No “back to work” for South African tech companies

Interviews with a variety of companies in South Africa have revealed that the ICT industry is unlikely to see a full return to a structured office environment any time soon — if ever.

Regardless of size and service offering, it seems that companies in the ICT sector are done with the traditional office.

Microsoft SA’s Thavash Govender said that while a few of their staff were working from home prior to the pandemic, almost 100% of their workforce now work remotely.

“This is true for Microsoft locally and globally. Management is not only allowing remote work but is encouraging it. It has been identified as a permanent part of our work culture going forward,” he said.

While Govender raised concerns that remote work may negatively impact information sharing and relationships amongst employees, many companies are experiencing that the pros outweigh the cons.

Cell C’s Chief HR Officer, Juba Mashaba, said remote work has had a positive impact on productivity.

At the same time, staff are enjoying an improved work-life balance with less time spent commuting and more time spent with family.

Mashaba noted that this new operational model has required some changes.

“A solid foundation has been put in place offering the necessary support for high performance and productivity, teamwork and engagement,” said Mashaba.

“We have adopted new policies, infrastructure and support mechanisms, underpinned by a change management programme, to ensure everyone is up to date with the responsibilities which come with this new way of work.”

Cell C has taken a hybrid approach to remote work, where employees can elect to work remotely permanently, where feasible.

Cell C head office

Bryant Dennis, Commercial Director of Converged Telecoms, said they have taken a similar approach to Cell C, where a hybrid model is being implemented.

“Remote work doesn’t work for everyone; some staff seem to find it easier and remain productive at home, while others get distracted by young children and prefer to work at the office,” said Dennis.

“However, in an internal survey, every one of our staff said that working from home enhanced their lives and overall happiness. Our people are everything, so post-COVID, we will continue to offer our team the flexibility to work from home.”

Acknowledging the importance of internal relationship building, many companies mentioned that they have had to rethink how they foster relationships between staff, with the loss of informal ‘corridor conversations’.

Comsol Networks’ sales and marketing director, Justin Colyn, said their team is now 100% home-based.

“However, we know that our people are missing informal interactions and catch-ups. We have ramped up internal communications and now send out a ‘Daily Download’ which focuses on news, birthdays, and achievements from our team.”

Comsol reported a 30% increase in productivity since remote work was introduced.

“We won’t be returning to a traditional office environment; in fact, we have rented out a large portion of our office space. The remaining space features ‘hot desks’ for staff to use on occasion.”

Andile Solutions has also elected a hybrid approach, although they are encouraging smaller group meetups on a weekly basis.

Lead Software Engineer, Erick van der Linde said that while there are pros and cons to working from home.

“Finding a good balance working remotely and from the office has considerably more benefits than forcing the whole company into a single direction,” he said.

“To ensure we maintain our culture, we aim to bring the whole team together once a month for some face time. We are also encouraged to get together as teams, twice a week for longer and more complex discussions.”

It seems the traditional offices of just 18 months ago are now seen as relics in the South African ICT industry.

While every company interviewed showed great awareness of the challenges of remote work, all showed a commitment to overcoming those challenges in favour of the benefits enjoyed by staff, which are seen to positively impact company performance.

Now read: Amazon is hiring 3,000 South Africans to work from home

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No “back to work” for South African tech companies