While telecommuting is nothing new to European and American markets, many companies in South Africa have viewed it with a fair degree of scepticism.
However, says Mike van Lier, business leader for IT Solutions at Samsung SA, innovations in technologies are seeing more decision-makers changing their attitudes towards employees working remotely.
“It seems that the era of the ‘nine-to-five’ job has been relegated to the same one that saw fax machines and dial-up modems epitomising the height of productivity,” says Van Lier. “Today, there are very few people who make a discernible break between their work lives and that of their personal ones. One of the reasons is the ultra-competitive landscape where companies, irrespective of size, are looking to get the most value out of their IT resources and getting an edge over those who are not only vying for local market customers but also global ones.”
Very few people have the luxury of switching off their computers when the clock strikes five and not worry about checking emails until the next day. At least having devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets have made connecting to office networks easier than in the past.
“Even in South Africa, more employees across industries are connecting to the internet from home using either mobile data or fixed-line solutions,” says Van Lier. “The availability of quality bandwidth has increased and even access costs are decreasing on a regular basis.”
In fact, he adds, research by World Wide Worx shows that broadband subscriptions in South Africa increased from 3,6-million at the end of 2010 to 8,2-million by the end of last year. Interestingly enough, it has also found that mobile broadband subscriptions outnumber fixed-line solutions by eight to one. “This means that people are becoming more reliant than ever on their IT solutions such as notebooks and tablets with built-in 3G access,” he says. “Hardware and software innovation are also resulting in more mobile-friendly tools such as document sharing and collaboration, video conferencing, and the like.”
IDC research has also found that the majority of IT departments globally are providing employees with mobile solutions and mobile data allowances in order to more effectively complete their work wherever they find themselves. Other research commissioned by ClickSoftware estimates that the number of mobile workers across the globe will reach 1,3-billion by 2015. Unfortunately, it has also found that almost half of the CIOs surveyed felt that their current strategies do not fully exploit the mobile potential of their employees and organisations.
So what are local decision-makers to do when even global ones who have faster and cheaper data seemingly at their fingertips also struggle to adapt?
“While there is no Silver Bullet strategy to take, South Africa (and the rest of Africa) is known for its innovative approach to finding solutions that best fit local market conditions,” says Van Lier. “Already, many companies have embraced the concept of BYOD (bring your own device) and are actively encouraging employees to be more effective at working remotely. In the end, companies are slowly re-tooling their strategies with strong enterprise components in order to really gain benefit from the connected (and mobile) world. Welcome to the new world of IT.”