Home office is where the heart is
Small towns the winners as SA takes to remote working
● Some have relocated to “Zoom towns” or installed generators. Some have learnt to work in spite of barking dogs and the background noise of lawnmowers during virtual meetings. And on the whole, South Africans are in no rush to head back to the office.
A PwC workforce report shows that just over a third of workers say that their ideal future working arrangements would be a mix of face-to-face and remote working.
Just over half of workers surveyed are happy for employers to use technology to monitor their performance if it means they can move to small towns for a better quality of life.
Samuel Seeff, head of Seeff Property Group, said the trend has been driving sales, especially in coastal towns within reach of a city and airport.
“These small towns and villages have become known as ‘Zoom towns’ as the pandemic drives people to look for a betterquality lifestyle,” he said. “Where we would have expected that sales in the small coastal towns would basically come to a standstill given the economic decline, we are seeing the opposite.”
Nicola Lloyd, area manager for the Overberg, Western Cape coastal communities of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond, said buyers are “snapping up seafront properties”.
Cebile Xulu, a human resources director for a Johannesburg-based global snack company, said temporarily swapping her swanky suburban office to work remotely from her family home in the rural KwaZulu-Natal village of Ntembisweni has been a godsend for her family life.
She has installed a generator to ensure work is not affected by electricity disruptions and said she does not miss Joburg traffic and the interruptions that are part of office life.
“I am more productive at home. I’m happier, less tense and I get a lot more done,” she said. “I find that my team feels a little more empowered now that we are not in the office.”
Hilda Grobler, a part-time Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration senior commissioner, private arbitrator and mediator, said she loves conducting virtual disciplinary hearings from the comfort of her Durban North home office instead of poorly ventilated, noisy venues where social distancing is difficult.
“I definitely prefer working from my office, which is at the bottom of my garden. I have all the facilities one could possibly require.”
Grobler has conducted a number of disciplinary hearings via Zoom. “The nature of the work that I do involves us sitting in very close proximity to each other, often in rooms that do not have windows, where we literally breathe in each other’s words,” she said.
“Nothing serves me better than sitting in my office, with the windows and doors open, in the silence and with all the facilities I need. I have never been this productive in my life.”
University of Stellenbosch MBA graduate Mandi Joubert’s research into the workfrom-home phenomenon found that some employees are not ready for a complete shift to remote work, with a lack of human interaction being a concern.
Joubert said working exclusively from home means “eating, sleeping, working, living all in the same space”, and the lack of variety and human contact can become “mentally and emotionally demoralising”. The volume of online meetings can also become overwhelming.
Usman Aly, a Joburg media director, agreed. “I love working from the office, it’s a familiar territory. I don’t have that temperament to work from home. I can’t draw boundaries. I am equally hard at work in the office, but I know when I jump in the car and drive I am going home. Working from home blurred that line for me.”
JeVanne Gibbs, a public relations and social media practitioner from Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, prefers a blend of home and office. He doesn’t miss his 100km daily commute and he has been able to manage his deadlines and workload better. But it comes with its challenges, like his 12-year-old brother making a noise, and interruptions in the Wi-Fi.
“Also, my dog seems to bark every time a meeting is about to start, or people decide to cut grass. Stuff like that happens every single day. Living in Eldorado Park is another challenge itself because cable theft is rife.”
Gibbs said he misses interacting with people and the on-hand support “which you don’t get via an e-mail or WhatsApp”.