Shaping the workplace for the future

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2023 CFO Summit reveals how best to create a workplace model that speaks to your organisation.

Adaptation to changing workplace models is an integral part of creating a high-performing team. This was the general consensus revealed during a workshopping session at the 2023 CFO South Africa Summit held on 9 March in Johannesburg.

Guided by the theme, High-Performance Team Revolution, the summit used various case studies from attendees to explore the post Covid-19 effect on workplace models.

Unilever VP of finance for Africa, Mikateko Tshetshe, whose organisation opted for a hybrid model, unpacked how to go about shaping a workplace for the future.

“Our staff officially needs to be at the office at least twice a week. Post Covid-19 we realised that people want flexibility, and as such we had to have structures in place to make this possible.”

Mikateko advised the finance executives in the team to have a definite structure in place for the model they opt for. “In our case the business has to provide some structure as to how that will work. We are clustered according to different business groups and functions. We are at a point where we are disciplined and diligent enough to work remotely.”

 

What has become apparent, said Mikateko, is that employees are now more conscious of how they use their time at the office. “Being in the office requires one to be more organised and structured. There is a proactiveness in the thinking of how to maximise the time with the team in the office.”

Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption said their organisation opted to have everyone back in the office full-time. He did, however, highlight that this was not an easy decision and there was a bit of trial and error prior to making a final call. “To start with, we tried to implement a hybrid process, and in the first month we could see it didn’t work [for our organisation]. A global decision was made for everyone in every function to be back at the office full-time.”

He acknowledges that there was a bit of resistance, as many were not happy, but some adjustments needed to be made to ease the transition.

“After 18 months back at the office, I can safely say that the teams have all adjusted and we are forging forward seamlessly.”

Craig explained that even though theirs was not a popular decision at the time, there are benefits to being in person, such as the ability to have conversations, which are able to iron out any minor issues, without having to schedule a call or online meetings.

“Being remote did to a certain extent create a culture where people were working in silos. The human element of engaging with the team was somewhat removed.”

Reading the room
Exploring the topic at hand further, one CFO said the remote and hybrid model did not work in their organisation. The team work ethic of his team suffered greatly, he said, explaining that everyone started working in silos and where previously they would engage each other on a challenge, they opted to solve it themselves.

“This also meant knowledge-sharing was not happening. Instead of calling or scheduling meetings, one would just figure the issue out by themselves. It is for this reason we opted to return to the office.”

Another, whose company has decided to be completely remote, said with clear and direct communication it is possible to be efficient, productive and sustain team culture.

Another attendee, whose company is still trying to figure out which model is best for them, said even though there was a temptation to bring everyone back to the office, it was the resistance from the staff that swayed the decision.

“To be honest, the staff representative gave practical and valid reasons as to why we should adopt a more hybrid model. As much as it is beneficial to the workers, it is having an effect on production. What we have seen is that senior and middle management seem to be more diligent whereas junior staff are battling on that front.” It is all a work in progress, he said, but hopes to find a solution sooner than later.

By the end of the session, Mikateko reminded all in attendance that there is no silver bullet solution to which model is better.

“There is no one-size-fits-all. What is important, is that there is clear and definitive messaging around the model you choose.”

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