As the world settles into a hybrid-working model, the risks and opportunities have become more pronounced, with the most notable post-Covid legacy being the globalisation of businesses, say two senior Vox executives.
Craig Freer, Executive Head: Managed Services, says it has become the de facto standard that projects are delivered remotely. “This is not a new concept, it started long before the pandemic with off-shore managed services. However, the pandemic has accelerated global access to skills. 18 months ago, it was almost unheard of in some industries to work from a country of your choice, whereas today remote delivery is normal,” he says.
Freer says there’s a risk of losing in-country skills because businesses can cast their nets further, citing knowledge of HR companies recruiting around the world in efforts to find the best resources at the most competitive cost. “If you consider that this makes skills in countries such as South Africa up to 30% or even 40% more affordable, it does present somewhat of a risk in a skills-scarce environment.
“If you have pounds, you can get the same resource from a country such as ours at a far better cost than you would have paid locally. Naturally, another risk is that if someone is concerned about instability at home or is just generally open to adventure, the next step would be making the physical move to the country that houses their employer.
“It is a risk, but I don’t think it is panic stations, because there is a flip side to the coin which presents an opportunity and gives South Africa a competitive advantage. IP-based companies that have strong resources can compete in European countries because of the time zone and competitive pricing. You’d easily come in up to 30-40% more price-competitive than what they would pay locally – precisely because they are now more comfortable with remote delivery.”
Rudi Potgieter, Executive Head: Guardian Eye, a Vox security solution, says that as the world settles into a rhythm after the initial rush of switching to remote working, everyday matters such as managing productivity present new challenges, and that in the medium to long-term, employees may experience higher levels of remote management as a payoff for the luxury of working remotely.
“One of the more practical challenges faced by employers is managing productivity. Across industries, after the initial rush to set up systems for remote work, there has needed to be management of the workforce’s perception of what working from home means, and the implementation of tools and measures to manage productivity.
“There’s a certain luxury that comes from working from home in the form of fuel savings, not needing to spend money on work clothes, office food, and so forth. You’ll find that as time passes, as a compromise for this luxury, some employees may need to accept higher degrees of micromanagement in the form of productivity tools. This payoff will potentially start encroaching on privacy.”
Freer says that his organisation, and many others, have chosen not to take this invasive route as it does more harm than good. However, he says, there’s a need to develop processes that seek to reverse losses in skills development and company culture that remote working has caused.
Sharing skills requires a whole new mindset
“If you think about a technical environment, in the past if someone had a problem they could lean over a cubicle and get help immediately from someone with more skill. This led to continual skills development on the job. The risk, if there aren’t processes in place to address this, is that skills can become stagnant.”
He says technology will play a pivotal role in workforce engagement. “If you look at the trucking industry, for example, they’ve brought out all sorts of monitoring tools for the cab, to the extent that if a driver starts getting fatigued, it is picked up and they’ll either call the driver or send out some sort of alert. It’s quite conceivable that we will see innovations using the laptop camera where you’ll be able to see whether people have disengaged. This would give you an insight into employees and where they are and if they need help. But, as mentioned, it is a fine line where technology is supportive or becomes invasive.”
Potgieter says the only certainty is that the world will never be the same again. “We’ve heard the phrase ‘new normal’ being bandied about. Our future normal will be adaptation on an ongoing basis, whether this is role-specific adaptation driven by innovation or adapting to legislation and other external factors.
“People from all walks of life have been forced into remote work because there was no other option. A few years ago, an employee asking to work from home would have been met with suspicion, but we have adapted. Before the pandemic we may have had nine branches, now we have more than 2000 – because of remote working – and these need to be secured, and this has been done. This is rapid, ongoing adaptation.”
Ultimately, says Potgieter, for all the challenges, the new work reality has brought opportunity. “It requires pragmatism. We may lose things we didn’t want to lose, but we have gained so much in terms of innovation.
“I think as a country, South Africans are amazing. We are unbelievably resilient people and adapt very quickly to change. This stands us in good stead.”