Less than half of SA workers have returned to the office

Most employees are working from home permanently or at least part of the week. Picture: Startup Stock Photos/Pexels

Most employees are working from home permanently or at least part of the week. Picture: Startup Stock Photos/Pexels

Published Jan 30, 2024


It has been almost three years since the Covid pandemic lockdowns were first implemented in South Africa but more than half of the country’s employees still work from home full-time – or at least for part of the week.

This is despite concerted efforts from many companies to get people back in the office, touting the benefits of in-person interactions, water cooler chats, and consistent immersion in company culture.

The middle-ground has been a hybrid working solution where employees work in the office two or three days a week and at home for the others – and new research shows this to be the new normal for most.

Hybrid policies and workplace flexibility has become a leading factor in attracting and retaining talent, says Brandon de Kock, director of storytelling at data insights consultancy BrandMapp. And it turns out that hybrid work is surprisingly sticky amongst South African mid- to top-end earners.

“Traditionally, work-from-home has mostly been the preserve of those who are self-employed. There are, of course, (employees) who are strictly bound to the workplace such as healthcare practitioners, retail store managers, manufacturing and hospitality employees, but many knowledge workers and corporate managers can do a lot of their work just as well from home.

“It seems that the pandemic gave many more people the opportunity to experience work from home, and a lot of them like it.”

BrandMapp first measured the work-from-home trend in 2022 and found that a staggering 56 percent of employed adults were either still permanently working from home or going into the office part-time. Fast forward a year and not much has changed.

“Only 47 percent of employed adults are back in their workplaces full-time and 54 percent are either following the hybrid work trend or working permanently from home.”

The 35,000 respondents in the recently released BrandMapp 2023 represent the 13 million adults who live in homes with a monthly household income of more than R10,000. That is typically defined as ‘mid-market-and-up’ and comprises the country’s entire taxpaying base, he explains.

“When we take a closer look at who today’s hybrid workers are, we again see barely any change at all over 2022. Executive-level employees are more likely to be hybrid workers, and the only differential of note is that if you don’t manage anyone, you are more likely to have heeded the latest call to return to the office.”

But it is not the same in all provinces. Diverse industries power the economies of South Africa’s provinces, and where there are greater concentrations of knowledge workers, it seems there are more opportunities for work from home and hybrid work.

De Kock states that working all day from home is most common in Gauteng and the Western Cape which, along with the Free State, also rank highest for hybrid work. In provinces such as Mpumalanga and Limpopo where industries such as mining, agriculture, and forestry dominate, workers are more likely to be back in their workplaces full-time.

“Given the strong urging for workers to get back to the office, it’s significant that BrandMapp 2023 has revealed barely any change in hybrid work in South Africa. It’s possible that work environments have changed forever, impacting workday transit and traffic, shopping occasions, frequenting of restaurants and take-away outlets, as well as other lifestyle and social habits.”

IOL Business