Cape Town - Prolonged remote working has corporations nervous and property owners advocating for workers to return to their offices.
When Covid-19 hit, cities were ghost towns. Landlords were losing clients to rent their office spaces. To make up for the loss, companies are forcing people back to the office.
Crystal Hoole, organisational psychologist, and president of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa (SIOPSA), said some big corporates were actually nervous about their staff.
“Organisations feel vulnerable as they don’t know how the pandemic is going to continue to play out. As a result, they don’t want to pronounce on working from home, although we have yet to see a ‘great resignation’ trend in South Africa; with high unemployment, people cannot just leave their jobs.”
She conceded that most companies’ HR policies were inflexible and outdated.
“We talk about innovation but many of the practices and behaviours are not there to support this. There is not enough of an incentive for businesses to change these policies unless staff put their foot down. Pilots need to be done to see if hybrid models can be adopted successfully.”
The Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), which was funded by property owners, has been publishing articles advocating for the return to the office. “It’s time to come back to work!” it said in one article.
“In the short term, working remotely to prevent the spread of Covid-19 makes sense. But the office is irreplaceable in many respects. The workplace also plays a crucial role in ensuring the Cape Town Central City is the most successful in South Africa.”
The CEO of CCID, Tasso Evangelinos, went further and said he believed it was harder for teams to collaborate when they weren’t together. Evangelinos said while technology had allowed for productive home-based work, it was no replacement for the office.
“Working from home goes against human nature. Many people are feeling the impact of solo working. The novelty of not having to commute is starting to be replaced by a need to have somewhere to go in the morning.”
Activist Phethani Madzivhandila is of the view that with the world having advanced due to lockdown, workers must be allowed to work remotely from the comfort of their homes if possible.
“It saves a lot of time taken going to work, reduces traffic and saves a lot of productive hours workers can dedicate to work rather than evading traffic.”
He added that companies were in cahoots with property owners, because rent lords would be hit hard if companies stopped renting and went virtual. “It just shows how this class is organised in terms of seeking out rent monies from companies when the costs aren't even necessary.
“The money to rent office space could be put to good use like paying the workers better and adequate salaries. And one more important thing is the refusal for continuity to work at home is based on the fact that they want to monitor you and make sure that all the eight hours of work are solely theirs, whereas at home you could be working and doing other chores.”
Executive coach and organisational change expert, Phephile Simelane, however said there was uncertainty around how to make these work for both employee and employer.
“There is disagreement at senior level within organisations and ongoing debate about whether or not it is something they want to do. This is worsened by the low vaccination rate and uncertainty around mandatory vaccination policies. Although we are two years into the pandemic, it has not been consistent,” she said.
Simelane added that businesses needed to ensure a safe working environment for their employees.