Written by Xolile Sizani (Group Chief Executive Officer, Servest)
Stemming the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has necessitated a new reality in the layout of workspaces. The status quo of pre-COVID-19 workplace layouts is no longer applicable as companies are required to strike a balance between applying social distancing protocols and maintaining exceptionally high hygiene and safety standards, and at the same time ensuring acceptable levels of productivity.
There is no established playbook for running a business in a pandemic, however, one thing is clear: most businesses are already experiencing massive changes in their workforce be it big or small businesses – companies are relooking the layout of their businesses. These changes are stimulated by a mix of trends, lifestyles, socio-economic and digital innovations. All these factors are ushering in new workspaces and work style preferences. For some companies, working remotely will become the new norm with employees required to harness the power of connectivity to work remotely.
Small businesses need to establish what will work for their business and choose a model that will enable growth, productivity and sustainability of the business.
The South African market has a diverse labour force with employees requiring either an office environment or a remote workplace, or both. What is certain is that COVID-19 is changing the future of work, forcing both employees and employers to explore new ways of working. With such a diverse society, what companies should be doing now is ensuring flexibility in their workplaces. While some employees will grab the opportunity to work remotely, those who find it difficult might opt for an office environment. This gives businesses a chance to downgrade their office environments and reduce costs.
Businesses that wish to remain sustainable in the COVID-19 era need to rethink and re-evaluate their workspace needs. While it may not be possible for all businesses to consult facilities management consultants, an effective facilities management model that incorporates workspace planning is required to respond to this by offering tailor-made workspaces that address all the demands of a post-COVID-19 workplace and beyond.
A report by Andrew Kerr and Amy Thornton from the University of Cape Town states that about 13.8% of workers (approximately two million out of 16 million employed people) are working from home during the lockdown. Most of them are professionals, and about 65% are in senior positions and 56% are skilled people in different occupations. These stats show that the-work-from-home model is still developing in our country with mostly professionals in the corporate, civil society and media landscape using the concept.
Working from home requires broadband internet to meet with operational demands, communication, research and data processing, among other things. According to Stats SA, about 67.7% of South Africans are using the internet, but few of them have a reliable connection – about 1.2 million out of 13.4 million households have fixed broadband access. So, for those companies thinking of moving physical offices to working remotely, these considerations should be made before completely writing off that office space.
While many employees will continue to work remotely, corporate offices will undoubtedly continue to remain relevant during the pandemic, and after it – the question is to what extent will it remain relevant and the form of these offices will definitely change.
With this in mind, businesses need to establish what will work for them in the long term, not only in the short term.