Slow march back to the office, but office workers want flexibility

*This content is brought to you by Resourgenix

The pandemic uprooted most office workers from their 9 to 5 workdays. Work from home (WFH) became the new normal for millions of people around the world, and some took the opportunity to move to other cities or the countryside. However, there has been a slow march back to the office, with even Zoom, the video conferencing company that became synonymous with WFH, joining a parade of companies requiring employees to show up in person. In an interview with BizNews, Anne Rutledge, the Executive Director of Talent Solutions at Resourgenix, said that the workforce is asking for flexibility and that companies must embrace hybrid work, as it is here to stay. Rutledge said companies need to have conversations with their workforce and implement measures to address issues particular to South Africa, like load-shedding. She says the world has changed from the 9-to-5 model, and talent will look for opportunities that embrace that change. – Linda van Tilburg


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South Africans are returning to the office for 2-3 days a week

We find that many companies are calling staff back, albeit full-time or hybrid, especially with everything that’s going on in South Africa with not having power sometimes. It’s important to have those little spaces where people can come back to the office and at least be able to work and collaborate with people. But it depends on the industry and the functions of the jobs. All of that plays a role in determining whether they will come back to the office. But we see an uptick in people returning to the office and an uptake in hybrid working models more than just full-time working.

Generally, it is for 2 to 3 days in the office. Employees have found that sort of sweet spot of being able to try and still have that work-life balance while still being connected to the workforce and their teams. Companies have also embraced more of the hybrid model as opposed to fully remote to try and get that collaboration going back again. Those coffee moments or the water cooler moments where people spoke to each other and came up with ideas. Organisations are trying to bring that in more and more. When we’re talking to candidates, we have seen that they are more open to hybrid working models than full-time working. People are still not opposed but more wary of being back in the office full-time, the normal 9 to 5 or 8 to 5 scenario. They would rather do a hybrid or completely remote work from home.

Younger workers need more in-office time; parents want flexibility

We have seen a little bit of a gap in junior to mid-level positions where they don’t have that person that can hold their hand, that they can go to and ask questions whenever they need to. It helps to have that ability to walk to somebody when you are in the office and be able to ask questions when you need to. Often when you’re working remotely, you have to rely on video-conferencing. You don’t always get hold of the person. When you’re in the same space together, you can see each other, go in and speak to the person after a quick two-minute, five-minute chat and you are off and away.

From a woman’s perspective, having that ability to have that work-life balance and being able to spend time with your family has become very important, and many individuals, over the past three years with the pandemic that hit us, have adjusted their lifestyles. Many people downscaled aftercare, helpers, and things like that. So, having this ability to have some hybrid model helps them with being able to be there for their family, be there for those important occasions, but still be able to contribute to the workforce, contribute to the workplace. So, I think that’s important. It’s not just women. I think it’s men as well. Many dads also have had that taste of being there for their children and their sports events and cheering them on the side of the sports field. 

Going back to work full-time is a no-no for many workers

If we look at most of our candidates returning to full-time work, it’s a no-no. There is a small percentage that will accept it, and it depends on the function. ICT and finance roles, they can work remotely.  They’re more open to the hybrid models than full-time back in the office. They shy away from full-time back in the office. Commuting in South Africa is something difficult. You could spend an hour or two in the traffic, and that’s time you could be used to either catch up on your work or spend some time on your personal life that you’re looking for. So, there is a mixture of that. Some individuals enjoy being back at the office. They like being there. They like the collaboration. They like meeting with their colleagues and being part of something as well. 

I think companies don’t realise that they need to be more flexible about it and offer that choice that the individuals can make to be more productive. There’s also an element of mental well-being. If you want to spend time on your personal items and if that helps your well-being, it will also help your productivity at the end of the day.

Read also: Workforce shifts – Remote vs Hybrid

Companies need to have conversations with their workforce

I think it’s not a one size fits all. I think each organisation needs to look at its needs and requirements and work with its employees on what makes sense in the environment. Of course, you’re not always going to make everybody happy, and you’re not always going to have everybody on the same schedule, but it’s important to have those conversations with your workforce. I think if employees understand we’re doing this for this reason, they are more open and more willing to be part of the solution. That’s important, and they need to feel like they’re part of the solution as well. I think also organisations need to look firstly at what technology tools are obtainable to enable remote working or hybrid models. What’s available and what sort of power connectivity people have is a factor in South Africa. Make sure that their employees have some alternative power or, if they don’t, go somewhere where they can connect. Then looking at their policies from a data privacy point of view. How do you communicate with each other? How do you have meetings? Do you have virtual meetings? Do you have meetings in the office and put those boundaries in place that help the employees to feel like that there is some plan on how to do it, whether you’re going fully remote or whether you’re going hybrid as well? We find that hybrid has the best of both worlds for all parties. It gives you that little bit of the office face-to-face, a little bit of mentorship, a little bit of collaboration, and then we can still do some remote work. 

People are productive WFH or hybrid, losing talent to international companies

I think the notion that people are not being productive when working remotely was debunked a long time ago. Working remotely, people have been very productive. In fact, in many instances, they were so productive that we found that individuals were overworked and burnout was also happening. Even with myself, when you’re working from home, you somehow lose track of time and either starts very early or work right through. People were working long hours, but they were productive. I think that there’s no question that productivity is possible when you work remotely. 

So, we have seen many individuals starting to take up opportunities for international companies and doing work from South Africa. Still, it’s also opened up opportunities for people to move overseas and work for companies there. That’s a whole different thing from how we are losing talent to overseas companies. It really is important that we try to keep some of that talent in South Africa because there is also a talent shortage. 

The world is not going back to 9-5; companies need to adapt to it

I think there will always be an element of people wanting to work remotely or hybrid that bring in the digital nomads moving between cities, and I think that will always be there. I think from a company perspective, it depends on how they will put together the technology to support it. I don’t think the world will ever go back to what it used to be, where you were only able to work 9 to 5 in one office, and that’s what it was. I think the world has changed. People will move around. People will look for opportunities to be able to have that flexibility as well. 

I don’t know if it’s companies or sometimes it’s individuals that still need to adapt. Change is hard. As human beings, we don’t like change; we are sometimes stuck in our ways. I think once they start seeing that it works, they will get more comfortable with it once they start settling down, putting those parameters together, and the policies that are needed for hybrid or remote working. So it’s also about taking them on a journey, from senior management and executives take them on their journey, understand what it looks like, and you’ve got to be open to it because the world is changing, the world is adapting. There’s been a shift.