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The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a massive global shift in the way businesses operate and opened the doors for alternative workplace models.
Broll Property Group’s Divisional Executive for Group Human Capital, Noleen Feddern, says a key trend the property company has noted is businesses co-creating the new world of work with employees. Feddern says this proved a valuable exercise for Broll, for instance, because the workplace has evolved from a highly structured corporate environment with minimal flexibility pre-Covid, to a hybrid working situation where employees come into the office a few days a week and work from home the rest of the time.
The business believes that if properly managed, this increased flexibility will allow for greater productivity and promote employee wellbeing. “In the past, if our people stayed at home, they would have to take sick or annual leave. The pandemic taught us that meetings can take place virtually and people can work from home and be productive.
“Now, the more flexible work schedule allows our employees to attend cricket matches or spend time with a family, with the understanding that they have certain work responsibilities and deadlines to meet. This scenario has allowed them to take control of their lives and get the best effective outcome for themselves,” she adds.
Employees in the business have suggested that non-financial rewards often mean more to them than financial rewards. “We have found that providing our employees with greater flexibility has the knock-on effect of engendering greater loyalty to the business. This is because they feel the company has their backs, which has prompted them to give more back to the business in turn,” notes Feddern.
In pursuit of work-life balance
The new hybrid working model has contributed to improved employee morale at Broll. “Hybrid working has encouraged greater work-life balance. This makes for happier and healthier employees and improved output. I don’t have statistics to support it yet, but I believe this is positive for the business, because employees who are happy at work are more productive and able to build better relationships with their clients.”
Efficiencies also seem to have improved at the property company. “Instead of spending an hour or more in traffic to get to clients, Broll employees often conduct virtual calls, which allows them to respond to issues more quickly,” adds Feddern.
Of course, working from home can come with its own complications such as not being able to switch off from work. The pandemic compelled Broll to focus on the emotional and mental wellbeing of its employees.
“We needed to ensure our people were not suffering from burn-out; that they were not spending all of their time in front of their computers; and that there was a tangible divide between work and home. We had to coach them about switching off and spending time with their families. This meant conducting regular check-ins with them and providing them with the skills they needed to cope with their changing work environment,” says Feddern.
Communication has become paramount at Broll. “The pandemic taught us that while it is possible to adapt and pivot quickly, it requires the collaboration of our people. After all, they are our most important asset. The only way we can stay in touch, check their wellbeing and provide coping skills is through consistent communication via multiple channels.”
Navigating the loadshedding nightmare
While loadshedding and its attendant connectivity challenges have compelled a lot more people to work at the office, Feddern says employees are encouraged to work around their loadshedding schedules.
“Our flexible model allows our people to plan around power outages. If they’re coming into the office, they can plan their timing to miss traffic that is worsened by loadshedding. If they know they won’t have connectivity for critical meetings, they are encouraged to come into the office where we have back-up power solutions.”
Then and now
Feddern says before the pandemic, many people voiced a wish to work exclusively from home. “Then their wish came true. But, after a while the isolation set in and it wasn't that great after all.
“While it is clear that some employees enjoy working from home, we have noticed that many people don’t enjoy the isolation that comes from constantly working in a virtual environment. Many need to interact in person. They want to be in the same room as their colleagues and collaborate over a cup of coffee.
“While this is an evolving space, I think Broll Property Group is close to finding the sweet-spot between affording our people greater accountability, with the understanding that we need each other to succeed.
“As our CEO, Malcolm Horne says: “There has been an enormous amount of growth in our peoples’ ability to be agile, learn new skills, collaborate and become solutions-driven” – I think this sums up the new situation quite aptly,” concludes Feddern.