At Akepa, we embrace the alternative style, the remote route, and partner with people from all over. Here’s Akepa’s Celeste Polley giving her perspective on remote working from South Africa. It’s the first in a series of posts from our team on remote work in different parts of the world.
Nothing beats slopping around in your pyjamas and getting snuggles from your dogs or kids while working remotely.
Or maybe not.
While the location independent lifestyle might be a dream come true for many South Africans post-pandemic, it can be a double-edged sword for others. Sure, we no longer face the exhausting commute to work (goodbye fuel price increases!) and wearing trousers / pants is no longer essential, but there are still some cons to add to all the pros.
Whether it’s Netflix luring us away from the desk, the kids or pets demanding attention, or housework distracting us, it’s safe to say working remotely often requires extra effort.
As for me, gratitude overwhelms me as I lie unwell in bed battling with allergies (thank goodness not Covid-19) while writing this article. It dawned on me, being able to work from my bed is only one of many perks that comes with remote work, and for me those outweigh the disadvantages by far.
That’s not to say remote work in South Africa isn’t complex though – and here are some of the unique issues we face.
Working anytime, anywhere
Many remote workers would agree, not sticking to a schedule can make life challenging at best. As South African freelance writer Suraya Dadoo so eloquently expressed, “The good news is there is no 9-5 workday; the bad news is there is no 9-5 workday.” Admittedly, it’s easier for me to develop and stick to a schedule to ensure a healthy work-life balance. Whereas for parents, maintaining balance is likely a pipe dream.
I pretty much work wherever I can find a stable internet connection. But even for a remote worker without kids such as myself, this often proves to be a challenge in South Africa during load shedding (grid power going off for certain periods of time). Fortunately, two clever and generous people developed a free app called Eskom Se Push – a witty yet risky name only South Africans will understand – that helps us plan in advance.
For every challenge there’s a solution, I always say.
At the mercy of power
Sometimes the best plan can’t prepare us for overloaded circuits at power stations and week-long power outages. This happened in my area twice in two years.
The toxic mix of load shedding coupled with frequent Telkom fibre malfunctions can instantly reduce productivity and even break our sanity. Without LTE wireless internet, power-banks and battery backups, a project can grind to a sudden halt. It’s simply unfeasible for many of us to use prepaid mobile data for long durations and invest in these expensive technologies. Ironically, the technologies that enable a remote lifestyle are also what tie us down.
The next best thing is to find a spot with power, good WIFI and a medium-bodied coffee with smoky aromas and nutty stone fruit flavours to perk up the mood. Often, the change of scenery can be better than peanut butter pancakes.
A decline in local opportunities
As local business opportunities decline, South Africans are motivated now more than ever to join the thriving international recruitment. We are eager to seek global remote work for several reasons. Chiefly, we want to avoid the risk of losing our jobs and being unemployed for an extended period.
Interestingly enough, according to the Boston Consulting Group, “57% of people in South Africa said they would be willing to work remotely for a company that did not have a physical presence in their home country.”
A surge in global opportunities
Joining European companies makes the most sense for South Africans in terms of time-zone correlation and better compensation — without having to worry about relocation costs, visas and leaving behind sad faces. Working remotely also helps us gain global experience while staying in our sunny country. I have also heard locals say they will gladly work with US companies, even when screen time during odd hours is required. The attractive compensation is what keeps the midnight oil burning.
At the other end, international companies reap the benefits of hiring South Africans at a lower cost. With our advanced skill-sets, high English proficiency and affordable rates, who wouldn’t want us? It’s a win-win situation.
While we can’t ignore the risk of virtual brain drain for the South African economy and the increase in competition, the surge in global hires might help to reduce the tide of emigration. In fact, this remote working trend has already lured South African expats back to our beloved country.
The way I see it is, remote work gives our local economy a much-needed boost, even when it’s via foreign exchange.