It’s been said that people should be working smart instead of hard, a study has confirmed that flexible hours could contribute billions to the South African economy while allowing for a better work-life balance for employees.
Research by Citrix, mobile workspace solutions firm, and London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) found that South Africa could add 17 billion rand per year to its economy, or 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
They explain that this can be done through using a certain amount of hours more efficiently than relying on a 9-5 work day to produce outputs.
“Over recent years many organisations have become firm advocates of the benefits of flexible working and this study verifies the impact that such a culture can bring to the wider South African economy,” said Brendan McAravey, country manager of Citrix South Africa.
“The study was done to understand what the economic impact would be if South Africans adopted an approach to working remotely or flexible working”, a field Citrix specialises in as it develops technology to enable such a work structure.
McAravey thinks South Africa is definitely technologically ready for that, “Although we still got challenges in South Africa with regards to cost and coverage, we are moving to first world scenarios where we start to actually see the cost come down and the performance go up”
The findings explain how flexible working hours could save commuters up to 44.1 billion rand, by reducing commuting costs and time.
The study focuses on the South African knowledge worker population, the people who work with information and technology because not all sectors can function remotely, McAravey reminds us of how a bartender cannot be away from the bar.
A large portion of the sample were housewives or househusbands McAravey explains and that some were motivated by wanting to spent more time with their children – this ensures the economy doesn’t lose out on the skills they possess.
“You want to give her the tools to actually still contribute to the economy and obviously earn an income,” said McAravey.
“Technology now enables us to work from anywhere, at any time. It is time to move on from judging workers on how long they spend at their desks to evaluating them on the work they actually deliver. By realising that employees do not have to be in the office from nine to five, employers will reap the benefits of an even more productive, contented workforce, reaching a new, untapped pool of talent in the process.”
McAravey argues that companies are battling for skills and one of the key things is engagement, the aim is to attract the skilled and talented to work while considering the millennial generation the studies that say they are more concerned about the work-life balance than things like income.
“If you are providing a far more flexible approach to work, I think you can attract the right people - and I think the fact that people can focus on output as opposed to pure time, at the end of the day” should benefit companies, said McAravey.
Benefits of flexible working
Ninety-three per cent of South African knowledge workers indicated that they would prefer to work from home or at an alternative remote location on average 19 hours per working week, according to the study.
If organisational culture throughout South Africa evolved to embrace this, such changes would result in an improved work-life balance as well as considerable financial gain for individuals. Adopting of flexible working could add up to about 110 hours per person per year in leisure time.
In addition to improving the work-life balance of those currently in full-time employment, the report also indicates that more flexible working opportunities could deliver significant benefits to the wider South African economy by further engaging people working part-time, or previously excluded from employment.
Opportunity for more jobs
With the evolution of technology, there is always the possibility of mechanising creating redundancies that result in job loses, however McAvery is not concerned about departments like human resources which are structured around the workplace.
"I would argue that you probably need more human resources because from this research, you actually engage more people into the workforce and there's probably a requirement to coach managers on managing workforce differently ,” McAravey.
The study also relays some concerns about people possibly feeling isolated with remote working, but they concluded that it would be “more of a perception than the actual reality” as the people who were currently working nine to five hours had a higher perception of isolation than people in flexible working.
The 17 billion is quantified by improving upon the working hours of people currently in workforce, an additional boost to gross value added (GVA) of about 169 billion rand annually would be contributed by the currently unemployed or economically inactive that if enabled, would more willingly join the labour force.
According to the study, 90 per cent of the more than half a million part-time workers in the country said they would be motivated to work more hours if they could work remotely - potentially adding 5.2 billion rand in GVA output.
“This study highlights an opportunity for employers to collaborate with remote-working technology providers to ensure that employees are in a position to seize the opportunity to engage in such flexible working practices. The economic argument for flexible working is quite clear – South Africa as a whole needs to contribute to a culture where anywhere, anytime working is the accepted norm.”