If South African knowledge workers fully utilised flexible working, it would be possible to add an extra R17-billion per year to the South African economy through the more productive use of available working hours – the equivalent of 0,4% of the GDP.
This is one of the findings from a study by Citrix and the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) into the potential economic impact of a more widespread “work from anywhere” culture in South Africa.
It also found that more extensive flexible working practices could save commuters a total of R44,1-billion, by a reduction in commuting costs (R39,5-billion) and the time spent travelling, which also has a value.

“Over recent years many organisations have become firm advocates of the benefits of flexible working and this study verifies the impact that such a culture can bring to the wider South African economy,” says Brendan Mc Aravey, country manager of Citrix South Africa. “Technology now enables us to work from anywhere, at any time. It is time to move on from judging workers on how long they spend at their desks to evaluating them on the work they actually deliver.

“By realising that employees do not have to be in the office from nine to five, employers will reap the benefits of an even more productive, contented workforce – and as illustrated here, reaching a new, untapped pool of talent in the process.”

There is currently a high demand from employees in South Africa to work more flexibly, with 93% of South African knowledge workers indicating that they would opt to work from home or an alternative remote location on average 19 hours per working week.

If organisational culture throughout South Africa evolved to embrace this, there would be savings in commuter costs of R39,5-billion, with a reduction of 320-million hours spent travelling to and from work annually.

Such changes would result in an improved work-life balance as well as considerable financial gain for individuals. The leisure time gained through the greater adoption of flexible working accumulates to 1,2-million additional hours per year or 110 hours per person per year.

In addition to improving the work-life balance of those currently in full-time employment, the report also indicates that more flexible working opportunities could deliver significant benefits to the wider South African economy by further engaging people working part-time, or previously excluded from employment.

The research reveals that:

* There is scope for technology-enabled flexible working to encourage more than 5-million people in South Africa who are currently unemployed or economically inactive to be enabled or more willing to join the labour force. The study indicates that 95% of these respondents would be inclined to start working if given the tools to do so.

* This group of unemployed or economically inactive workers is responsible for 91% of the total potential boost to GVA, equivalent to R169-billion annually or a 4,5% boost to GDP, with the remainder of R17-billion contributed by productivity improvements of people currently in work.

* 90% of part-time working respondents indicated that they would be inclined to work more hours if given the opportunity to work remotely. With 574 000 part-time workers in South Africa who would like to work remotely, this could potentially create an additional R5,2-billion in gross value added output.

* With the aid of flexible working, the total South African economic output contribution could be boosted by as much as R187-billion (in gross value added) per annum.

“Issues such as load-shedding and high fuel prices take their toll on the workforce financially, physically and psychologically,” Mc Aravey says. “Businesses in South Africa need to look very closely at the provisions they make for flexible working. Those that choose not to enable workplace mobility will lose out in the war for talent and could arguably suffer from lower employee productivity.

“This study highlights an opportunity for employers to collaborate with remote-working technology providers to ensure that employees are in a position to seize the opportunity to engage in such flexible working practices. The economic argument for flexible working is quite clear – South Africa as a whole needs to contribute to a culture where anywhere, anytime working is the accepted norm.”