Coronavirus: The end of the office?

Could the coronavirus pandemic hasten the demise of the traditional SA office environment? The country is several years behind much of the world in adopting “remote working” — the ability to work for your company from wherever you want.

But now, as in the rest of the world, the need to limit Covid-19 infection rates is likely to force many SA companies to have employees work more from home. Once the trend takes hold, it will be difficult to turn back the clock, say experts.

For many people, remote working, sometimes called “telecommuting”, enables them to work away from their corporate cubicle either full-or part-time. As long as the work is good and on time, companies that encourage the practice don’t care where their staff are based.

It’s difficult to get an accurate estimate of the popularity of remote working. The US census says about 8-million Americans, or 5.2% of the working population, work from home full-time. Swiss research suggests that 70% of professionals around the world work from home at least one day a week, and 53% for at least half the week. Another study found that 44% of companies around the world don’t allow any remote working.

Remote working is not limited to home. Coffee shops and libraries are among venues favoured by people whose domestic circumstances don’t allow work.

Research by Jack Hammer, the US-based executive head-hunting firm with offices across Africa, says that of SA companies polled, 80% say they will offer remote working options to job candidates.

The company says the trend is in its early stages locally — a view reinforced by Sharron McPherson, a former Wall Street investment banker and attorney who is now an expert on technology disruption in emerging markets.

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