SA workers want remote work policies regulated by govt

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With remote working poised to be more common post-pandemic, almost two-thirds (63%) of surveyed respondents support remote work policies being regulated by the South African government.

This is one of the key findings of research commissioned by software company Citrix and conducted by research firm OnePoll.

The research is based on a survey of 4 250 office-based workers in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, including 500 South African respondents, between 2 February and 15 February.

The study shows remote and flexible work options are now key to attracting and retaining talent, with 60% of respondents saying businesses will miss out on top talent if they do not offer flexible work options. Another 57% said that if they were to change jobs, they would only accept a role which offered flexible and remote work options.

Finding a new balance

An overwhelming majority of surveyed South Africans believe remote working policies should be enforced and regulated by the South African government.

While 40% of South African respondents feel the pandemic has had a negative impact on their working life and career, as many as 37% say it has had a positive impact, in terms of time management, flexibility and overall performance.

In addition, 57% believe their personal lives have been positively affected as the lack of a commute has given them a chance to spend more time with family (28%), do something which promotes their own wellbeing like exercise or meditation (17%), or take on a hobby (10%).

“For all the challenges caused by the pandemic, office workers are still reporting improvements to their personal lives and careers as a result of remote working,” said Amir Sohrabi, area VP emerging markets, Citrix.

“If people can find a silver lining in even these difficult circumstances, we have an opportunity to evolve work post-pandemic, and see a new generation of happier workers that stay committed to their companies longer, having been given the choice of working wherever is best for them.”

The survey notes that post-pandemic, half (52%) of respondents favour a hybrid model where they can work from both the office and remotely, with just 17% wanting to go back to an office every day.

Where South African companies did not offer remote work prior to the pandemic, it was usually because they feared their employees would not work the same number of hours as in the office. But the research shows three-quarters (76%) of respondents work at least the same number of hours, with 53% working longer hours than from the office.

Similarly, a report by McKinsey Global Institute found the concept of remote working is likely to continue beyond the COVID-19-induced lockdowns.

It points out the virus has overcome cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past and triggered a structural shift in where work takes place, at least for some people.

The City of Cape Town, in partnership with Cape Town Tourism, this week unveiled its Digital Nomad initiative, shortly after making the list of “best cities for remote working”.

The initiative aims to encourage domestic and international audiences to consider Cape Town as a remote working destination, when the time is right and with all COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Company culture must adapt

Despite the practical benefits experienced by many people as a result of remote work, 31% of respondents to the Citrix study felt their mental health had worsened over the last 12 months.

The study also shows that 97% see a company culture that promotes mental and/or physical wellbeing as important, suggesting businesses must now redefine their culture to provide an employee experience which ensures they are able to continue to work productively, long-term.

“In 2020, businesses were surviving, not thriving. In 2021, they need to look up from the operational side and dedicate time and resources to identifying the core values of their organisation in a post-pandemic world, with a hybrid workforce which is looking to be supported and engaged by their employer. Culture is a key differentiator in attracting and retaining talent, and it is essential that businesses prioritise this to ensure they are future-ready,” comments Sohrabi.

Meanwhile, data collected by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District from various Cape Town businesses, their employees, as well as two organisational psychologists, shows many people find video-conferencing exhausting and are suffering from so-called “Zoom fatigue” or “screen time fatigue”.

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