Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Time for the ‘Great Return’ to the office in 2023

After fighting hard to continue working from home, load shedding is now forcing many to return to the office anyway.

Worsening load shedding and a deepening recession may mean that it is time for employees to participate in the ‘Great Return’ to their offices in 2023, as working from home becomes increasingly difficult for some.

“It is not for the reasons we would have wished for, but the reality is people who enjoyed working from home may simply have little choice but to return to the office because offices are typically better equipped with alternative power sources or installing solar panels,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, a workplace design consultancy.

“With a poor economic outlook, many people will want to be seen working at the office demonstrating their value. This year we could well see the reversal of the remote working trend of the last three years. Few people have the resources and patience to try and complete a full work day with no power for big blocks of the day.”

Hybrid working arrangements, where workers go into the office part of the week, gained broad, but often unsatisfactory, acceptance as a compromise between the rise in work from home and companies wanting people to return.

“Even as companies demanded a return to full-time work, many workers held out. These are typically the higher-skilled workers and those who could perhaps find new work easily, but even these workers may find it easier this year to spend more time in the office and will be particularly motivated to if South Africa enters a recession this year.”

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What is at stake for the workplace to evolve in 2023?

Trim says white-collar workers are working exceptionally hard.

According to a Microsoft research report from September 2022, the number of meetings per week increased by 153% globally for the average Teams user since the start of the pandemic, and 42% of workers multi-tasked during those meetings.

“Still, 85% of the leaders it surveyed felt they did not have confidence that employees were productive in a hybrid workplace. The coming year could determine who ends up having the upper hand in determining what work looks like in the future. A recovering South African economy and skills shortages gave workers more say recently, but a recession and Eskom might take some of that away.”

Trim says the model employers ultimately choose will determine their attractiveness to workers, especially the younger generations who demand more flexibility and better work-life balance, while they will also benefit greatly from mentoring and absorbing company culture.

“It could also determine the return of some people who left the workforce during the pandemic, such as women who served as primary unpaid caregivers, older workers and those suffering from long Covid.”

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