At the onset of the lockdown imposed in SA in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, most organisations anticipated that having their staff working from home would be a temporary measure. Fast forward 12-months later and working from home has evolved into organisations having a more formal and permanent remote workforce in place.

However, this trend has resulted in new challenges affecting productivity, employee engagement and job satisfaction. The recent Business Day Focus 4.0 LIVE digital dialogue, in partnership with Oracle, focused on how organisations are evolving to ensure their long-term resilience.

Moderator Arthur Goldstuck, the CEO of World Wide Worx, pointed out that those companies that are digitally transformed are not only more productive but have also built long term resilience into their businesses. According to research conducted by World Wide Worx 38% of digitally enabled companies will allow their staff to work remotely post the pandemic. Of those companies that are digitally transformed, 70% reported greater productivity.

Managing a remote work force comes with its own set of challenges for managers and leaders. While resilience in an organisation is normally built up over time, at times of crisis organisations have to respond immediately. Line managers, maintained Rob Bothma, Strategic Business Solutions Engineer at Oracle, have been the hardest hit with the new demands being made on them, primarily because many of them don’t have the necessary skills set required to manage their people remotely.

“There is a skill to working from home. I have realised that I no longer work from home but rather that I live at work,” said Bothma.

Organisations, he added, should not expect their staff to be available 12 hours a day but should rather measure outputs given. “They need to be cognisant of employee burnout,” he said.

Oracle HCM Sales Development and Strategy Leader for Africa, Ronnie Toerien said that organisations were under pressure to change the way they do things, including reskilling their people. “Organisations can’t afford not to adapt or they will suffer the consequences in the long term,” he said.

Reward and OD Director at Tiger Brands, Mundusha Jialal-Dasrath pointed out that a successful transition to remote working required more than just equipping staff with laptops and 3G cards but also required providing staff with education and guidance around the etiquette of working from home.

At the same time line managers have required support and the necessary tools in order to build their own resilience and so that they can better support their teams, she said.

One of the challenges of this new normal is that employees are emotionally and mentally fatigued, said Dr Marzanne de Klerk, the chief advisor at the Leadership Faculty, and an Eskom & registered industrial and organisational psychologist. “After working seven days a week staff are screen fatigued,” she said.

De Klerk said leaders need both a new mindset and a new toolset to manage remote workforces. Adding that the need for resilience and agility has never been greater, she said leaders need to remember to connect with their staff and show empathy. “There are many practices that managers have had to unlearn in order to relearn new ways of doing things,” she said.

What has become very apparent in the past year is the need for leaders to check in and connect with staff on a regular basis. The more staff feel valued and appreciated the higher their productivity is likely to be, said De Klerk.

Toerien agreed that empathy was very necessary in the current environment. This new way of working has required a mindset change, he said, including requiring staff to allocate time to work and to be more disciplined about separating work from leisure time.