The whip! The whip! A fondue needs a whip!

It is impossible, in 2024, to deliver only from an office.

Well, yes, we all know that every proper fondue needs a whip!

So Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub "cracks the whip" and orders staff back to the office.


According to the article this is because "employees and commercial partners highlighted that the company struggled to accomplish anything" and "managers and executives did not make important decisions, which hamstrung the operators’ ability to get things done" and as a result of "complex business environment caused by various micro and macro-economic challenges."

The report then mentions that Elon Musk cracked that same whip in 2022 and concludes that the Vodacom "decision is, therefore, in line with global trends and will serve Vodacom well".

Let's look (just a little bit) deeper: On the day of Musk's order to his Tesla staff (Nov 11, 2022), the Tesla share price was $195,97. At the time of writing this post, the share price is $197.41 - an increase of one dollar and 43 cents - about 5 quarters later. Alrighty then.

To be fair, some of the others who followed suit have done slightly better, but Disney (also mentioned in the article), for example, has shown similar levels of share price stagnation. Additionally, in the case of Disney, they may have bigger problems too (according to pundits such as CNN).

And, continuing to be fair, we have now only pointed to share price movements. Elsewhere we have, in fact, argued against (ab)using short and medium term share price movements as definitive ways to rate company performances.

Either way, it does appear as if ordering people back into the office may not necessarily be the silver "will serve Vodacom well" bullet. Time will tell.

Our view on this?

We will be surprised if conundrums such as struggles "to accomplish anything" and/or inability "to get things done" will be solved by this one dictate. In fact, we will be surprised if the Vodacom needle will move by more than the equivalent of Tesla's $1.43 purely as a result of this decision.

And we will not be surprised if things get worse too.

So, conversely, if there is big improvement, we will suspect that other actions may have been the real reasons for the improvement. Concerns around being able to "accomplish" and "get things done" just seem to have deeper root causes than being (or not being - that's the question) in an office building.

But are we not playing silly games here? Can one really deliver well when staff is located remotely or hybridly?

Well, we would argue that it is impossible, in 2024, to deliver only from an office. And it has been the case for decades already. Let's look at just two examples.

Example 1: This writer was accountable for the running of a Dutch-owned, Cape Town-based software house for a few years. (That engagement then ended more than a decade ago.) The directors were in the Netherlands, a few of the developer teams were in India, one of the project managers was in Australia, and the clients were in Europe. And all of this was managed very successfully using (now-archaic) tools such as Skype and others. And that time-period also had major upheavals - such as the 2007 financial crisis - that had to be navigated successfully. That software house is still going from strength to strength (two name changes and two ownership changes later).

Example 2: Sixty60 became the monster-behemoth that it is (and the true size and impact of Sixty60 will shock many people) during the period where there was no choice but to work remotely. Even today, the largest parts of that systems development is still being done by (remote) third parties. And the same holds true for many (perhaps even most) of the parts of that magnificent engine. Those people are not able to come and sit at your desks in Brackenfell. Yet, of Sixty60, one could confidently say that "things were accomplished" and the business managed to "get things done".

From an ability-to-deliver perspective, to be (in the office) or not to be (in the office) is a non-issue. That is not the question. In that (delivery) respect it is entirely irrelevant (even though some would want to assign, to it, the gravitas that Hamlet's soliloquy has).

The question does have relevance from other perspectives though. How does forcing people back to the office negatively affect introverts, for example. (and, no, that is not a 'snowflake question' - depending on where the line is drawn, very large percentages of people fall into that category, and this is just one such question). But, there are now enough sets of academic research around questions such as that one. It does not make sense for us to weigh in here too.

There are other types of similar (to office, or not to office) questions where the answers are very clear. One of those questions is whether the organization is able to get access to the best talent. Now, this question is especially relevant in the IT space.

IT is, by definition, remotely these days. Even if you are sitting in a Vodacom office in Johannesburg, you are probably speaking to a Azure expert in the USA, an AWS expert in Ireland, or a MongoDB expert in Italy. Some 'techies' do so on an hourly basis. And, if you are a talented IT person sitting in Cape Town, you can easily work for companies anywhere between Iceland in the west and China in the east without adjusting your hours much. Many South Africans do exactly that. We know many of them. Or you can perform services from Cape Town for clients in the USA - if you are prepared to start around mid-day and finish later. (My son does exactly that.)

South African companies are now competing for IT talent (but also for other types of talent) with tens of other countries. These types of big hammer whip-cracking solutions may kill some bugs, but may also destroy some beautiful flowers in the process too. Modern business is too sophisticated for blunt instruments.

Nope. Rather follow a proper thought-out approach to getting ahead. A better starting point may be this. Or, if you don't agree with what we think, at least then put some proper thought behind what you need to do.

Please don't blindly follow these type of easy-answer whip-cracking actions.

As it is, some of the message may have been lost between Joosub's intentions, the reporter's interpretation and the editor's changes to the article. And the previous sentence does not yet factor in our or your interpretation of all this.

Also, we do understand that this article focused on what the case is with 'senior staff' at Vodacom, but that fact does not negate the gist of what we are trying to convey.