South Africa’s financial sector has undergone a significant change following the coronavirus outbreak.
Due to self-isolation and an extended national lockdown period, major banks have needed to adapt to remote working while maintaining operational efficiency as an essential service.
This has resulted in a perspective shift, with some banks learning that many of their employees are capable of working from home.
Other banks which already had advanced work-from-home strategies in place have seen the advantages of expanding this programme, including increased productivity and reduced costs.
This will result in major South African banks revisiting their remote working strategies following the COVID-19 pandemic, with many allowing more employees to work from home going forward.
MyBroadband spoke to major South African banks about their perspective on working from home and how their strategies will change going forward.
Nedbank said it has seen an increase in productivity during the lockdown period, but also noted that it is more difficult for employees to “switch off”, which may lead to burnout over time.
“For staff that are able to work from home, we have generally seen an increase in productivity with decisions being much quicker,” said Nedbank Group HR Executive Deb Fuller.
“However, we’ve also seen a deterioration of work-life balance with many staff suffering from an inability to ‘switch off’ as the lines between work and home become blurred.”
“This is likely to lead to burnout which may have a negative impact on productivity over time.”
Fuller said that following the lockdown, Nedbank was taking a risk-based approach to bringing staff back to work.
“Staff are likely to continue to work from home, where possible, for an extended period.”
When asked whether the national lockdown and coronavirus pandemic had changed Nedbank’s perspective on remote working, Fuller said this was true to an extent.
“To a certain extent yes, as only a few staff used to work from home on an ad-hoc basis before the lockdown, but now it’s evident that the majority of staff can work from home and productivity levels can increase in certain instances as indicated above.”
“This practice could continue with a large workforce working from home going forward,” Fuller said.
“Working remotely can bring benefits of employee well-being, productivity, and the reduced damage to the environment,” Fuller said. “This period presents an opportunity to transform our workplaces and the way we work.”
“It also presents an opportunity to rethink how we can service our clients in ways that best serve their evolving needs, with lots of learnings and many more to come.”
“What remote working cannot make up for is some of the loss of social interactions – so, in a perfect world, a balanced approach to remote and office working will be optimal,” Fuller said.
FNB said it has seen a boost in employee productivity, but noted that it was still processing and understanding this data.
“Initially we saw increased productivity, but the information still needs to be further unpacked to understand it properly,” said FNB HR Executive Shamala Moodley.
After the lockdown, FNB will return some employees to work while allowing others to work from home.
“We will have a combination that works for our employees as we enter the new world of work, essentially offering choices that are most suitable to optimising productivity and keeping employees engaged,” Moodley said.
When asked whether the need to implement remote working had changed the company’s perspective on the practice, FNB said that it had not, but it has provided more insights on how the bank can practice remote working better.
FNB added that it would most likely allow more employees to work from home after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
“We are learning lessons from the lockdown that we can implement more effectively,” Moodley said.
“In line with our business continuity plans, FNB has put the necessary measures in place with respect to staff mobility.”
“The bank has already adopted flexible working arrangements in most areas of its business and continues to reinforce the adoption of remote working arrangements,” Moodley said.
Absa said that the lockdown has accelerated its digital adaption, with the bank moving quickly to allow employees to work digitally.
“Examples include the accelerated adoption of Microsoft Teams as a meeting and collaboration tool. A number of alternative tools are in place, including Jabber,” Absa said.
“In the past few weeks, Absa implemented large-scale upgrades to our virtual private network (VPN).”
“We are now running a state-of-the-art, high-speed, low maintenance VPN that can accommodate up to 60,000 connections at any given time (compared to a capacity of around 8 000 immediately prior to lockdown),” the bank said.
Absa said that it has also launched a counselling service and related app to provide employees with support while working from home.
“A phased approach will be deployed to return to work following the end of the lockdown period,” Absa said. “This will help us to reduce the number of people in a building at any given time and protect the wellbeing of our employees.”
“With fewer people in buildings, greater individual work distances can be maintained between employees and cleaning protocols can be carried out frequently and with limited hindrance.”
The bank added that immediately following the end of the lockdown period in South Africa, working from home will be the preferred option.
“Where work can be delivered remotely and virtually, these practices will be retained and expanded across different areas of our business.”
“This arrangement will typically apply to non-client-facing roles and head office environments,” Absa said.
“Longer term, there will likely be further positive changes in the ways we work, although it is too early to finalise detailed plans.”