SA’s remote working readiness still a work in progress

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Less than half (37%) of surveyed South African organisations had rolled out a digital transformation strategy which enabled remote working of employees when the national lockdown regulations were introduced in SA.

This is one of the key findings of the “Remote Working in South Africa 2020” report, a study conducted among 400 enterprises by World Wide Worx, on behalf of networking hardware giant Cisco.

The new study, based on telephonic interviews with cross-sector company leaders, sheds light on how South African companies are faring in the new norm of a remote working culture – and what the future may look like as a result.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an urgent need for companies to introduce remote working policies, as people across the globe were forced to substitute their in-person meetings with virtual networking sessions, from corporate meetings to funerals and educational activities, in efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

While the implementation of digital transformation strategies emerged as the key driver for remote working across organisations, the study found digital readiness is still a work in progress for most of the surveyed organisations.

Some 63% of respondents admitted to being ill-prepared for the shift to remote working, during the time when remote working became mandatory after government’s introduction of SA’s lockdown protocols.

Another 56% stated their digital strategy was under way, but not yet advanced. At the same time, 95% confirmed digital transformation was very important for their organisations.

“With less than half (37%) of companies indicating they have advanced with their digital transformation journey or have a fully rolled out strategy, there is a long way to go to realising complete digital transformation for the entire business landscape,” says Garsen Naidu, Cisco South Africa country manager.

“The level of technology availability, its utilisation and adoption reflects a country’s current level of digital readiness. On a global scale, SA currently ranks 78th on the Digital Readiness Index that was published by Cisco in early 2020.”

The study notes the shift to remote working has led to improved productivity for 29% of organisations. However, among companies that had already rolled out digital transformation strategies prior to the pandemic, that figure jumped to 70%.

Over half (56%) of respondents said the COVID-19 lockdown had a large impact on their digital transformation strategy.

“It is clear that the more a company embraces digital evolution, and the more willing it is to allow its employees to do so, the more it will benefit in terms of productivity,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and lead analyst of the study.

“While remote working has been quite an adjustment for both companies and employees, for those that have gotten it right, through digital enablement, it has worked seamlessly. Having thus seen the efficiency and impact of it, 38% of the study’s respondents said they would allow staff to continue working from home after the crisis is over.”

Lack of remote working tools

The study found that, for some organisations, remote working devices were not issued until it was necessitated because of the COVID-19 crisis, as staff had to be able to continue working from home.

Before the lockdown, 57% of businesses had issued less than a quarter of their staff with laptops for remote work. Only 25% of respondents said that more than half of their staff was given laptops for remote work. After lockdown, companies reported the latter group leaped to 53%, while the former dipped to 28%.

Nevertheless, while there was no widespread rollout of remote working devices before lockdown, the study found 70% of employees in office jobs were generally prepared for working from home when the lockdown was announced.

“This reveals that using remote work tools is largely intuitive and training was generally not required. It also shows digital transformation was taking effect in some way, before the lockdown restrictions and subsequent remote working had started,” notes the study.

Alongside the basic technical requirements, IT security has played a key role in enabling remote working, which poses serious security risks if companies do not follow measures to ensure adequate security, management and monitoring of its systems.

When asked about how data security strategy has changed in organisations, respondents reported a mild shift at 23%, and just under half (49%) reported there had to be a heavy shift in data security strategy to accommodate remote working.

“The availability of digital applications and solutions that power remote working has enabled many South African companies to remain operational,” said Naidu.

“Yet, we must not forget that a significant proportion of South African employees do not work in an office environment. With digitalisation, however, technology is having an impact on all sectors of the economy, be it manufacturing, agriculture, transportation or retail.”

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