The COVID-19 pandemic triggered what many call a new normal across the world. In South Africa, almost overnight, most people had to stop attending work and confine themselves to their homes as the country went into a national lockdown. Some companies shut down completely, while others had to devise new models urgently, to enable their employees to resume work from wherever they were locked down.
As the lockdown has begun to ease and the economy is gradually reopening, the government has retained the injunction, in the COVID-19 regulations, that “all people who are able to work from home must do so”. The regulations direct large businesses and other institutions to minimise the number of employees at the workplace at any given time. They suggest rotations, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements and similar measures. These measures are aimed at ensuring the least physical interaction between employees at the workplace.
The advent of remote working attempts a commendable balance between the country’s health and economic needs. A different, and more intimate question which arises however, is how the sudden remote workplace will affect the professional lives, relationships and development of individual employees and service providers.
Some concerns which arise in this regard include, for instance, how the diminished physical access to people and resources will affect professional growth and happiness in the workplace, how colleagues will interact and network outside the strictures of formal virtual meetings, how work and other opportunities will be distributed equitably in teams, departments and industries, or how companies will meaningfully pursue their transformative aspirations in these circumstances.
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