By: Marius Van Wyk, Operations And Technical Director At SkyGroup Communications
South African businesses are being held hostage by traffic, keeping employees away from their desks, dampening spirits and generally impacting the overall “get up and go” people should have when they arrive at work. What are the factors? Construction in Sandton, roadworks in Fourways, gridlock in Cape Town.
A recent report by BusinessTech, where it analysed congestion in Cape Town, revealed that it can take up to 54% longer than normal to do a trip in peak hour traffic. The undue stress this causes as it erodes ones day is taking its toll on workers who already spend 70% of their day at work – further eroding the notion of work life balance.
In short, employees are feeling trapped which is breeding an unhealthy and unproductive environment, which is why corporate South Africa needs to start embracing flexi hours and remote working. There simply is no excuse. The technologies and tools, such as remote data access, video conferencing facilities and cloud solutions like Skype for Business exist, all of which support remote working and promote productivity.
But many South African businesses still fear remote working – simply because their culture does not support or embrace it. There is a perception that not having someone where you can “see them working” means they are less productive.
As a result remote working has to date been reserved for workers willing to take a knock in salary in order to be able to benefit from more flexibility in work hours. This is particularly true for those employees with children. But the view needs to shift to one which supports productivity and employee well-being, particularly as news reports and daily traffic reports paint a bleak picture of the state of South African roads.
A working study
Internally we have implemented our own pilot project called P.O.P – Place Of Productivity, which encourages employees to work from home. Project P.O.P. is an initiative to gauge employee productivity and general business engagement irrelevant of location. It is centered on our belief that your place of work should not be tied down to a single location.
What we have seen is that as long as an employee has a stable Internet connection at home, has access to collaboration tools such as our videoHUB conferencing solution and relevant business applications i.e. Microsoft Office, Skype for Business, hosted or cloud based telephony services etc., they are even more productive at home than they are in the office.
Surely not more productive? This is the standard answer from much of corporate South Africa who still battle to relinquish face-to-face “clocking in” of employees. Reports from Fortune Magazine, the Harvard Business review as well as a slew of independent studies all build the case for remote working.
All of which speak to the fact that office workers who spend between 45 minutes to 2 hours commuting, arrive in the office feeling like they have already spent a day at the office, and can take as long to get into their work. The growing cost of real estate that is forcing the need for open plan offices is another factor. Open plan offices are a sure fire way to kill productivity, unless the corporate culture supports these.
Making it work
It is not all a bed of roses though. Instilling a remote working culture and making it successful relies about 50% on technology to support the environment and the other 50% on company culture, incentives and the willingness of the employee. You can’t just deploy a cloud-based video conferencing solution, buy mobile data and install fibre at the home of an employee to make it work.
You need to develop policies, gauge if the individual is disciplined enough to embrace it and set out incentives to encourage its success. Furthermore, regular meeting and ‘management check in’ points need to be established, reports need to be submitted and management need to review these. But the benefits far outweigh the pain points.