IN THE worldwide war for talent, it seems that employees are calling the shots. About 86% of South Africans when faced with two similar job offers will turn down the one that does not offer flexible working.

This according to a recent survey by a flexible workspace provider, IWG. With over 66% saying that they would rather choose the place they work from than work for a prestigious company, could flexible working be the answer to the brain drain that is plaguing South Africa?
The independent IWG Global Workspace Survey polled more than 15 000 professionals from different industries in 80 countries including South Africa.
More than 77% of respondents said that businesses in their sector were introducing flexible working to attract or retain employees (83% worldwide).
After 1994, South Africa has continuously lost critical skills, particularly in the professional, semi-professional and technical categories like science and at an executive level.
According to a 2018 study by the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa lost six times more professionals than it gained in 2001 alone.
The reasons cited for the losses are multifaceted, but are attributed to the intense global competition for talent, advanced recruitment policies by countries like China and New Zealand compared to ours, the transformation policy paradox and inadequate skills development to replace lost skills in the agriculture, science, engineering and trade industries among others.
Joanne Bushell, the managing director South Africa and sales vice-president at IWG, said that: “We are living with a disconnection between the willingness of businesses and (the) government to see the economy grow in South Africa, and the ability to attract and retain the talent needed to do so.
“One of the ways we retain talent, is through our flexible and remote working policies. We have many employees who stay in their country of residence while working in a global role,” she added.

The study showed that South Africa is catching on to the need for flexibility to retain talent. About 89% of respondents had a flexible working policy in place or planned to put one in place with 25% referring to flexible working as “choosing which location (city, country, type of office) they work from at least some of the time”.
The daily commute was another bugbear, with over 75% saying that businesses in their sector were introducing flexible working solely to help reduce commute times.
Mark Dixon, the CEO and founder of IWG, said: “Last year our Global Workspace Survey talked about reaching a tipping point, but what we are seeing now is that flexible working is considered by many to be the new norm for any business that is serious about productivity, agility and winning the war for top talent. Indeed, half of all our respondents claim to work outside their main office location for at least half of the week.

“Businesses around the world are facing multiple challenges including ensuring that their business is agile enough to adapt to change. Our research shows that businesses that haven’t already considered the financial and strategic benefits of flexible workspace need to do so now. Otherwise, they face being seen as out of touch, both with their competitors and with the demands of the modern workforce on what makes up a great day at work, which means losing out on the best talent,” he added.
If we extend Dixon’s call to business to a call to South Africa, we need to consider the financial and strategic benefits of offering flexible working to retain South African talent or face them being wooed by competitor countries.

With the global advancement in technology, there are many professions that can be managed remotely once businesses get over the perceived barriers to switching to flexible working.
More than 42%, resistance to changing a long-standing non-flexible working culture, fear of how it may affect the overall company culture and data security are the top concerns.
“There is a combination of factors at play here. South Africa is losing talent, but it is also not able to attract migrant talent fast enough due to the lack of mature “recruitment” processes targeting skilled foreign nationals. The application process is also riddled with bureaucratic hurdles. Flexible working allows companies to attract migrant talent in certain positions while working from a flexible workspace in their own country.
“It also allows skilled South African workers to relocate while still being able to work remotely with local companies without the worries about data security for instance,” Bushell said.
Will companies, and countries like ours, catch up on the new norm of working?
Time will tell.

IWG is the global operator of leading workspace providers.

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