Picture: UNSPLASH/CORINNE KUTZ
Picture: UNSPLASH/CORINNE KUTZ

At the onset of the lockdown imposed in SA in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, most organisations expected their staff  work from home only as a temporary measure. But now, almost a year later, they have a more formal and permanent remote workforce in place. 

This trend has resulted in new challenges affecting productivity, employee engagement and job satisfaction. The recent Business Day Focus 4.0 LIVE digital dialogue, in partnership with Oracle, focused on how organisations are evolving to ensure long-term resilience. 

Moderator Arthur Goldstuck, World Wide Worx CEO, said digitally transformed companies are not only more productive, but have also built long-term resilience into their businesses. According to research conducted by World Wide Worx, 38% of digitally enabled companies will allow staff to work remotely post the pandemic. Of those companies that are digitally transformed, 70% reported greater productivity. 

Managing a remote workforce comes with its own set of challenges for managers and leaders. While resilience is normally built up over time, in a crisis organisations have to respond immediately. 

Rob Bothma, Oracle strategic business solutions engineer, said line managers have been the hardest hit with the new demands being made on them, primarily because many don’t have the necessary skills required to manage their people remotely. “There is a skill to working from home. I’ve realised that I no longer work from home, but rather that I live at work.”

Organisations should not expect their staff to be available 12 hours a day but should rather measure their output. “They need to be cognisant of employee burnout,” said Bothma. 

Ronnie Toerien, Oracle HCM sales development and strategy leader for Africa, said companies were under pressure to change the way they do things, including reskilling their people. “Organisations can’t afford not to adapt or they will suffer the consequences.” 

Mundusha Jialal-Dasrath, reward and organisational development director at Tiger Brands, said a successful transition to remote working requires more than just equipping staff with laptops and 3G cards, but also providing staff with education and guidance on the etiquette of working from home. 

At the same time, line managers need the tools to build their own resilience to better support their teams, she said. 

One of the challenges is that employees are emotionally and mentally fatigued, said Dr Marzanne de Klerk, the chief adviser at the Leadership Faculty and an Eskom and registered industrial and organisational psychologist. “After working seven days a week staff is screen fatigued,” she said. 

De Klerk said leaders need both a new mindset and a new toolset to manage remote workforces. The need for resilience and agility has never been greater, and leaders should connect with their staff regularly and show empathy. The more staff feel valued and appreciated, the higher their productivity is likely to be, she said. “There are many practices that managers have had to unlearn to relearn new ways of doing things.” 

Toerien emphasised the need for empathy in today’s environment. This new way of working has required a mindset change, he said, requiring staff to allocate specific time to work and to be more disciplined about separating work from leisure time. 

Watch the full discussion below:

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