Working from home is here to stay – Experts

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The number of employees who work from home is expected to increase substantially in South Africa following the COVID-19 lockdown.

This is the view of leading tech companies VMware, Micro Focus, Euphoria Telecom, and SqwidNet, who spoke to MyBroadband about remote working in South Africa.

John Woollam, CEO of Euphoria Telecom, said the COVID-19 pandemic has delivered the final push that was needed for businesses to implement work-from-home strategies.

“These have been under discussion for some time, but many companies have been reluctant to roll them out due to a combination of fear of the unknown, the risk of reducing output and business continuity concerns,” said Woollam.

He added that Euphoria Telecom predicts about 30% of South African businesses will implement some form of remote working policy after the pandemic is over.

SqwidNet Managing Director Phathizwe Malinga said the implementation of remote working in many businesses post-lockdown will happen because of the high levels of productivity experienced during the current lockdown.

He added that IoT will help businesses get remote visibility when it matters most.

“Through simple, affordable interventions, workers can retrofit remote visibility onto these assets, and give themselves the ability to track and monitor them as they start to work more from home,” said Malinga.

Micro Focus South Africa country general manager Gary de Menezes said that people have preferred face-to-face engagements with the thought process that this is the best and only way.

However, de Menezes believes the lockdown has shown South Africa this is not entirely true.

“We firmly believe that after the experience of this lockdown it will become an everyday part of our new way of working moving forward,” said de Menezes.

The positives of remote working

Malinga said the positives outweigh the negatives considerably when it comes to remote working.

One of these positives is that people will be able to spend more time with their families.

“A lot of us were raised with our parents heading off to work early and returning late,” said Malinga. “We didn’t get to know our parents until they slowed down or retired.”

Ian Jansen van Rensburg of VMware added that an increase in working from home could also alleviate traffic congestion – which reduces the frustration of workers.

From a productivity perspective, Malinga said that work which requires uninterrupted blocks of time is easier to do as a remote worker, as you are less likely to be interrupted compared to working in an office.

Woollam also highlighted that staff happiness levels tend to increase when they are allowed to work from home.

This is because they can manage their own time and achieve a better work-life balance.

Possible struggles

However, Woollam cautioned there are also elements of remote working that can prove challenging.

“Managing a remote team will require an increased focus on management, reporting, and KPIs in order to ensure productivity is maintained,” said Woollam.

“For a lot of employees who are not used to this, it can be perceived as micro-management, which in many businesses could create a negative ‘clock watching’ work environment.”

He added that companies will need to learn to manage based on output, rather than raw hours behind a desk.

De Menezes said the biggest negative of remote working is that it makes it difficult to switch off and take a break.

“You can easily end up sitting in front of your screen for five straight hours in different meetings – this has an adverse effect on your general health and wellbeing,” he said.

Jansen van Rensburg agreed, although he highlighted that the opposite can also be true.

“Working from home can lead to people overworking themselves or not doing their work at all. Two extremes,” he said.

“Self-discipline and keeping an excellent working balance is of the utmost importance when working from home.”

How to prepare for work-from-home increases

Woollam said the best way to prepare for an increase in work-from-home staff is ensuring you have the right connectivity and systems in place.

“Quality connectivity is critical. In a high-volume calling environment, companies should even go as far as to have separate connectivity just for voice traffic.” said Woollam.

High-quality, cloud-based systems that should be considered, said Woollam, include those relating to telephony, video conferencing, CRM, reporting, analytics, and billing.

Jansen van Rensburg agreed that having the right technologies is of the utmost importance if a business will be implementing remote working.

“If an employee sits at a desk at work or home, the digital experience should be the same,” he said.

It should be easy to ask for and receive IT support, he added, and employees should be able to have their own devices enrolled by IT to gain full, secure access to all business-critical applications.

According to de Menezes, the following should be introduced to working-from-home culture alongside reliable infrastructure:

  1. A dedicated “open door” scheduled time where people can freely reach out and engage without feeling the need to formally schedule an appointment.
  2. Team engagements and interactions, rather than relying purely on one-on-one communications.
  3. Make use of your webcam on a regular basis, as it is healthy to see people’s faces during a meeting.
  4. Support employees by creating a schedule which includes waking up at a set time, getting dressed for work, encouraging regular activities such as exercise, and dedicated time for family.

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