Future work requires fresh skills from both sides, say CIOs

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As organisations search for a hybrid working sweet spot that caters to their needs, as well as their employees’ needs, business leaders say both sides need to come to the party.

During a heated discussion at CIO Day 2024, Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) CIO Phokeng Mogase said despite more organisations moving to remote and hybrid environments, employers and employees continue to face various challenges, especially where highly skilled professionals are concerned.

In South Africa’s skills-starved environment, more employees who possess scarce skills are opting for environments that offer the flexibility of remote and hybrid work.

Phokeng said employers who insist on in-office work often have to risk losing critical skills that come with employees not willing to be desk-bound. “People have options right now. If you want them to come back to the office, you must be willing to lose them,” said Phokeng.

A need for hybrid principles

Shabhana Thaver, CIO of Investec, said respect for organisational principles is at the core of a successful remote work environment. “We are a principle-based organisation. We are a face-to-face organisation with high degrees of flexibility, in many contexts,” noted Shabhana.

She said employees are encouraged to consider “choice, trust, and flexibility” when operating in a hybrid environment.“That means you cannot be selfish, so what works for you, what works for your organisation and what works for your client is incredibly important in that principle,” said Shabhana.

“There’s a level of responsibility, there’s a level of relationships, a level of trust that we need to embody. If you cannot abide by that principle, this is not the organisation for you and we have lost people because of that,” she added.

‘I don’t have data’: a need for a social adjustment

Faith Burn, CIO at state entity Eskom, said despite having the relevant technology to successfully operate in a remote environment, there has to be a willingness to cooperate from both sides.

“You might have the technology to meet the requirement, but the participation from the other side is like, ‘Well, you need me, but I’m not going to play ball.” recalled Faith while relaying multiple incidents where professionals said, “I don’t have data,” when asked to join online meetings.

“We had to quickly go back to normal,” Faith recalls – ‘normal’ being an office-bound environment with face-to-face meetings.

“With technology advancing, the capabilities of remote working are endless in any environment by all accounts, but the participation is very selective. So the culture change is not just at the business level, but at the social level. How willing are you to embrace the new way of work?” said Faith.

What’s the ‘sweet middle spot’?

As the new normal for work takes shape, Phokeng said business leaders have the opportunity to shape the future of work beyond their specific organisations. “We are sitting in a reality where some of the key decision-makers are still making decisions based on just their organisational needs,” said Phokeng.

Faith noted how the sudden transition to remote work during lockdown marked an irreversible, universal transition in work dynamics. “There was a point of no return where you actually can't go back to that point fully. So, what then is that sweet middle spot?” she asked.

Heading into the future, Faith said a combined effort from industry leaders and professionals is necessary to ‘import and influence culture“. She said business leaders need to “encourage an environment that is a simulation of that culture that you are trying to employ in, but still encouraging interpersonal skills and showing leadership.”

Back to the future

“I still sit with a dilemma, though, All these things are beautiful, but the reality is that some of these things are going back to the traditional,” said Shabhana as she envisioned the workplace of the future, the workforce of the future, and the nature of work in the future.

She said current trends reflect a future where people revert to traditional methods of working.

“You see teenagers using smartphones less, to help with mental wellbeing. You see parents limiting the time kids spend on phones, and you see them reverting to all the traditional mechanisms. You see people using vinyl records, and that’s because they’re looking for purity, and sound quality. How much is the new world and how much is the old world?” questioned Shabhana.

She said there’s a need to find a healthy balance between traditional and modern ways of working. “There’s a need to find a mix that caters to an organisation’s needs. It doesn’t have to be obsolete,” she said.

She said there is a need to find “a sweet spot where you enable people,” while fulfilling organisational needs. “Hybrid working, remote working, depending on the context of where you are, becomes more of a sensory environment because of the workplace of the future. It becomes more about wellbeing and creating boundaries,” said Shabhana.

 

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