The hybrid future of work

The hybrid future of work

A recent survey by ContinuitySA reveals how South African organisations responded to the challenges of lockdown—and what future working strategies are likely to be followed.

By Karen Humphris, Senior Manager: Advisory, ContinuitySA

The imposition of lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency prompted organisations to move to a remote-working model. During July, ContinuitySA conducted a survey in an attempt to understand better the challenges created by this hurried move to a new operational model and, perhaps more importantly, just what effect it is likely to have on future working models.

Perhaps surprisingly, a majority (58%) of respondents reported that their organisations were prepared for the sudden transition, especially as remote working was far from the pre-COVID norm. Eighty-one percent made the transition during the initial Level 5 lockdown, with the remainder making the move during Level 3 (13%) and Level 4 (6%).

For most (50%), the key challenge was connectivity, followed byequipment (36%), applications (19%), cybersecurity (17%) and power (6%). These findings reflect the suddenness of the change, with many anecdotal accounts recounting superhuman efforts to get large numbers of people onto VPNs and to find and provision laptops in a hurry.

Most organisations (65%) reported that they were able to overcome these challenges, with a further 23% saying that a partial solution had been found. Only 12% failed to find a solution.

A particularly important finding was that 64% of respondents invoked their business continuity plans. Business continuity plans enable organisations to respond to abnormal conditions with greater speed and effectiveness, and the high proportion of plan invocations correlates with the high proportion of those who were able to overcome initial challenges, as noted above, as well as finding that 70% agreed that their business continuity strategies for remote work were adequate and practical.

What the future holds

Some of the survey findings have significant implications for how working styles are likely to change. The first point to notice is that 50% of respondents reported that remote working had increased productivity, while only 26% said it had made no difference. Only one quarter (24%) noted decreased productivity.

This finding, coupled with the opportunity to reduce high real-estate costs, makes it virtually certain that future work styles are likely to include a fair amount of remote working. What’s interesting is that respondents see a somewhat different set of challenges over the long term. While connectivity remains high (50%), power outages shoot up to 58%. People issues come to the fore, with staff morale/ team spirit a concern for 45%, with 43% citing family responsibility constraints.

Surprisingly, IT security vulnerabilities only register at 32% though security experts have already raised concerns about the inherent vulnerabilities of remote working across a greater proportion of the workforce. It seems likely that, as organisations feel their way into new work styles, security will become more of a concern.

The survey’s final question asked what working model respondents’ organisations would apply once the COVID-19  emergency is over. Given the high proportion that had seen productivity gains (50%) and the sense that remote-working capabilities added to organisational resilience, it’s no surprise that fully 81% said that a hybrid working model relying on both office and remote working was the way forward. Only 12% foresaw a return to office-based working, with a still smaller group (7%) envisaging a totally remote model.

In conclusion, then, the future of work is a hybrid one but what that means precisely will clearly depend on the particular circumstances of each organisation.