The increased demand for flexible working is one of the key driving forces behind the rapidly changing nature of work (source: Key trends for global employers in 2018 by Baker Mackenzie).  It is essential for anyone making employment and hiring decisions in South Africa to be prepared and equipped to respond to the evolving needs of the modern workforce.

This is not by any means a new insight, nor is it one that we are surprised to see listed, but it is interesting to note the rate of prevalence has grown so quickly. Employers have been fielding requests – or more recently increased demands – for flexible working conditions for years. Appeals for increased flexibility come from parents, millennials, introverts, unconventional and forward-thinking employees in almost every sphere of business worldwide.

Significant research has been done on the need for and benefits of flexible working, as well as the risks and challenges. Polycom’s Global survey of 24,000+ workers unearths the need for flexibility in the workplace in order for businesses “to thrive”. Another example is Regus’s research, The Workplace Revolution, which canvasses the opinions of over 20,000 senior managers and business owners, exploring the increasing trend in flexible working around the world.

Despite global changes to accommodate a more flexible workforce, we have seen a slow adoption rate amongst South African employers. Locally, most positions are still advertised as full-time, permanent, in-office positions. In rare cases where flexible working is offered, the perception is that the employee is being granted an extraordinary allowance and it is expected that they be grateful, disproportionately so in comparison to other benefits. If flexibility is still viewed by some as an inconvenience to the employer, we aim to explore possible reasons for this and uncover ways to overcome these challenges – ultimately unleashing the international trend of flexible working in South Africa.

The lessons have been learnt globally and the time is right for us to embrace this knowledge, prepare ourselves and make the change which we all know is radically needed in our way of working.

Company Culture – Adjusting a Mindset

Perhaps having read so far, you’re thinking it sounds great in theory, but to try and implement a new “pro-flexibility” mindset at your company is going to be easier said than done. Our goal is to enable anyone in a hiring capacity, including small business owners, managers of SME’s and HR professionals to take up the role of behaviour scientists/specialists and partner with their businesses to make these changes possible. It is vital that you do, not only for the benefits of employees but also – and perhaps more so – for the sake of the business. Globally, companies that are not implementing more flexible work policies are falling behind and feeling the impact of losing the war for talent.

In South Africa, while other companies hang on to old working structures, those driving change will have a competitive edge. For some, resisting change by choosing to believe flexible working is just the latest trend – adopting the attitude that… this too shall pass – could mean seriously missing out on some of the best skills and talent. To be blunt, addressing those companies: I am afraid you are wrong. You need only switch on the radio to hear this “case for change” broadcasted over the airways.

To name a few recent examples:

  • As part of Cape Town’s “Day Zero” contingency planning, employers were encouraged to prepare for employees to work from home.
  • The “traffic congestion crisis” – which sees ongoing and ever-increasing traffic problems in most of our metropolitan cities – where thousands of productive hours are lost daily by people trying to get to work. It has been stated many times that the solution is in more efficient transportation systems: an expensive, radical change. Flexible working conditions, staggered hours and especially remote working could a true solution to this.
  • In the news once again: National transport strikes and bus drivers’ strikes. In anticipation of the strikes, an official announcement was to employers encouraging them to prepare for employees to work from home.

There are many more examples of this. The point is, this is not a passing phase… the time has come to equip ourselves and make the changes toward flexible working in our employment practices. If we accept this and buy into it, why does it feel as though it might be an insurmountable challenge to sell the idea to the chief decision makers and heads of our companies?

I believe that the reason can be explained by looking at it through the lenses of the discipline of “Change Management”.

Change Management

Change specialists agree that one of the gems of Change Management theory is Gleicher’s Formula for Change (Image 1).

Expressed in this language, what we can see is that to date in South Africa, “Resistance to Change” has been greater than the driving forces and consequently, no significant change has taken place yet.

In this specific situation, there have been some very real resistance forces including limited bandwidth and IT security requirements. With recent developments in the form of cloud-based solutions and fibre internet becoming the norm, these obstacles are diminishing rapidly.

The beauty of this formula is that it also guides us – in a very simplistic and powerful way to what is necessary to create the change.

A key insight of this formula is to know and accept that resistance is a fact: a constant and an expected force. Waiting for it to disappear, preaching at it, wishing it away or even incentivizing it to go is not going to work. What the formula tells us is that there are three factors (Dissatisfaction, Vision and First Steps) that, if combined, have the capacity to create a force strong enough to overcome  Resistance to Change.

Reflecting on the situation in South Africa, we can see that dissatisfaction is – and will keep growing. This alone will not be enough to overpower the resistance.

What else is needed is the Vision and the First steps.

Vision and First Steps

A vision of what the future world of work looks like.

We are fortunate that we have many excellent examples globally to draw inspiration from. What is required of us to make that vision our own – personally and for our organisation? This is our opportunity to contribute to our company’s strategies; many of us aspire to become the employers of choice with strategic KPI’s to attract and retain the best talent. It is up to us to translate these into a vision that includes flexible work. We are the ones that need to bring the reality of the dissatisfaction into the boardrooms to start shaping the vision of our organisations to include this new way of defining and approaching work.

The first steps.

This is where we need to critically look at our own field of expertise, our own practices, policies and disciplines and challenge ourselves to consider what first steps are within our sphere of influence – what small changes can we make that will ultimately contribute to, when combined with the ever growing dissatisfaction and the Vision that is starting to become clearer: the tipping point where we will start seeing the real and transformational change beginning to happen. We need to ask ourselves, what needs to change in our:

  • Recruitment and selection practices
  • Remuneration models
  • Communication channels and technology
  • Performance management processes and practices
  • Policies and procedures (e.g. leave)
  • Strategies to build and nurture organizational culture and values

These are just a few, there are definitely many more. If the changes seem overwhelming, put it down to feeling that resistant force playing its role. The good news is, based on Gleicher’s Formula for Change, we are not required to change it all at once or get it perfect, we are just called to take a few small steps – one at a time.

Making this change we all desire is possible, even more, it is at the brink of happening. Employers and HR professionals hold the key which could potentially unlock the door of possibilities to make this a reality for ourselves and our people in South Africa.

Our role is to work closely with an organisation’s senior leaders in order to develop an HR agenda and associated strategies that closely support the overall aims of the organisation. Consequently, we are the ones that are responsible for and should lead our organisations in this daunting yet exciting challenge of transforming our workplaces. It is time for us to step into our role, to take up our voice and to lead from that seat at the table we have been fighting for, for so long. Drawing on our individual and collective wisdom, capitalizing on the learnings from the global society who is already doing this and collaborating to find solutions for our unique South African challenges I believe we can make the required change.

If you share my belief and passion for this change, then follow this blog where I will be sharing some of my thoughts and ideas, but more than that, I invite you to share your questions, your thoughts, your suggestions. In truly South African style –Siyakha! Let’s build it together.

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