[GUEST COLUMN] The remote workforce is growing at an astonishing rate and it is up to employers to keep up with the changing needs of their employees.
A few years ago only sales reps had the luxury of working remotely. There was a time when working from home wasn’t even a possibility. If your colleagues and business partners wanted to get in touch with you when you were out of the office, they would leave a message with the receptionist and wait for you to call them back and set up a meeting.
Nowadays, thanks to email, instant messenger, Skype and all the other wonderful innovations, there is no need for an office or that face to face meeting. Now we have video conferencing. Certain companies have even done away with renting a traditional office and instead run their business out of a shared co-working space to accommodate their remote workforce.
Last year, the City of Cape Town introduced flexi-hours and an option for working from home for some employees to help reduce the city’s infamous rush-hour gridlock. The city also encouraged private companies to consider doing the same.
I read an interesting piece on remote working on Regus.co.za where it states: Worldwide, an average of around 52% of workers telecommute regularly – in South Africa, this figure rises to 56%, to 59% in the USA, and in Argentina to more than 60%.
Mari Schourie, CEO of coworking operator in South Africa, The Workspace, in a Huffington Post blog, wrote, “Millennials, who are now entering management positions, want mobility and flexibility, to be able to work anywhere, at any time. There is an increase in ‘telecommuting’ with staff working from home or from cowork spaces and virtual offices. Global research and consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, believe that in future, employees will work efficiently from anywhere as connected and converged workspaces will boost innovation and productivity, but also reduce operational expenses”.
Media an agile industry
I have been working remotely for four years now and I would not be able to go back to that office environment even if I was offered the Lotto jackpot.
When I get calls from recruitment companies asking if I would be interested in a position, the first thing I want to know is whether the company allows for remote working. If the answer is no, I say thank you and move along.
Individuals should have the ability and freedom to work remotely and not be confined to an office setting or desk. We spend so much of our lives trying to block out the noise of co-workers, hours on the road commuting back and forth and what about those countless cups of tea just to get a different view.
I am lucky that I work in such an agile industry so being behind a desk, in a suit and with people surrounding me is not a requirement. Yet for many people, you still find the senior management or HR not adapting to this working change in South Africa.
For me it was a must as I had just found out I was pregnant with my second child and my company head office was stationed in a different province, so I spent my days going between provinces just to have face to face meetings and to show that I was ‘doing my job’. I could say I was lucky enough to have a boss with a forward-thinking attitude.
I manage a team of nine people and four of those work remotely in different provinces, while the other three have flexible hours. We communicate daily on Skype and email, hold monthly meetings and at the end of the month when reports need to be sent to clients, everyone is happy.
I don’t know how many times I have seen co-workers take their laptops and files home with them and then spend their evenings playing catch up or prepping for the next day.
Last year Dimension Data spoke to 73 executives of companies with at least 1 000 employees. The report found that 42% of organisations in South Africa have employees working from home full-time, with 67% saying they will have employees working from home full-time within the next two years. On a global scale, this figure is 10% lower. The surveyed companies found that the biggest barrier to this change was getting other parts of the business to buy into such an initiative.
Work measured by productivity
When I did a Google search recently for ‘Remote Working South Africa’, sadly only customer service reps and sales reps positions came up and even more depressing was seeing these as commission only positions! Then you get those scammers advertising work from home opportunities only to find out you need to pay a certain amount to fill in forms all day.
Most companies I’ve dealt with are still stuck with that “If the boss doesn’t see you, you’re not working” mindset. Work should not be measured by hours but rather by productivity.
These days, mobile technologies allow people to be productive wherever they are. However, working practices at many organisations have yet to catch on. Most employees tend to gravitate towards organisations that offer them the work-life balance. We Are Social’s’ annual Digital Report states that 49% of the South African population are active internet users.
Well done to companies like Toshiba for ensuring staff are giving the right tools to allow them to work remotely and RecruitMyMom, a trusted online recruitment company based in South Africa. They match forward-thinking companies to skilled women looking for meaningful part-time and flexible employment.
There are major benefits to remote working for employees and employers:
Cost saving – you don’t need to spend money on a building for your team to come to every day.
More productive – Time is not wasted on travelling to work and water-cooler gossip.
Flexibility – Millennials aren’t the only ones looking for flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities. Worldwide, 43-percent of workers said they were willing to take flexible work hours over a pay raise.
Reducing employee turnover – People working remotely have a greater commitment to their jobs.
Save on workwear – Seriously, you can work in your pyjamas and no-one would know. Companies also do not need to spend money on work uniforms.
Less time commuting – Working from home also reduces travelling costs, which means your employees can spend more of their money on the things they love. They also won’t get to work grumpy which is a bonus for any boss.
Access to a wider pool of applicants – For younger employees, workplace flexibility is one of many factors they consider when looking for a new role.
Charis Coleman is the head of digital content at Kagiso Media. She has worked with small and large local organisations as well as large multinational organisations, while managing specialist content teams.