The COVID-19 pandemic forced South African businesses to implement remote working, and when MyBroadband spoke with several top local businesses in April, they believed it was here to stay.
Euphoria Telecom CEO John Woollam predicted that about 30% of South African businesses would implement some form of remote working policy after the pandemic is over.
SqwidNet MD Phathizwe Malinga agreed that remote working would continue post-lockdown because of the high levels of productivity companies have experienced during the COVID-19 crisis.
Micro Focus South Africa managing director Gary De Menezes also agreed with this sentiment.
“We firmly believe that after the experience of this lockdown it will become an everyday part of our new way of working moving forward,” said de Menezes.
This means that many South Africans who are currently working from home may continue to do so on a permanent basis going forward.
We asked the above three business leaders, as well as MTN and MultiChoice, for their updated views on remote working – both during the lockdown and for the future.
MTN senior PR manager Leigh-Ann Chetty said the company’s work from home arrangements have gone well.
“Our position remains that if you are able to work from home you should do so, as we see no need to place people at risk,” said Chetty.
Despite the success of remote working at MTN, Chetty said the company does not expect ever to switch to a complete remote working solution.
“MTN has a fun, bright and social culture so we do not see us ever moving to a complete work from home arrangement, but we are certainly investigating options that would appeal to our employees,” said Chetty.
“As a technology company, we have seen that our people have easily adapted to combining technology and on-site discussions and we have not seen any significant dips in productivity.”
“The MTN philosophy is that post COVID-19, those who can work from home and are happy to work from home, will be encouraged to work remotely, forever.”
However, remote working has not been without its teething problems for MTN.
Chetty said that MTN had to issue guidelines to employees as it found that employees were consistently working considerably longer days than deemed healthy.
“The lack of a commute has seen our people sitting down at their desks at 07:00 and leaving at 19:00 and we have had to pushback against this kind of behaviour as two months in people were exhausted,” said Chetty.
“As a result, we have implemented various measures for example, “No meeting day” where MTN Group encourages all employees across its operations to not hold any internal meeting the whole day, this happens once a month.”
Senior manager of corporate communications at MultiChoice Benedict Maaga said that nearly 60% of MultiChoice employees have been working from home since the lockdown began.
“The remainder has been going into the office every day, to ensure that as an essential service, we have able to continue providing critical news, the latest information on COVID-19, public health updates, educational content as well as the best entertainment available for homebound South Africans,” he said.
“All of our productions are back on set and back on the air, working under stringent health and safety protocols that have been put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Maaga said that MultiChoice has been working to look after customers, suppliers, staff, and families.
“Our service to customers continues, with our walk-in centres open and operating under stringent health and safety protocols,” said Maaga.
“We have encouraged our customers to make use of our various online self-service options, in order to maintain the necessary social distancing.”
Sqwidnet MD Phathizwe Malinga told MyBroadband that Sqwidnet has experienced more positives than negatives when it comes to holding meetings through Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
“The first most important thing that we noticed was the ability of people to focus for a longer period of time and stay present in the conversation versus when you meet face-to-face,” said Malinga.
“The negative though, that we’ve seen, is what I call the social part of a conversation which is important but feels either forced or a distraction on a zoom call,” Malinga said.
Malinga noted that Sqwidnet has started holding online meetings where some participants were in a physical meeting room in the office.
“We noticed how “distant” those that were in the physical room felt, as their faces were not as front and centre as those who had dialled in from their personal computers,” said Malinga.
“It is the office now that needs to try and fit in.”
Malinga has observed that productivity seems to be highest when everyone is doing the same thing – either all working from the office, or all working from home.
“Because of this, I think everyone will eventually gravitate back to working from work, believing that the problem is those who are working from home.”
CEO of Euphoria Telecom John Woollam said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that it is not always necessary to work from the office.
“We are noticing a trend towards hybrid working environments, both internally and amongst our customers,” said Woollam.
“Businesses stand to gain in terms of productivity improvements, better morale and reduced office costs by adopting a more mixed approach to having their people in an office, at home and on the road, as appropriate.”
Woollam said that Euphoria Telecom is currently using a hybrid environment, and expects to do so for the considerable future.
“Setting firm plans in place is difficult given the current fluid nature of the business environment but we are definitely more comfortable with and receptive to having teams at home,” said Woollam.
“More broadly speaking, we see the trend to mixed environments continuing into next year. With the current economic climate, if nothing else, companies will be looking to save costs where they can and having people at home and a smaller office space is something that enables them to do that.”
Micro Focus South Africa managing director Gary de Menezes said Micro Focus has noticed that its customers are critically reviewing all of their existing projects and spend to realign themselves with new priorities.
This includes automation of the full IT stack, particularly for enterprises.
“We do not think that any company will return to doing business the way we started 2020,” said de Menezes.
“Every customer we speak to, and including ourselves, is planning on a new hybrid model of office and remote working which will become the new norm moving forward.”
De Menezes said this is expected to continue long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed and been forgotten.