Dr Marissa Brouwers says the world of work has been dramatically transformed since the lockdown, forcing us to adopt new ways of sharing and connecting.


The heart of alumna Cindy Puren, the owner of a marketing and communication agency in Potchefstroom, is full of beans – coffee beans – and love for people.



A coffee shop office is what gets the job done


Cindy Puren, who completed a BA degree in communication studies at the NWU in 2007, is an enthusiastic supporter of the coffee shop office.


As a marketer and communication expert, she loves people and good coffee – and if the people also love good coffee, all the better, she says.


Click on each block below to read more about the benefits and pitfalls of working in a coffee shop.


  • Benefits abound

    “Working in a coffee shop has many advantages, and with good planning and time management, this new ‘working space’ has become one of the highlights of my career.”


    In the first place, a coffee shop ensures that there are interruptions. “Therefore, I make sure that I hang out at the right coffee shop so that the interruptions can turn into possible opportunities.”


    She is also selective about the work she does in a coffee shop. If a task needs a lot of focus, she prefers to handle it in her home office.

  • The buzz is king

    “The nature of my work requires me to be innovative, proactive, creative and friendly. For me, people and the buzz of a good coffee shop bring out the best of these qualities.”


    She says if she spends around five hours a week in a coffee shop with the right blend of fellow coffee drinkers, she will have a good sense of what is happening in the town and whether there is a role that she and her company can play there.

  • Beware of this

    She says the only pitfall she has to guard against regarding her new coffee shop tradition is her own nature.


    “I love to socialise.  If I do not apply good management and responsibility, my to-do list becomes very long, even if my network expands. Keeping a balance is essential.”

  • Keeping her happy face on

    Her financially minded husband initially shook his head about the coffee-drinking habit, but over time Cindy proved that her calculations made sense if she applied her time correctly and did not rent office space.


    “Besides, it keeps my energy levels high and it keeps my happy face on,” she says. “Too much office and too few people never worked for me.”

After the pandemic: Finding ways of working that work for us

Who will you be sharing your office with in the future? Will it still be Buddy, your faithful four-legged friend at home, or will it be Abe, your trustworthy colleague back at the office?

Well, whatever your choice, one thing is certain: the face of the world of work will never be the same – globally and also in South Africa.


This is the opinion of Dr Marissa Brouwers, a registered industrial psychologist and senior lecturer at the School of Industrial Psychology and Human Resource Management at the NWU.


The NWU & U spoke to Marissa, who was also the 2019/2020 president of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa, about the changes we might expect in the work environment of the future.


Finding solutions that work


Marissa points out that the Harvard Business Review has described the Covid-19 pandemic as the “most significant social experiment of the future of work in action, with work from home and social distancing policies radically changing the way we work and interact”.


“What I find especially striking here is the use of the word ‘experiment’,” Marissa says. “This conveys an image of playing and trying out possible solutions until we come up with the best ones that work – possibly different ones for different companies and industries.”


Going back or staying put?


Marissa believes that some people will indeed be going back to their offices. “It is unthinkable that they will not … however, there won’t be a hundred percent return to in-office work, even when it’s feasible and safe to do so.”


For the workers who are going to continue working from home, there are upsides as well as downsides.


Marissa says benefits of working from home, or flexi-work, include the following:

  • enjoying greater flexibility in balancing our personal and professional lives,
  • acquiring new technology skills and effectively using digital platforms;
  • not having to travel to work and therefore finding more productive ways to spend that time, and
  • having greater work autonomy – we can choose where (for instance at home or in a coffee shop) and when to work.


There is, however, also a flip side:

  • Some of us tend to work longer hours as the boundaries between our work and personal time becomes blurred.
  • We may experience feelings of loneliness as employees are isolated from each other or we may be distracted by our household and family situations.
  • Some of us may feel more exhausted and experience greater cognitive dissonance as it is harder to feel connected during virtual meetings.


Businesses must create safe spaces


For those employees who are returning to their office desks, however, organisations have a responsibility to create a safe office environment. This is especially true in the absence of a worldwide vaccine for Covid-19.


Marissa says employers should keep the following in mind when they think about back-to-office plans:

  • How can shared office space be made safe and more attractive?
  • What can be done from home, perhaps even more effectively?
  • Is there a best of both worlds?
  • Can we make our workers self-thinkers, confident and reliable in terms of thinking about safety as well as work-effectiveness?


Offices should be reimagined


“Offices may need to be entirely rethought and transformed,” Marissa says. “Organisations must reimagine their work and the role of offices in creating safe, productive and enjoyable jobs and lives for employees.”


Employers can and should look toward futuristic ideas for the “new” work environment. This might include always-on videoconferencing, remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards) and autonomous but flexible working models.


“Ultimately it is up to us all to think and be creative, to play and find ways of working that work for us, with novel and forward-looking ideas about our connection with others and the safe use of shared space,” Marissa says.




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When will office workers go back?


“As far as WHEN people will go back to the office, it’s not just up to businesses, but to government,” says Marissa.


Despite the move to a Level 1 lockdown, South Africa is still in a national state of disaster.


Existing regulations still provide that employees who are able to work from home must do so, and that businesses need to adhere to all regulations about work and workspace.



Working harder from home


Marissa says a lot of employees indicate that they are actually more productive while working from home.


“Research by McKinsey has shown that 80% of people questioned reported that they enjoyed working from home and 41% said that they were more productive than they had ever been before,” says Marissa.


A study done by World Wide Worx for Cisco in South Africa also confirmed that employers experienced their workers as more productive, and noted that they were sticking to work hours (at 98%) and indicating availability throughout the day (at 99%).


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