Corporate South Africa won't be rushing back to the office post-lockdown

CFOs say they will remain cautious after lockdown, but are optimistic about a new way of work.

On 22 April, CFO South Africa hosted another edition of CFO Community Conversations. Twenty-one finance professionals gathered online to talk about the impact leaving lockdown is going to have on their businesses and their personal lives.  

“Moving into lockdown posed some significant challenges,” CFO South Africa community manager John Deane said as he welcomed guests. “However, there will be a lot more challenges when we come out of lockdown.”

The general concern highlighted was finding a way to bring employees back to their workplaces after lockdown. 

Altron executive of finance change management Nicholas Bofilatos said that one of the challenges people will be faced with is stepping out of the safe zones they have created over the last five weeks and going back to face-to-face interactions.

Publicis CFO Karen Clarke pointed out that the unknown affects people, business and client psyche.  “People have now become used to the lockdown and are a bit nervous about what they are going back to.”

Most of the CFOs said that they won’t be rushing back to the office and that their companies will be looking at who they can let back into the workplace, and who will need to remain home. 

One CFO said that his staff will stay in work-from-home-mode until the schools open. “Mothers who still have to take care of and homeschool their kids can’t leave them at home to go back to work and we can’t have our children running around the office.”

UCT CFO Ashley Francis believes the university will move into a blended way of working. “I’ve already told my team that I am giving up my office and moving to a hot-desk system where you have a working desk at home and a working desk at the office.” 

Avis Fleet CFO Thobeka Ntshiza believes that lockdown has dispelled a lot of myths around why it’s important to be in the office. “This opportunity has introduced an element and room for working remotely and separately. However, you need to determine at what point you then regather as a team to check in on each other.” 

However, some CFOs have pointed out that their teams miss the routine of going to the office. 

Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption said that, while his team doesn’t miss the traffic, they do miss the commute time. “It’s half an hour of ‘me-time’. Now they don’t have that anymore, they just go from managing their home responsibilities to managing their work responsibilities.” 

Nokia CFO of Africa Michael Meiring echoed this thought, saying that people expect you to be available all the time because you’re at home. “You’re not sure when the day starts and when it ends. When you’re in your normal work environment, there was some sort of discipline. You’re now out of that routine and becoming too much of a machine.” 

He also pointed out that, because of this lack of discipline, he has found himself working a lot harder than he normally would have – a sentiment that has been shared in most CFO Community Conversations.

The CFOs also agreed that most of the concerns when going back to the office after lockdown will remain around the health and safety of their employees, clients and customers. 

Lanseria International Airport CFO Mpolaheng Mohlopi said:

“You need to think about the safety measures that needs to be put in place to give everyone that peace of mind that they can return to work. We need to think about strategies we are going to implement to assure our employees and customers of their safety when they interact with us.” 

When it comes to assuring this safety, Nicholas pointed out that, as leaders, CFOs need to consider the admin around monitoring when allowing people back into the workplace. “We need to think about whether there will be forms that people need to fill out, declaring whether they are experiencing any symptoms or whether they have been in contact with any known CPVID-19 positive people, how frequently this needs to be done, and who administers it. You also need to consider how, once implemented, this will impact productivity."

When Lanseria reopens, Mpolaheng said they will have to start equipping their offices’ access points with thermal scanners. “We need to control the access. Once you’ve let someone in, you’ve increased the contamination risks and you’re jeopardising the safe space you have worked so hard to create.” 

But the CFOs agreed that, even though it sounds tedious, measures like these will be necessary to create a safe working space. 

“I think the country as a whole has been hit hard with change management, but we’ve become accustomed to it over the last couple of weeks,” said Ashley. 

However, he expressed that he remains upbeat about the positives. “I am very optimistic and bullish about going back and getting into the new normal. There are many opportunities on the horizon and we’re going to have to embrace the new normal. If we remain excited and innovative, things could look a lot better.”