How COVID-19 is changing South Africa’s work week

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

..Expert says it’s more important to come into the office on certain days

As more companies return to the office, some have let their employees decide how they want to manage their work-life, says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, a workplace design consultancy in South Africa.

“The consensus among many of the businesses we work with shows that when workers show up to the office matters,” she said.

“Many employers plan to let staff decide what days – and how many – they come into the office. But for ambitious workers, that means strategising what in-office days will get you noticed the most and how to maximise the time to your career’s advantage.”

Trim said that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are shaping up to be peak office ‘face time’ days.

By comparison, Mondays are for those looking for an extra jump on colleagues in getting more alone time with senior leaders – though it isn’t always a safe bet that those managers will always be there.

“Fridays are arguably the most negligible, but a jackpot office day if it is just you and the top boss,” Trim said. “Or, you could follow this basic rule: Your boss’s schedule is your schedule.”

The advantages of going into the office

Another strategy is to simply come in as much as possible, Trim said.

Though many companies say they are letting workers keep some degree of flexibility, it is inevitable that employees with the most in-person access to leaders will get the first crack at promotions, she said.

“It’s better that other people are not there and you’re not fighting for attention,” Trim said. That is particularly the case if you tend to be more introverted. “You don’t have to go out of the way to make contact with senior people.

“Getting that face time, it’s a visual reminder you exist in the company outside of your team. The next time they are thinking about a new project, you’re closer to the top of their mind than others.”

But teams matter too in the hybrid working world, she said.

“To show off your talent and skills, it is better for employees to also periodically coordinate office appearances with their teams for optimal collaboration, rather than only ever showing up on their own schedules,” Trim said.

“Your success should be coordinating with everyone else. An achiever is defined differently as we move into the future. It’s not going to be just who comes on-site every day but the person who can work and lead effectively across different places.”

Employees’ priorities

New research from flexible workspace provider, IWG shows the pandemic has had a significant effect on employees’ priorities.

According to the survey, 72% of office workers would prefer a hybrid way of working to a full-time return to the office – even if reverting to the old Monday to Friday routine meant earning 10% more money.

Another recent study by IWG underlines this shift in attitudes. It found that 85% of adults who worked from home during periods of lockdown were keen to split their time between working remotely and at the company HQ, post-pandemic.

IWG’s research showed that 84% of 18-24-year-olds would prefer flexible working practices over adding 10% to their salary, indicating the high value they place on having ownership of their work schedules and commuting habits.

Attracting (and keeping) top talent

Of the workers IWG surveyed, two-thirds of those aged 25-34 would not consider applying for a job if hybrid working wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, 83% of workers would now be more likely to apply for a position if it offered a flexible way of working.

In the new world of work, firms looking to hire the brightest and best talent will need to offer a way of working that’s built on trust, individual responsibility and outcomes – not one that’s based on presenteeism.

Employers who embrace hybrid working will find it easier to hang on to their best people and reducing the need for employees to commute, empowers them to achieve improved work-life balance, reclaiming ‘wasted’ time that can be spent with family and friends or on vital self-care.

What about getting things done?

While it may seem counterintuitive to companies that were reluctant to allow remote working pre-pandemic, research indicates that having a distributed workforce does not negatively affect how much gets done.

Studies have shown that remote working either had no significant effect or helped to improve productivity during the Covid-19 crisis. Meanwhile, Accenture research shows that 63% of organisations with high-growth characteristics have enabled ‘productivity anywhere’ policies.

On the other hand, 69% of those with negative or no growth are still fixated on where people work rather than what they’re actually doing.

Not the end for the office

Even in a hybrid world, the corporate HQ still has an important part to play. Regular visits will allow for collaboration and connecting, and forward-looking businesses are already examining how office space can be reconfigured as well as scaled back.

In IWG’s survey, 84% of 18-24-year-olds felt that collaboration was easier in an office environment, while 82% believed that having the opportunity to spend time with colleagues face-to-face would help them develop the core skills they’ll need for career advancement.

Meanwhile, 90% agreed that working from an office was helpful for maintaining work-life boundaries, with leaving the building a clear stopping point at the end of the day.

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