Where to now? The lasting effects of Covid work-from-home and digitisation

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By Carrie Peter, Managing Director of Impression Signatures  

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lock-down brought with it many ongoing consequences for the working world. Although at the end of 2023, analysts predicted that work-from-home (WFH) would be eradicated over the next few years, the first quarter of 2024 is painting a different picture. Where businesses previously found themselves scrabbling to continue operations as the world locked down, they are now finding their feet in the new normal and some aspects of remote work have stuck.

According to a recent study by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and published by BusinessTech in March 2024, South African policy shifts – which facilitate further hybrid and WHF work environments – are expected to come into force soon. The recommendations following the study reveal a need to digitise operations and prioritise access “to tools of trade that will enable the effective implementation of hybrid work arrangements, where feasible.”

One of the productivity tools that has benefitted the most from this shift is the ability to sign any document, anywhere. Here, digital signatures have certainly come to the fore as critical tools, enabling businesses not only to digitise, but to claw back immense productivity and efficiency benefits too. Pre-covid, South Africa largely operated on a face-to-face basis. If an insurance broker needed a policy signed, s/he would make an appointment with the client  and place a wet signature on a piece of paper. Post-corona, this is (almost) a thing of the past.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number e-signatures applied to documents across the globe increased from 210 million to 754 million. This growth was already staggering – but add in the pandemic and the need for remote work, and it became exponential overnight.

Polaris Market Research confirms that the 2019 e-signature market size was reported to be USD 1.5 billion. Fast forward to post-pandemic 2022, and Statista pegged the global e-signature market value at approximately USD 3.9 billion U.S dollars – having more than doubled during the Covid lockdown in South Africa. Just one year later, Precedent Research evaluated the market size to be USD 5.9 billion in 2023. Mordor Intelligence estimates that the 2024 e-signature market will be worth almost double, at USD 10.18 billion. This upward trend is not slowing down, with the market size projected to grow to around USD 43.14 billion by 2030.

Whether meetings are being set up to sign a document, discuss a strategy, or pitch a proposal, many of these interactions are still being held online. “Sorry, my mic was off” aside, this has created massive time efficiencies and the knock-on cost benefits cannot be understated. Just as TEAMS or Zoom have become the more common meeting method, remote signing has also emerged as a trusted tool, driving digitisation, enhanced security, adaptability across different processes and applications, and improved compliance.

This remains true even in businesses that have returned to a more traditional work environment. Even where staff are required to come into the office, they are still holding online meetings from their desks – with the same gravitas and respect as an in-person meeting – and sending important documents for digital signatures – with greater traceability and security than a hard copy document. This marks real social change.

In fact, in 2023 the SA Attorney’s Journal, De Rebus, noted that “wet ink does not hold water in the 21st century”. As e-signatures become ever more trusted than their wet counterparts, we’re seeing this shift across markets. “A customer recently stated that, since they have started using Impression, they have noticed a marked improvement in respect for the terms of the contract, and have had no further problems with contract disputes,” adds Peter.

The realisation that a person does not need to be physically present to: be effective in a meeting; be productive at work; prove identity and sign a document, has manifested in spiking WFH and digital signing / eSignature adoption across the world. Now contracts are being signed across borders and oceans, without either party having to leave their desk – all with the assurance offered through public key infrastructure backed eSignatures. While there’s a lot we won’t thank Covid for, this may be one plus worth recognising.

However, WFH abuses have also shown that where remote working is possible, it must be managed correctly. Controls must be put in place to ensure that organisations are protected in scenarios where they cannot physically see someone, and inspired approaches to management and achieving team cohesion are required. Especially in scenarios where employees represent their organisation in a contracting capacity, it is essential that the business implement an eSigning solution that is wholly secure and totally compliant.

To this end, the Cloud Signature Consortium – a global group of industry, government, and academic organisations operating to drive the standardisation of highly secure and compliant digital signatures in the cloud – is actively driving the adoption and promotion of eSigning in Africa. Standardisation is an important step in supporting businesses operations across geographic regions efficiently, while remaining alighted with legislation and compliance across those zones.

No matter how many organisations begin to push for employees to return to work, WFH simply isn’t ever truly going away. The genie’s out of the bottle – and he’s not going back in. WFH, hybrid, and flexible work environments are giving employees more time to focus on strategic, value driving activities, rather than just driving. The knock-on benefits include eradicating wasted time and budget on travel, and decreased carbon footprints.