There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in the way we work. Two years down the line, these changes are evident, not only in the global market but also locally. This presents a unique opportunity for HR leaders to create win-win work solutions for both employees and employers. It can also enable employers to achieve a more competitive proposition for attracting and retaining top talent. One of these changes is remote work.
Employees seem to want the flexibility that work-away-from-the-office during the hard lockdown of COVID-19 offered, whether it be working entirely remotely, a hybrid between office and remote, more flexible hours, or even a willingness for a 4-day work week at lower pay.
Gartner found that the vast majority of HR leaders (95%) expect that at least some of their employees will work remotely after the pandemic. This shift to more flexible work options will be a massive driver of transformation that HR leaders will have to consider.
In South Africa, Pnet’s research suggests that remote job opportunities are on the rise and that job seekers seem to prefer (at least partially) remote working options. According to said research, Microsoft SA recently conducted a survey of 610 leaders and employees in large enterprises to get a sense of employees’ experiences from the start of the pandemic. Their finding was that almost nine out of 10 leaders (88%) at large enterprises expected to adopt a more hybrid way of working permanently. This has been confirmed by Career Junction’s April 2002 Employment Insight, where they indicated that there is a significant rise in remote working opportunities for candidates in high demand.
This high demand in specific roles, has resulted in what Debbie Goodman, Group CEO of Jack Hammer, calls ‘a groundswell of employee activism’. Quoted in Forbes, Goodman says that ‘Quality people with experience and expertise can now ask for working conditions, salaries, and preferences that they might not have been able to ask for or expect during any other time in history’.
Where is remote work on the rise?
Already, local companies are heeding the need for greater flexibility. Companies like Nedbank announced a planned shift in their workforce structure for those employees whose jobs do not require them to be in a branch or office. Another company is LexisNexis. Such changes in approach, however, heavily rely on a revision of technology and in-house systems.
According to PNet’s 2022 Talent Outlook (March 2022), the careers where remote working opportunities have already increased, are primarily those surrounding IT. There has also been an increase for sales roles and accountants.
Career Junction’s Employment Insights 04/2022 support this. According to their findings, specific jobs that benefit from remote work at this stage are for:
- Software development
- Data analysis/Data Warehousing
- Systems/Network Administration
- Business Analysis
- Middle/Department Management
- Internal Auditing
- Representative/Sales Consulting
- Personal Assistant
- External Auditing
- Staff Recruitment/Selection
Challenges of making remote work part of EVP
PNet’s 2022 Talent Outlook, indicates that one of the first challenges is: ‘how to manage remote teams’? Although managers have been thrown into the deep end during Covid-19, the ability to sustain the effective management of remotes teams requires new skills for leaders. While technology can easily enable the transactional aspects of management, not all leaders feel at ease dealing with the ‘softer’ aspects of people management having to rely on technology, let alone having career development discussions or ‘stay’ interviews.
How to manage workplace culture is another potential challenge, as is making provision for social bonding and the potential risk of lower levels of productivity. As far as the latter is concerned, managers will have to adjust their thinking, become more trustful and ensure that they focus on outputs.
Another challenge could be the negative impact remote working will have on those unable to work from home; this could fuel an already explosive labor market in specific sectors.
More flexible working conditions, especially for those who possess scarce skills and experience, are here to stay. While it offers some challenges to managers and organizations who have variable skill levels, remote and other ‘new normal’ work approaches could attract talent that organizations have not previously had access to. It could also result in increased employee wellness, a more positive impact on the environment due to a reduction in traveling to work, and higher employee engagement.