Some South African corporations report that working remotely is less productive than expected and that predictions that mobile working hastened by the pandemic is here to stay are grossly overstated.
Worldwide studies focused on remote working forced by the pandemic are still being compiled, but many industries like commercial real estate and corporate team event planning seem to have already taken near mortal blows.
South Africa straddles the global divide in such a way that it may be the perfect barometer for this discussion.
South Africa has an extremely hyper-educated work force as well as one of the most poorly trained and illiterate work forces in the world. There are few societies in the world where the percentages of these two disparate communities is so equal.
It’s sort of like a combination of Silicon Valley and the Dhaka slums. The disparate communities are interdependent, yet their differences are profound. The argument against remote working is that isolated workers become de-sensitized to these extreme differences so that their work grows increasingly mono-cultural.
E.G., Silicon Valley will lose sense of what the overwhelming populations of Dhaka need in their mobile phones, or that Silicon Valley will miss the Xbox blockbuster, or that Silicon Valley will neglect the bigger markets for certain types of medical machines designed for illnesses not prevalent in Silicon Valley.
How is this cultural minimalism manifest?
According to Rob Kane, CEO of South Africa’s Boxwood Property Fund, the first sign is a clear decline in productivity.
When this is recognized, by either the worker herself or the manager, there is a knee-jerk attempt to increase workload. Done remotely this contracts rather than expands the scope of the work, minimalizing further the project mission.
Many companies discount the statistics of productivity decline as there also appears to be an attempt by the remote worker to make up this loss by simply extending work time.
Sometimes this is as easy to do as replacing commuting time with work time. But, Keen explains, extending work time is the same thing as extending workload, and this isolates the worker even further.
“Remote working severely limits employee union and collective agency,” the Norwegian firm, Memory, contends. Memory further argues that isolating workers will cause a dangerous retraction of corporate support for long-term social values.
Kane says a critical problem is with younger and new workers who “need other people in the office to react off and to figure out what’s going on.”
Training and mentoring are seriously suffering. Moreover, many companies are being forced to offer “their staff counseling because of the social issues of staying at home and because of loneliness. How can that be healthy” to a productive corporate environment?
Founder and co-chief executive of Netflix Inc., Reed Hastings, agrees. “ I don’t see any positives” from remote working. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”
Within a year the studies of how well remote working functioned will be widely available, but many of the most prominent and advanced corporations are already reporting negative effects.
If the reports confirm the anecdotal evidence right now flooding in, remote working will be curtailed.