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This past year was atrocious to the whole world and at the moment, no one wants to revisit the memories created during the height of the COVID19 pandemic. Nevertheless, that painful period educated many of us. We learnt new words like ‘Zoom dysmorphia,’ ‘Comorbidity,’ and we learnt the true meaning of ‘Working from home.’

On this edition of #CareersTuesday, we dive into the belly of the ‘work from home life’. We also chat to creative and corporate company executives as we track whether or not organisations have embraced this new ‘work-life norm.’ 

How working from home has affected the property market. 

This obligatory shift of the workplace has left dire consequences for property owners, developers, and investors.  The richest square mile in Africa, Sandton, has taken a hit from this, with vacancy rates shooting up to 13.3% according to the South African Property Owners Association. 

Most office landlords are now looking into converting their office space into affordable apartments. This is a dream come true for people who’ve been aspiring to live in the heart of Sandton. However, this solution is not pertinent to all buildings. Linda Trim Director of Giant Leap, an office interior design and space planning company, offers alternative advice to office landlords that have empty office space, ‘’collaborative spaces have been popular for a while. Create spaces where people can meet safely. Create focus booths where people can have zoom calls.’’ 

Challenges brought by working from home

Apart from empty offices, decision makers from different companies have other concerns. DNA Brand Architects founder and Chief Architect, Sylvester Chauke was concerned about his employees’ comfort, “at first, my biggest concern was my team’s working conditions across all levels of the organisation. I was concerned about their internet speed, a good chair to sit on, a desk, a quiet space, etc. We had to then ensure that our people are “comfortable” in all the areas they now work from.’’ 

A conducive working environment was one of the biggest concerns that corporates had when South Africa went into lockdown level 5. 

Fast internet still remains a challenge for many South Africans who live far from urban areas as network coverage is predominant in urban areas. Furthermore, this is a difficult challenge to combat because data prices keep rising.  

These difficulties create challenges for organisations to operate successfully. 

‘’I felt it was imperative that it is not left only to our HR to handle.The leadership team worked on creating unique communication channels to suit each team that would be of value,’’ said Chauke. The award winning advertising maverick also gave us an insight into how his team dealt with moments of despondency, ‘’I think at some point my team and I were ‘Zoom-ed out’, so we schedule days where there will be no meetings at all. Communication, accountability, trust, transparency and structure are the pillars that hold it all together.’’ When we asked him how he ensures productivity at DNA Brand Architects, he emphasised on enforcing structure and having clear goals to maintain productivity and to ‘’also take moments to unplug and give people time to actually do the work.’’

Nizenande Machi founder of Lucha Lunako, a youth development lab, said they experienced both improvement and a decline in productivity. A large part of their work deals with and works with partners to implement youth placement and learnerships in some of their pilot programmes and requires physical presence. With social distancing laws in place, this now slows down productivity. ‘’The need to work from home has made us more productive as a team in terms of administration, planning and strategic coordination,’’ Machi explained. 

Giant Leap conducted a survey about working from home. 

‘‘Every corporate is different. In surveys we’ve conducted, and with clients that we work with, we have found that they all lack creativity and it’s difficult to keep a team together over Zoom. Employees are fatigued from being at home all the time,’’ said Trim. This is similar to what some employees at DNA Brand Architects faced, ‘’Remember your team may have many other responsibilities and while working from home, the luxury of being able to totally remove themselves and be 100% dedicated to work is not afforded to all,’’ said Chauke. 

Other problems that come with working from home include load shedding and good connectivity as mentioned above. However, companies like Lucha Lunako have systems in place to defeat such challenges. ‘’When there is load shedding, we have a generator at the office, so the Wi-Fi is stable and does not go offline in these instances,’’ Nizenandi elaborated. 

Where is the future workplace stationed?

On the question of whether we’ll see people working remotely or directly from home, Chauke believes that restructuring remote working contracts, strategies, and planning for the changes ahead helps the workforce. “All parties need to fully understand what will be expected of them. We needed to make sure that our workforce are well equipped and have clear direction through consistent communication from the organization,” he stated. 

Babcock International Group’s Design Draftsman, Pheto Moteme, desires to have a flexibility of both working from home and the office. The experience of working from home for him has been productive, but the challenges he is experiencing are more psychological. ‘’Being stuck in the house also has its own issues. You need some motivation, some human contact ’’ he further shares.

Lucha Lunako’s stance is quite neutral as their business model supports both working from home as well as working from the office, the office usually being outside since they do a lot of outreach programmes. ‘’We are in support of working from home if it complements the business model. In our instance, we need both working from home and being in a physical space for some implementations that cannot be digital,’’ says Machi.

From the survey that Giant Leap conducted, Director Linda Trim can conclude that when employees are indecisive about coming back to work, they (the employers) often find that their employees are stuck in a rut and once they are back at the office they begin to thrive again.

So, there are many ups and downs to working from home, with respect to which industry you’re in and the flexibility your job allows. We might be seeing a lot more people heading back to the office gradually as corporate companies might want to put the empty office space to good use. And for some, the future is digital, what remains is the question of productivity; which many will have to answer through experience. 

Here are some tips to improve productivity when working from home. 

  1. If you know you work best in an environment that is dedicated to your work, place your workspace in a comfortable space and restrict it to that. 
  2. Having a daily routine to set yourself up prior to work can increase your consistency in showing up in your work. 
  3. Set yourself goals to keep up with your overall deliverables. 
  4. Physical activity helps with blood circulation and can improve your ability to function, taking breaks to walk around could be priceless. 
  5. With your loved ones around it might be important for you to set boundaries to allow you to work with ease.
  6. Dress for work. Set yourself up for a successful work day by dressing the part.
  7. Collaborate so you don’t isolate. Collaborate with your team by setting up catch up Zoom calls and finding ways to add value beyond the regular meetings and Zoom calls. This helps everyone feel a part of an organization, less ‘isolated and distanced’