Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Hybrid, remote, in-office work – here are all the myths and truths

There are so many stories about the advantages and disadvantages of our new ways of working. How do you know which ones are true?

There are many myths and truths about the dynamic work landscape of hybrid, remote and in-office work styles. As hybrid and remote work arrangements continue, so does the debate regarding the advantages and business productivity associated with these workstyles compared to the traditional 9 to 5 in the office.

Ronny Levitan, head of South Africa for Deel, a global hiring and payroll platform says on the one hand a new corporate trend is emerging globally, with major players like Goldman Sachs and big tech giants, including Google, Meta and Lyft making a firm push for employees to return to the office.

“In South Africa, the return to office is gaining momentum as the persistent power outages and connectivity challenges boosted the return of workers to the office. However, the absolute reality is that the benefits of teleworking or remote work depend on and vary greatly depending on each employee’s capacity for self-management and their values or priorities according to their life stage.”

Levitan broke down the most widespread myths about hybrid, remote work and full-time office-based workstyles, compared to what the reality has shown us in the day-to-day work of the teams and companies that already incorporated these ways of work into their HR policies:

Working remotely makes work more distant and less personal

After the pandemic, remote work has been at the centre of the debate on how teleworking isolates you from your team and how dealing with colleagues can become more automatic and less personal.

Levitan says the truth is that if good office habits are transferred to the virtual world, the good working environment can remain exactly the same. “Therefore, it is essential for managers to set up weekly meetings to discuss current tasks, brainstorming or project discussions, or to create informal internal chat channels where conversations on non-work-related topics can be discussed and where there is a relaxed exchange of ideas, opinions and hobbies.”

These dynamics are good for fostering bonds and increase the feeling of belonging. “A great example of this is a rugby interest group I started at Deel ahead of the Rugby World Cup, where 57 people from 18 different countries joined in. The debate was awesome and really fostered an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship.  The fact that South Africa won proved that my discussion points were correct.”

ALSO READ: Research proves that hybrid working is better for employees and companies

Declining productivity and lower performance – myth or true?

The myth of a lack of productivity was the loudest in recent years, including in South Africa, where the implementation of hybrid and fully remote working models before the pandemic was almost non-existent.

The analysis of employee productivity requires an infinite number of factors, Levitan says. “Thinking that “presenteeism”, the practice of staying longer than necessary in the workplace, equals productivity, is a common mistake that is often made.”

As the report, A sustainable workplace: towards a remote and face-to-face model, produced by IESE and Savills Aguirre Newman indicates, working from home two to three days a week increases performance by almost 20% on those days, the quality of work by up to 18% and pride in belonging to the company by up to 10%.

According to a recent study on productivity in the workplace by a business software research company, GetApp, 30% of South African employees said their productivity increased as a result of working from home, while 25% said that they perform better with a mix of in-office and remote working.

“From a personal perspective, I have between 10 to 16 meetings a day and this would be impossible to achieve in a physical office,” he says.

“Remote work gives workers autonomy, flexibility and trust. In addition, the creation of a work environment based on mutual trust provides workers with the motivation and security to meet their objectives and they become even more productive than they could be working in person.”

Communication in teams worsens and declines

The implementation of intuitive and immediate tools and applications such as Slack, Skype or Microsoft Teams has made it much easier to communicate in real time with customers, suppliers and co-workers.

“Sending a message to another person ensures that colleagues’ tasks are not interrupted by a call or a comment, as if they were sitting next to each other in the office.”

Levitan says face-to-face interaction may have decreased when working remotely, but it has not ceased to be present. “It has simply moved to once-off, quicker meetings where participants seek to create value and opt to call someone on the phone when it is a sensitive or complex issue which may need a very specific explanation.”

In addition, actions such as executive video call meetings with teams, data collection and feedback after internal meetings or events are helpful in improving leadership, collaboration and employee empowerment.

ALSO READ: The good and bad of remote working and co-worker relationships

Less creativity than in face-to-face work – myth or true?

The latest study by Columbia University and Stanford on the effect of virtual meetings on the generation of creative ideas found that virtual interaction reduces the cognitive focus of attendees and, consequently the associative process underlying idea generation is restricted.

However, Levitan says, it was found that video conferencing and face-to-face interaction share many key aspects of communication and that the reduced focus on screen use does not block the collaborative part of selecting an idea from a list and developing it.

“If effective routines are generated where multitasking is avoided for a while to think about a topic, listen to music or have a video call meeting with a colleague, creativity can still emerge.”

There is no doubt that the hybrid work model is here to stay, he says. According to the Cisco global hybrid work study in 2022, the countries with employees most in favour of fully remote work were the Philippines (37.7%), Canada (34.8%) and South Africa (33.5%).

“Moreover, in terms of talent retention, the implementation of these ways of working will become one of the main strategies of companies in the coming years, as flexibility in working hours and workplace are positioned as essential requirements when looking for new jobs.”

Remote workers do not have the same rights as other workers

Professionals working remotely constantly hear comments questioning whether they too have the same rights and benefits included in any normal employee salary package. And the most common myth is that to work remotely you have to be in the telecoms or technology field, when this is not true, Levitan says.

The latest data from Deel found that out of all the African nations, South Africa has the second highest number of people working remotely for international organisations in 2023, behind Nigeria. The most in-demand profiles are sales (traders), software engineers and data analysts.

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