‘Work from home is the best thing that ever happened to us’
South Africans weigh in on why working from home is the best amid calls for workers to return to the office
After working from home for more than two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, government employee Amanda recently went back to the office after management halted remote work and ordered staff to return five days a week.
But hardly a week after she went back to the office the mother of three booked leave “to cool off from the office politics and toxicity”.
“I didn’t even realise I was so unhappy to be at the office until I had an option of working from home. I became so efficient working on my own at home.
“It was such a stress-free environment that my output was impressive, but this month we’ve been summoned back because others abused the system and didn’t pull their weight.”
The Johannesburg mother, who works in Pretoria, is one of millions of South Africans who have to dig deep into their pockets as companies and government departments demand a return to work of all employees amid the country’s record petrol price hikes and sluggish economy.
Amanda said not only would she have to pay a few thousand rand a month to commute between Johannesburg and Pretoria, but she would lose about four hours a day just commuting, and would be away from home for about 12 hours daily.
“I don’t get why I have to drive all the way to Pretoria to work on the same laptop that I’ve been efficiently working (on) from home for two years without any problems. Why do I need to be confined in an office building to do the same job I could easily do in the comfort of my home?
“Working from home allowed me time to be present in my children’s lives and allowed me to help them with their homework. If going back to the office is about productivity, I would prefer the management to put in place performance targets instead of forcing us back at the office,” she said.
René Richter, MD at Remchannel, Old Mutual Corporate’s reward-management platform, said while working from home is considered a “bad idea” by some employers, “the reality is that there is no going back to the work model that prevailed before the pandemic”.
Based on its work from home survey of 130 companies in April, about 70% of the respondents indicated that a hybrid model has been implemented now that the pandemic is perceived to be endemic. Only 17% said 100% of all staff is back in the office. Less than half (47%) of employees favoured the return to office, and the reasons for the resistance included less time spent travelling to and from work, fewer disruptions and increased productivity.
Ritcher said the effect of the pandemic had become so clear that some property companies are repurposing office space into residential housing.
“It is critical for companies to understand the diversity of their workforces. In the case of professional staff that can operate in a virtual or hybrid environment, it is important to look for strategies that will suit each company’s unique circumstances. It is important for organisations to create clear policies and procedures and make communication between the workforce easy.”
Private sector employee and Johannesburg mother Lindiwe said she was already dreading August after her employer informed all staff that everyone must be back at the office by August 1.
“The management said it wants all hands on deck, but I don’t know why must we physically be at the office to do that. For two years, we’ve worked remotely and so productively. Yes it had its downsides, as I worked longer hours, but I was able to take my children to their extramural activities and even watch my son play soccer, which I find difficult when I have to sit in traffic first.”
Going back to the office will not only require her to fill up her car every week and navigate traffic morning and afternoon, but it means she has to part ways with R2,400 every month for her two children’s aftercare. “Our lives will be so much expensive after this. What can we do? We will have to go back eventually because we need these jobs.”
The Cape Chamber of Commerce said if there was anything good that had come out of the Covid-19 pandemic it was that “in some cases there are productivity gains from remote working”.
The rising fuel price and traffic congestion are other huge issues that will become a deciding factor regarding remote working.
Spokesperson Dean Le Grange said: “It is conceivable that in some cases commuting to work could become unsustainable if the fuel price continues to rise, and where alternative public transport options are unavailable. Overall we believe the hybrid working model is here to stay.”
Western Cape premier Alan Winde said as part of the province’s new way of work it had established hybrid-work opportunities for employees who can work remotely.
“To ensure that we continue to keep up with the changing demands of our employees and residents, I further committed to promoting a new, dedicated remote work portal that assists long-stay travellers to position the province as the best remote-work destination in the world. We are also monitoring the trend of emerging ‘Zoom towns’ where individuals who can work remotely are increasingly moving to coastal and more rural communities,” he said.
City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for urban mobility Rob Quintas said while daytime traffic volumes were similar to pre-Covid-19 levels, night time and weekends were considerably lower at about 75% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
“This can also be due to the phenomenal rise in fuel prices as unnecessary travel is curtailed,” he said. The collapse of Metrorail could be adding to traffic volumes.
“We have seen an above pre-Covid-19 increase in traffic on the outskirts of the metropolitan area since as early as the level 3 lockdown, together with an increase in morning traffic out of and into the city bowl in the evenings. This suggests less people are ‘at work’ in the city bowl. This could be due to the increase in residences in the CBD and these people commute out of the city bowl which could signify a shift in urban commuting.”