Six reasons for small South African businesses to embrace remote working

New ways of working

Work is no longer a place you go, but rather something you do. We are seeing the world of work change at high speed as companies of all sizes change the way they organise their teams and manage their people.

An adaptive workforce is emerging, one where a project team may comprise some full-time people working onsite at company HQ and a mixture of contractors, agencies, freelancers and part-timers working from other sites countrywide or worldwide.

Thanks to technologies such as instant messaging, video-conferencing, reliable voice-over-IP and collaboration solutions like Slack and Office 365, it is more viable for people to work wherever they have an internet connection. With better mobile broadband, fibre and Wi-Fi hotspots around South Africa, it is easier than ever for people to work at home, at a co-working space or from a coffee shop.

Sure, not every job role is suitable for remote work, and sure, not every person thrives on working outside a formal workplace. But for many small and medium sized companies, remote work has a role to play in how they organise teams, projects and work.

Here are some reasons it is worth thinking about allowing some or all of your people to become remote workers:

  1. Reduce your running costs
  2. Improve employee satisfaction
  3. Slay the traffic dragon
  4. Be more resilient
  5. Access a larger talent pool
  6. Become more productive

Let’s jump in and take a closer look at the advantages of remote working.

1. Reduce your running costs

South African office space isn’t yet as crazy expensive as real estate in New York, London or Tokyo. Nonetheless, office rental can still take a big bite out of your revenue if you’re a small business or a startup. Depending on the nature of your business, you can save a small fortune by allowing some or all of your people to work remotely. In addition to saving money on the actual office space, you might be able to reduce costs on supporting services and infrastructure such as cleaning, parking, telecoms, electricity, IT and office furniture.

2. Improve employee satisfaction

There’s a great deal of chatter about how young workers value a more flexible working environment that enables them to get a good work/life balance. But remote working isn’t just for generations Y and Z. Many older workers also like the idea of remote working for a range of reasons, from wanting to be able to pick up kids from school to seeking a more relaxed lifestyle.

Many employees are simply happier and more productive working at their own pace, in their own environment. Allowing them to do so helps you acquire and retain good people.

3. Slay the traffic dragon

Nobody enjoys spending hours in gridlocked traffic getting to and from work every day. On a bad traffic day, many of your employees are going to arrive at work grumpy and tired, which means they will not be at their best. Plus, some of them will start to look for a job closer to home or that allows remote working when they cannot face the daily commute any longer.

Remote working can ease this pressure on your employees, helping you improve employee retention and productivity. Less traffic means fewer carbon emissions, so you’re also doing your bit for the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road.

4. Be more resilient

One of the drawbacks of living in a developing country is that the infrastructure isn’t always as reliable as we’d like it to be. Every small business owner knows the frustrations of work coming to a grinding halt because someone stole the local telecoms cables or when Eskom load shedding has kicked in.

If people are working remotely, chances are that at least some of them will be in an area with electricity and connectivity. They can remain productive even when office power or phones are down. Plus, if they are equipped with tools for mobile work, such as reliable notebooks, cloud business applications and mobile data SIMs, they will also be ready to work anywhere, even if fixed-line or power services are interrupted.

5. Access a larger talent pool

It stands to reason that you can only hire people from within your own town, city or region if you expect them to come into the office every day. Depending on the nature of the role or job, a remote worker could be based nearly anywhere in the country or even the world.

Struggling to find a hot data scientist in Emalahleni? If you’re open to remote workers, you can broaden your search to the rest of the country or even to an offshore provider. What’s more, if you’re open to remote workers, you can also start looking at retirees, students and other people who are interested in taking on a job yet are unable to travel to an office every day.

6. Become more productive

Forget the clichés about remote workers spending their days messing around on the internet in their pyjamas. There is a growing body of research that shows home workers and telecommuters are often more productive than office workers.

After all, people working from home don’t spread their flu bugs to each other or take long watercooler breaks to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones with their colleagues.

The metric for performance changes from how many hours a colleague spent at the office watching the clock until home time to what they can show for the hours they spent working. That can be good for productivity, though the impact on team building and collaboration will need to be monitored and managed.

Remote working is a mindset change

The shift towards remote working demands that managers and workers think about productivity, work and collaboration in new ways. It’s important to set clear expectations for people who don’t come into the office each day and to track their productivity and performance. Project management tools, regular update calls and the occasional face-to-face meeting can help.

Plus, you will need to invest in the right tools and apps for people to work remotely, and rethink some of your processes. But once you get going, you will find that the rewards are well worth the effort.

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