For several months now, office spaces across South Africa have been gathering dust, void of occupants as employees have been working from home, writes Garsen Naidu, country manager, Cisco South Africa. While there is no telling when the pandemic will end, if the current work-from-home culture is adopted more permanently, offices may soon become ghost towns. But the future of remote working largely remains to be determined.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, countless businesses were put to the ultimate test from an IT infrastructure support perspective. A large proportion of the workforce had to cease going in to the office in order to prevent the spread of the virus. As such, for businesses to survive, they had to devise a remote working strategy and leverage digital technology to bring work into the home instead, ensuring business continuity.

By pressuring most businesses to fast-track their digital transformation, COVID-19 proved that massive-scale remote working is doable. Now that it has been achieved, the all-important question is around how we will work going forward after all this is over.

It can be anticipated that businesses will embrace remote working for the long term, or make some allowances for this. A business that cares for its people heeds their needs. After getting through a historic time such as this, and having seen our capabilities, it might be good to consider how employees would prefer to work in future as businesses navigate what’s next.

But to begin with, just how has remote working fared in South Africa? With almost a quarter (23.5%) of companies having actually had a detailed strategy for remote working before lockdown, the majority had not yet fully realised their digital transformation – according to Remote Working in South Africa 2020, a study conducted among 400 enterprises by World Wide Worx for Cisco South Africa.

Opting for remote, post-pandemic

A good 39.8% of businesses are aware that their employees would like to continue working from home, while just under half (45.3%) have not yet established the desire or lack thereof with their employees.

With the digital technology which has made this shift to working from home possible, it is reasonable to expect that this way of work is maintained to some degree. Is it still necessary to be in the office full time? Can businesses continue to support the capacity for remote based workforces beyond the pandemic?

The new norm has created for us a world of work where a remote based workforce can successfully run a business. However, all this is happening because of a crisis currently. What happens when it’s over, do we carry on with the new norm or go back to normal?

As with any major change, it takes time to welcome it and it also takes time to establish a new state of affairs. More than half (60.5%) of South African businesses do not have a clear stance yet on whether they will permit continued working from home in future.

But as it stands now, 38.3% of businesses will allow their staff to work remotely. It suffices to say that they have truly seen the power of digital technology and how it seamlessly enables people to work, no matter where they are based.

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