South African commuters are starting to feel the pressure of getting to work on time mounting, which is in itself causing undue stress on both employees and employers. Spending between an hour to two hours in traffic just to get to the office on time is becoming the norm, and in a country where public transport is not as pervasive as it is in Europe and the United States, the problem isn’t going anywhere fast.
“Employees are feeling trapped which is breeding an unhealthy and unproductive environment, which is why corporate South Africa needs to start embracing flexi hours and remote working,” says Marius van Wyk, operations and technical director at SkyGroup Communications. “There simply is no excuse. The technologies and tools, such as remote data access, video conferencing facilities and cloud solutions like Skype for Business exist, all of which support remote working and promote productivity.”
According to van Wyk remote working has to date been reserved for workers willing to take a knock in salary in order to be able to benefit from more flexibility in work hours. This is particularly true for those employees with children. But he says the view needs to shift to one which supports productivity and employee well-being, particularly as news reports and daily traffic reports paint a bleak picture of the state of South African roads.
“Internally we have implemented a pilot project called P.O.P – Place Of Productivity, which encourages employees to work from home. Project P.O.P. is an initiative to gauge employee productivity and general business engagement irrelevant of location. It is centred on our belief that your place of work should not be tied down to a single location.
“What we have seen is that as long as an employee has a stable Internet connection at home, have access to collaboration tools such as our videoHUB conferencing solution and relevant business applications i.e. Microsoft Office, Skype for Business, hosted or cloud based telephony services etc., they are even more productive at home than they are in the office,” he adds.
Surely not more productive? This is the standard answer from much of corporate South Africa who still battle to relinquish face-to-face “clocking in” of employees. Reports from Fortune Magazine, the Harvard Business review as well as a slew of independent studies all build the case for remote working.
All of which speak to the fact that office workers who spend between 45 minutes to 2 hours commuting, arrive in the office feeling like they have already spent a day at the office, and can take as long to get into their work. The growing cost of real estate that is forcing the need for open plan offices is another factor. Open plan offices are a sure fire way to kill productivity, unless the corporate culture supports these.
In one case study run by Chinese travel website Ctrip, sales people working remotely were able to complete 13.5% more calls than their office bound counterparts. The company said it estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months just in office finishings and space. It also managed to completely eradicate the “water cooler” effect which is a sure fire way to eat into productivity hours.
“It is not all a bed of roses though. Instilling a remote working culture and making it successful relies about 50% on technology to support the environment and the other 50% on company culture, incentives and the willingness of the employee. You can’t just deploy a cloud-based video conferencing solution, buy mobile data and install fibre at the home of an employee to make it work.
“You need to develop policies, gauge if the individual is disciplined enough to embrace it and set out incentives to encourage its success. Furthermore, regular meeting and ‘management check in’ points need to be established, reports need to be submitted and management need to review these. But the benefits far outweigh the pain points,” adds van Wyk.
Looking ahead, the construction in Sandton is not going to improve in a hurry, nor is the traffic trap that is Fourways or the gridlock that is gripping Cape Town. Which begs the question: if you aren’t considering remote working then why not?