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Covid-19: When working remotely is 'home sweat home'

Videos and Skype help, but Peppa Pig can be a disruption

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By Jeff Wicks
Jane Killian Shaw is working from home and using Skype to give gym instructions to a client in Durban North.
Jane Killian Shaw is working from home and using Skype to give gym instructions to a client in Durban North.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Before you grab your laptop and sprint out of the office to work from home, make sure you have strong discipline and plenty of patience.

As a growing number of companies send their employees home in a bid to stem Covid-19 infections, experts warn that working at home might not be fun. They say it will also reduce productivity.

Andrew Hermanson, 37, an account manager in the IT sector in Johannesburg, said his attempts to juggle his three-year-old son and the demands of his job had not been completely successful. “I’ve got my son running around and Peppa Pig [a children’s video] is blaring in the background when I need to make and take calls … it’s not easy,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to sit down and work without interruption, and that is what I’m struggling with.”

For personal trainer and yoga instructor Jane Killian Shaw, serene exercise classes have given way to grainy Skype consultations.

“I have had to cancel all of my one-on-one sessions and secret sunrise yoga classes and move my business entirely online, or else I wouldn’t survive,” she said.

She has developed an online guide for her fitness clients, in which they are sent workout programmes with video clips to show how to perform movements. “The personal in personal training is now very difficult but we have to do what we can. It’s not easy and we are all going to have to dip into our savings. I’ve adapted and I’ll be able to pay my bills, but I know I am one of the lucky few.”

Anne Cabot-Alletzhauser, who heads the Alexander Forbes Research Institute, said that working from home, while beneficial as a substitute to office hours, was fraught with distractions.

“It’s hard as hell to work from home. The normal person in a white-collar job tends to work at home already, usually in the evenings or on the weekends, but doing that during the day with kids is very different.”

She said people would be forced to manage their time and the demands of their family.

Roxanne Baumann, of Mass Staffing Projects, said working from home was a growing trend.

“This pandemic is now providing the perfect test case for remote working and how it can be implemented.”

But there were pitfalls, she said. “People have not been equipped to know how to navigate remote working and employers need to learn how to effectively manage and motivate their staff.”

Talitha Muller, of Deloitte Consulting Africa, said it was also a challenge for managers. “The need to limit social contact is forcing us to challenge our perceptions that face time or visibility in the office automatically equals productivity,” she said. “This in turn is forcing us to challenge our way of managing and measuring work. It is more about the work outcomes than it is about people arriving at a designated time and place to work, and the number of hours they’ve been there.”

Economist Daniel Silke said that having staff work from home was making the best of a bad situation but would invariably result in a knock to productivity and the country’s economic growth.

“There will be mixed results. Industries that cannot adapt will need urgent government assistance. Many businesses will not survive.”

Cosatu’s Sizwe Pamla said working from home was a novelty for most of society. “You look at our workers in the mining sector and others who cannot work from home. They cannot practise social distancing and in the long run this will affect them the most,” he said.


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