Load Shedding Creates a Reversal of Remote Work

Just when employees thought they had the upper hand in contract negotiations and could work from home indefinitely, load shedding has turned the tables completely. This year, workers are returning to the office in their droves.

Eskom’s ongoing crisis, which has plunged parts of the country into darkness for several hours a day, shows no signs of improving. As a result, the company is asking the public to brace for at least two years of ongoing high stage load shedding. This emergency situation has put managers across the country into crisis mode, with many demanding that teams return to the office on a permanent basis.

With remote working on the way out, the commercial property market may be set for an impressive recovery as demand for office space increases. Let’s take a deeper look at the factors influencing this return to the old ways of working in a time of unprecedented energy instability.

SA: the only G20 country without a stable power supply

Eskom’s defenders like to point out that many countries around the world experience blackouts. However, most of those countries are not highly developed – probably because they don’t have a reliable electricity supply.

Veteran journalist Richard Quest touched on this issue recently during his visit to Cape Town.

The CNN host of Quest Means Business posed a direct question to Alec Hogg in a podcast interview that was several hours delayed due to load shedding : how many G20 countries can you name that have ongoing major power cuts?

If the South African business community is honest, the answer to this question is “none of them”.

Load shedding may have become a feature of daily life for all of us since 2008 but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a severe handicap that limits the economy’s potential to grow and function correctly.

As SA stands alone among its economic equals for the magnitude of its electricity supply challenges, the latest victim of these capacity limitations is remote working.

Load shedding forces a return to the office

The work from home revolution has been a popular, but controversial trend over the past few years.

As employees embraced the opportunity to work from home both during and post-Covid, managers worried about productivity losses and quality control issues. With teams spread so widely and deprived of the opportunity to collaborate and receive training and mentorship in person, managers are concerned that the lack of interaction will stunt individual growth.

Whatever your views about remote working, the one thing everyone can agree on is that being productive away from the office requires a stable electricity supply and fast internet.

  • With several hours of load shedding every day, the basic infrastructure requirements of modern working professionals around the world can’t be taken for granted anymore in SA.
  • Managers are having to convince employees to return to the office where access to technology such as UPS, generators, and solar installations are providing reliable and consistent electricity during working hours.

Is your team ready and willing to return to the office?

As necessity dictates a return to the office, we expect managers and their teams to respond differently depending on their skill sets and existing working arrangements.

  • Teams that went remote almost immediately in 2020 and have seen gains in productivity as a result may not be so happy to hear that they’ll be working 9 to 5 every day for the foreseeable future.
  • Unlearning the habits that made successful remote work possible, and relearning pre-pandemic office routines and management approaches, may prove challenging at first, but this is ultimately necessary for a company’s survival at a time when load shedding is inevitable.

On the other hand, managers who have been struggling to balance employee requests for remote working with their overall management style and productivity goals will be happy for a return to the office.

Some team members may be reluctant at first, but the benefits of being in the office in terms of skills development and career progression should more than compensate for their temporary uneasiness.

Guiding your team back to the office – in a hurry

Since the pandemic began and companies found themselves working remotely as an emergency measure we’ve written extensively about the sad reality of leaving the office permanently and expressed skepticism about this approach.

Thanks to Eskom, coming to work is no longer a choice and forward-thinking businesses will need to look beyond the contradiction of going against global working trends. A successful return to the office should be priority number one.

  • From a management perspective, expecting employees who have been working remotely to suddenly arrive at the office on Monday morning and work eight hours as if nothing has happened is not entirely realistic.
  • Companies need to adopt a kind of on-boarding procedure to get their teams used to being physically present every day of the week.
  • Re-establishing office relationships and meeting routines that were lost during the pandemic without throwing away the innovation and best practices that have been developed over the past three years is a great goal.

Broadly speaking, employees returning to the office will fall into two categories: those who want to and those who don’t.

Those who are willing to return to the office are likely to be excited at the idea of being back with their teams and managers, and that enthusiasm can be used to motivate other members without creating an “us and them” atmosphere.

Employees who are reluctant to return will need to be enticed to return to the office with managers exercising patience and outlining the benefits of doing so:.

  • Increased collaboration
  • The opportunity to showcase their talents
  • Proximity to managers for mentorship and the chance of promotion
  • Demonstrating commitment and investment in the company during an uncertain economic time to reap future benefits

What if a team member refuses to return to the office?

If employees flat out refuse to return to the office, citing clauses in employment contracts signed during the pandemic that allowed them to work from home a number of days a week, negotiations may be necessary.

  • Discussing changes to work contracts should be done with the assistance of Human Resources and even a labour lawyer.
  • Managers who try to circumvent this process by forcing employees to come back with the threat of disciplinary action may find themselves in hot water with the CCMA.

On the other hand, if due process has been followed and the company can demonstrate that it needs to make changes to employment conditions in order to survive during this period of unprecedented power cuts, negotiating with staff members and dealing with complaints will be far easier.

Return to the office with us: find your ideal space today

If your business is gearing up to host its entire staff complement again, you may need a bigger commercial space in Cape town to do so effectively.

Our team of area specialists have the in-depth industry experience to match you with the ideal premises to suit your needs.  Contact us today to secure office space to rent in Cape Town that every employee will want to come back to.