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Survey: Collaboration, security are top remote work challenges

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, lead technologist at VMware Africa.
Ian Jansen van Rensburg, lead technologist at VMware Africa.

How are SA organisations rising to the remote working challenge? To find out, ITWeb in collaboration with VMware, recently ran a ‘Remote Work Survey’.

The first question asked was whether or not respondents had a remote working policy in place before the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect, and 57% said ‘yes’, with the balance of 43% saying ‘no’. However, if asked today, it’s safe to say that 100% of companies would answer in the affirmative.

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, senior systems engineer and lead technologist at VMware Sub-Saharan Africa, comments: "Depending on the specific sector, you will find varying percentages of readiness. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to smart devices, fast uncapped connectivity and the correct security in place. The numbers are surprising if you keep all of this in mind.”

Nearly half of respondents (46%) experience no challenges as they were already fully up and running with remote work capabilities. Another 42% said they faced challenges when it came to enabling communication and collaboration.

Another issue was the impact of lockdown on SA organisations’ digital transformation journeys. For 43% there was no impact as these respondents said they were already fully digital businesses. Some 37% said the pandemic caused their journey to be fasttracked and that they were now finally fully digital, and 25% claimed to have been caught unawares and said that certain aspects of their business had suffered owing to a lack of digital maturity.

For those who have suffered owing to a lack of digital maturity, Jansen van Rensburg advises: “It is the perfect time to drive innovation and new ideas. The pandemic has changed the world. The way we think about online shopping and services are changing. Who will be the next Facebook or Netflix? The companies that can provide these new experiences are the ones that will stay in business, thrive and be the pioneers of the fourth industrial revolution wave.”

Tools, solutions

Nearly half of companies (42%) are using a digital workplace platform to share files and data with their colleagues, and 32% are doing this with a shared server or drive via a VPN. Only 18% are still using e-mail.

"E-mail is and will always be one of the most important business tools but it has its limits. The companies that would like to drive innovation, be more productive and competitive in the marketplace need to run their business on modern, cloud native applications" adds Jansen van Rensburg.

When asked what technologies they wished they had that would have enabled them to be more productive when working remotely, collaborative tools (38%), simpler network access management (36%) and simpler remote device management (35.5%) came out tops. Says Jansen van Rensburg, “Employees want quick and easy ways to collaborate with each other. But you cannot collaborate without fast, uncapped Internet connectivity and a reliable smart device.”

When it came to solutions that SA organisations are using to secure their remote workforces, nearly three-quarters (71%) said they were using strong passwords, 68% said VPNs, 66% firewalls, 57% encryption and 55% are using two-factor authentication.

The inability to unplug was an issue for 61% of respondents.

It's no secret that IT helpdesks faced a slew of challenges of their own when it came to enabling, securing and troubleshooting a remote workforce, but reassuringly, a full 81% of respondents said their IT helpdesk was fully accessible and able to assist. Another 15% answered ‘partially – it’s a challenge but we are managing’, and only 4% said that their helpdesk wasn't accessible and able to assist, and it has been a struggle.

Benefits and challenges Several benefits of working remotely emerged, such as ‘not wasting time in traffic’, which was cited as the biggest plus by 83% of respondents, a more flexible schedule by 75%, more productive owing to fewer distractions (66%), and the ability to balance work and private life or spend more time with family (53%).

On a personal level, when asked what they viewed as the biggest challenges of working remotely, the inability to unplug was an issue for 61%, loneliness and the lack of human contact by 46%, and connectivity issues by 45%.

One thing is clear, and that is that the pandemic has changed the way we work and do business forever, and most of us are wondering what the ‘new normal’ will look like. When asked how they foresee their organisations’ remote work policies post-COVID-19, nearly three-quarters (61%) said they believed employees would be given the choice to work from home or from the office.

About the survey

The Remote Work Survey, in partnership with VMware, was run online on ITWeb for a period of two weeks to examines the current remote work landscape in South Africa and how companies are facing up to this new challenge.

It captured input from 462 respondents from a wide range of public and private sector organisations of all sizes. Twenty-seven percent of respondents were CEOs or MDs, and the rest were spread out over middle management, IT staff, and consultants.

Follow the Key Findings and the Graphs links