CIO Dinner: balancing the home office with a return to the office

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Our most recent dinner saw IT leaders sharing ideas and solutions for their most pressing challenges.

At a CIO Dinner on 25 April at Aurum Restaurant at The Leonardo in Sandton, top CIOs gathered to discuss ways for IT teams to continue supporting remote work, while transitioning back to office environments.

Dinner guests shared some of the challenges IT teams face in implementing back-to-office mandates, including ensuring network security, managing device connectivity and addressing infrastructure needs to support hybrid work models, but most importantly, accommodating the hybrid style of working that high performers have become accustomed to during the pandemic.

The dinner was hosted by CIO South Africa in partnership with Entelect, the community’s trusted principal partner.

To kick off the discussion, one CIO offered insights from their company’s 2024 Work from Home Index, derived from analysing clients’ driving trends. They revealed that 47 percent of employees have deviated from pre-Covid traditional work structures of five-day, nine-to-five schedules. It’s clear that the conventional five-day work week is fading, with developers showing a strong preference for remote work.

Moreover, they highlighted their company’s development of three hybrid archetypes (low, medium, high flex), strategically assigned to various roles. These archetypes complement offerings like full work-from-home (WFH) and full in-office arrangements.

Then there’s the high performer vs. low performer approach another guest explained. They’ve observed that the high performers generally fare well working from home, while the low performers (subject to individual company’s performance measures) work better from the office, as they have the opportunity to work closely with line managers. However, this approach is regularly reviewed by those line managers.

“Many companies abroad have taken the hybrid approach mostly because they believe that it is fair, and others look at it as a value proposition,” one guest commented.

However, as one guest noted, the global aspect makes it complicated, because some local (South African) mandates don’t necessarily apply internationally and vice versa, and there will be pushback. “Mandates rarely go down well with high-level performers,” they added.

Differs from industry to industry

One IT leader highlighted that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach: it largely depends on what industry you’re in. If it is a physical environment like manufacturing or transportation, you need people on the ground. “You also have to deal with the unions in these environments, and what they deem is a fair working structure,” they noted. “There can’t be preferences from one role to the other: you can’t say the IT guys can stay at home and the rest must come back to the office full-time.”

“During Covid-19 times, our situation was unique. Given the size of our organisation, we had to move the economy and didn’t have the luxury of allowing our employees to work from home,” one CIO said.

“We have what you call the blue collar workers, the foot soldiers, who were declared as essential services employees that had to be on the ground. On the other hand, we had employees who were based in the office, who were told that they had to work from home.”

Post-Covid, they realised that there were roles that didn’t need to be in the office at all, and started streamlining by selling off specific properties.

It becomes a bit tricky, they said, especially with high-level performers. If those individuals have opted to relocate to another province or country that is very far from the office, you then have to consider accommodating them in some way. They do their job very well and you won’t want to disrupt the comfortable environment they’ve created for themselves.

From a talent perspective, one CIO said, developers have multiple options for work, especially abroad. “We’re competing with the dollar as far as remuneration is concerned,” they said.

From an asset management perspective, offices don’t have as many bodies in them as they used to, so organisations have had to let go of some of their properties to save costs and avoid white elephants. “Take a drive to the CBD and you’ll see that it is no longer what it used to be; most of the buildings owned by financial institutions have been offloaded,” he commented. “We’ve seen the trend of people moving out of the CBD metropolitan areas to remote areas and working even more remotely. In fact, some consultants will turn down roles that are based in the CBDs, for instance.”

What about culture?

“We lost at least two years of culture during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were forced to stay and work from home,” one CIO said. “Our culture really drives our organisation: we are a face-to-face organisation with a high degree of flexibility.”

Another element leaders face is the tension between productivity and wellbeing: you want to try to balance the two, they added. In their organisation, they’ve even put gyms in place in an effort to focus on wellbeing. They also don’t want to lose the social element: people interacting with each other. As such, they have a deejay come in occasionally for social gatherings.

Another guest shared those sentiments and commented that leaders can sometimes downplay the power of social capital. “Our toughest job is managing that social capital as leaders.”

The guest spoke about the social network in the organisation and discovered that there are managers who only communicate with people within their team

“We’ve also noticed an interesting trend of the younger generation: new starters have forced the older generation back into the business, because the seniors have the experience and the juniors have realised this and want their guidance,” they noted.

Consider the nuances of your particular circumstances, guests pointed out as the evening drew to a close. “While commuting to the office daily incurs time and financial expenses,” they observed, “working remotely presents its own challenges due to irregular working hours.”

“Simultaneously, insufficient office presence hampers collaboration and stifles innovation,” another CIO concluded.

Those in attendance were:

  • Bramley Maetsa, Sasol Head of Delivery Enablement
  • Daniel Manyemwe, Entelect CCO
  • Nomahlubi Sonjica, CIO South Africa Community Manager
  • Pandelani Munyai, Transnet Group CIO
  • Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor
  • Ridwaan Rasool, Absa CDAO
  • Shabhana Thaver, Investec Specialist Bank SA CIO
  • Shashi Hansjee, Entelect CEO
  • Sne Dlamini, Discovery Insure CIO
  • Tebalo Tsoaeli, JSE Group CIO
  • Timothy Kroon, Entelect COO

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