus completely on output going forward.
Deloitte Africa Future of Work and Leadership Services head John Brodie, meanwhile, emphasised the need for the correct company culture to be implemented moving forward, with employers needing to trust their employees rather than infringing on their boundaries and monitoring them through autonomous technologies when they work remotely.
Boston Consulting Group principal and recruitment director Rudi van Blerk said the focus should be on output, rather than input. He said that providing employees with agility, and shifting the mindset for them to be more output focused, would increase productivity.
Luyt said the hybrid model would not be uniform, but rather, would change for each company according to its requirements and the roles of employees, besides other considerations. The ratio of employees working from home and those working in the office would also differ from company to company.
She emphasised the need to introduce collaboration into this model, to ensure teamwork can continue and that employees are not working in silos.