As South Africa gets further into lockdown, remote work is becoming more of a reality every day. More than 20% of the world’s population is in some form of lockdown. In South Africa, only essential services are allowed to continue. So what has this meant for the majority of people who work from offices? 

We have been sent home, and for the first time on a massive scale, the global workforce is coming to grips with remote working and working from home. But working from home or remote work has been around for some time. In fact, work from home has grown nearly 173% since 2005 in the United States and nearly 5% of employees in the European Union were working from home in 2017.

The Rise of Remote Work

There are many positive impacts of having the workforce work from home, or at least for a portion of the time they work from home. Remote work ensures reduced carbon emissions, as less travelling is required to and from the office. Some people become more productive as they don’t get interrupted by fellow workers when they have a deadline to meet or a task to complete. 

The advancement in technology has also ensured that teleconferences with audiovisual can take place for remote meetings. Tools such as Slack, Pipedrive and a few others ensure that projects can be shared and updated. Companies also get to save on office expenses, as they can reduce their rent and the operating costs that are associated with running an office such as cleaners, electricity, furniture, refreshments, and other costs. So, on the face of it, it looks like working from home is an absolute no-brainer.

However, the answer may not be as simple as that. While it is much too early to evaluate the cure to the coronavirus, social distancing for extended periods of time could lead to another social issue, which is a loneliness epidemic. People need options and access to collaborative environments. This may cause an increase in the demand for co-working environments, especially as companies will now be able to see that employees don’t need to be fixed in a corporate office to be productive, but they do need to be in spaces that encourage innovation, a sense of community, and a feeling of belonging. 

Once our lives start returning to some form of normality, there is going to be a huge effort required to start regenerating the economy and particularly in the SME segment, where often these companies rely on generating income monthly. With very little “buffer” savings, these companies will need to be in front of potential customers, growing their network and talking to investors. Unfortunately, this cannot always take place from the comfort of your home over a Skype or Zoom call. People interaction is one of the benefits of working in a co-working space. 

Add to this the benefit that you only pay for what you use and everything is included, this will certainly help cash strapped businesses, not able to sign long term financial commitments or go through the relevant credit checks most landowners and service providers would require.

What may also happen is that individuals living in large metropolitan areas could realise that their business could be conducted from smaller towns, where the lifestyle is better. 

With co-working spaces being available in these smaller towns, it could enable these entrepreneurs to relocate, with peace of mind knowing that they can seamlessly meet other like-minded business people in the community. The community benefits through local economic growth, as jobs could be created, more houses rented or sold and just generally more revenue would be in circulation in the community.

There will be a responsibility on the shared workspace companies to provide their customers with a safe working environment. These safety measures must be promoted to potential customers, and most importantly, they must be adhered to and implemented. Hygiene and cleanliness could become the most important selling points. As shared workspaces try to build the confidence in getting communities together, customers are going to want to know what measures the space provider is doing to ensure their safety and limiting the spread of any form of the virus both now and in the future.       

I believe that the normal workspaces and how we network and collaborate will change. As an Instagram statement said, “Nothing should go back to normal, normal wasn’t working.” We now have a chance to create the new normal. 

As always be safe, even if you are doing remote work from home.

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