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Calls to go back to the office

Can a Business Culture Truly Thrive Remotely?

South Africa has yet to officially flatten the COVID-19 curve, but on the international front, signs of a return to some sense of ‘normality’ presents great hope for the local commercial real estate sector.

In the US, calls by prominent business figures including Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon and CEO of JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon makes a promising case for the future of the workplace.

Local Real Estate Insiders Share in Their Optimism

“As we move past the initial trauma of the pandemic, we look to the next and most important phase in this journey – getting businesses and the economy pumping again,” says John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate.

While some companies have responded to the ‘new normal’ by terminating their commercial lease agreements, many companies still feel that on-the-ground, group collaboration is far more effective.

“David Solomon was quoted saying that for a company like Goldman Sachs, built on innovation, collaboration and apprenticeship, working from home has not been ideal,”

“This raises important questions: how do we keep the culture going, how do we continue to instil company values in our staff, and how do we mentor young people entering the work environment?” adds Jack.

Next Phase of Working

After suffering fatal blows due to the pandemic, the reinvigorated commercial real estate sector is today more dynamic and flexible than ever before. Explains Jack: “Flexible lease terms, flexible workspace, subletting, co-working spaces and attractive long-term lease contracts are trending and this is set to continue for the rest of 2021,”

“However, as a result of level 1 and the vaccine roll-out, some companies are asking their staff to return to the office. Remember, some of these companies are also tied into long-term leases of 10-years plus.”

For those who aren’t ready to return to the office, Jack says that South Africa will continue to follow the international trend around remote work flexibility. “In the US, flexible office schedules have been introduced to ease staff back into their former work environment. South Africa is on the same wavelength as it stands.”

Employee wellbeing and safety remains firmly at the forefront of the country’s move back to the office. “At the top of every employers’ priority list is their staff,” comments Jack. “Ensuring a safe, socially distanced environment that continues to promote productivity and safe collaboration is key.”

The Private Sector Take Vaccinating into their Own Hands

Jack believes that some normality is expected to creep in as more people get vaccinated. “Local companies like Sibanye-Stillwater have announced that they plan to purchase vaccines for some 80,000 staff members”,

“We anticipate a lot of employers following this example – particularly large corporates. Making vaccines easily accessible to employees is just another bid by the private sector to reenable the economy.”

However, it is unlikely that most companies will enforce a mandatory vaccine policy, despite it being the seemingly most obvious way to ensure that employees can return to work safely.

“The South African Constitution safeguards employees’ rights to bodily integrity and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability, age and/or religion or belief – meaning that no one can be legally ‘forced’ to take the vaccine”, says Jack.

“Companies will need to find a balance between protecting the health and safety of their employees and ensuring a productive work environment. I predict that this will be a process of trial and error and that it will be some time before we establish what a post-COVID workplace will really look like. That said I do think that people have short memories and when this pandemic is truly behind us people will be back at the office, albeit in a completely different format. Arrive when you want and leave when you want but use it as a creativity and interaction point,” he concludes.