Remote working gains traction in SA

Naidoo says that the growth of remote-working teams is impacting the way in which managers lead people, who these days seldom work in the same office, and might go weeks - or months – without in-person meetings.

“Managing and leading remote teams is a new skill that needs to be developed and taught in business schools, and incorporated as part of leadership development programmes,” says Naidoo.

“Remote working and managing people who are out of sight requires both a mindset change, as well as a change of work style. How you engage and communicate with people needs a big adjustment if you are to retain engagement, while capitalising on the benefits of remote working.”

But although the benefits are clear, remote working is not without its drawbacks for the geographically removed employee, says Naidoo.

“Very often, remote workers can expect limited opportunities for promotion, as there’s an entrenched belief that managers need to have more in-office presence, which means that despite their expertise, these workers will rarely move beyond specialist level,” she says.

And the disconnect between the remote workers and the in-office staff can be problematic.

“For example, if a company has a ‘late staying’ culture, and rewards those who are seen to be glued to their work chairs 24/7, what needs to adjust when your top performers are no longer in the office? How do you acknowledge and reward, or does the playing field remain in favour of those who play by the old rules and are willing to do the in-office long hours slog? These are questions that have not yet been addressed given the fact that it is still early days.”

Not surprisingly, it is the smaller, more agile businesses who are the early adopters benefitting from remote working advantages, Naidoo says.

“This is a great example of how big business is failing to catch up and revolutionise,” she says.

“The sometimes stodginess of large corporations’ policies means they struggle with flexibility, resulting in them losing out on the best talent because of an inability to adjust.

“We’re seeing this most evidently when it comes to the hiring of top tech talent – which remains one of the biggest challenges given the scarcity of resources in relation to demand. One way for big business to shift the needle on this is to seriously consider reviewing and updating policies around remote working.”