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Future office, no office

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By Dana Eitzen, corporate & marketing communications executive at Canon SA

As we usher in the new year, business leaders will be looking at how they can adapt their workplace to drive greater productivity, engagement and collaboration. The last five years has seen countless businesses modelling tech brands like Google, by investing in in-house perks such as beer taps, table tennis and pick and mix stands. While gimmicks like this are effective ways of getting new employees in the door, do they really have a positive impact on performance?

Research produced by Microsoft[ has found that only 11.4% of European employees feel highly productive at work. When businesses drill down on the reasons behind this, the most common concerns are having no quiet place to work and “visual noise” – distractions which pull employees eyes away from their desks. With employees already struggling to concentrate in a normal business environment, pool tables don’t seem like the right answer. In fact, business leaders should be asking themselves whether a traditional office with four walls is really the answer at all.

Remote working is becoming increasingly popular, and whilst it still generates hot debate, research has found that remote workers are actually performing better than their on-site co-workers. In fact, there are some businesses who have moved to a completely remote working model, stating that this has improved not only employee productivity, but also satisfaction, whilst mitigating the costs associated with a physical office. Small businesses may be most drawn to this solution. Traditionally, small businesses might have felt compelled to hire space, despite it being unaffordable and sometimes unnecessary, because technology was not advanced enough to make flexible working viable. But with the continued evolution of smart digital tools, decision makers will be better placed to determine: is an office truly right for my business?

Collaboration

To answer that question, we first must consider the issue of collaboration. Naturally, being physically present in a space with other people makes collaboration more likely – and more necessary. Furthermore, as organisations have been working to remove the physical boundaries in the workplace, this has sparked the open office revolution – fewer walls, and a steadfast objective of making collaborations faster and easier. And it works: open meeting spaces and communal areas such as kitchens and sofa spaces all have the desired effect of bringing together people in a more comfortable, and creative space. But while this means that colleagues can more easily speak with teammates and share ideas, it can also create a lot of unnecessary sound and movement which may impact employee productivity.

Technology increasingly allows us to overcome business challenges and has birthed a multitude of web-enabled collaborative tools designed to help bring teams together, without the office. As businesses explore more flexible forms of working, technology is making it simpler and cheaper than ever before for businesses to overcome the obstacle of distance and preserve collaboration. Google Docs was the first of its kind for collaboration platforms – allowing multiple people to work on a single document simultaneously and bounce ideas off each other in real-time. Since then, the market has grown enormously, with tools from Asana to Flock helping workers work well together, regardless of location. Research shows that online collaboration tools like this can improve team efficiency and enable employees to stick to their task for 64 longer than those who are working alone. The reasons behind this are no surprise – employees have faster access to information, immediate feedback and can more easily manage documents and tasks. And of course, while designed for use in an office context, these tools can perform the same function for remote teams. However, investments like this have to be aligned to a business’s working environment A purely people-centric approach to collaboration can risk undermining the business if not fully thought out.  There is no one size fits all solution in terms of collaborative technology; the right decision needs to balance business-centricity with working culture and depends very much on the desired outcomes of the company.

Productivity

What about productivity? Across Europe, workplace productivity has seen limited growth since 2010 and this ongoing concern from business leaders has led to widespread discussion about how to improve employee output. In the office, it’s easy to monitor progress and check-in with employees, which is one of the primary reasons it has remained a constant in the running of a business.

Researchfound that a lack of clear goals was the most common factor behind project failure and for workers inside an office, this should not be difficult to mitigate. However, for companies with remote workers, the question of how to set objectives and gauge how employees perform against these is crucial. As cloud has become more commonplace, we have seen a rise in cloud-based project management solutions, which help widely dispersed teams achieve objectives. Productivity solutions, such as Trello provide better visibility of project goals and deadlines to ensure teams, wherever they might be based, stay on top of work. In fact, 77% of high performing projects reportedly used digital project management software to stay on track. The evidence suggests these offer good ROI and puts to rest concerns about being unable to track or relate employee progress.

Engagement

In the past, organisations feared that without face to face contact, remote employees would feel disengaged from work. We used to think of a physical experience as more engaging than a virtual one, because we can touch, hear, see, smell or even taste it and it has a total effect on our attention. However, if you look around you today, the majority of people will be engrossed in a digital device, whether that is a phone, tablet or computer all creating unique and immersive experiences. Sage identified the key factors that impacted employees’ engagement including, an agile environment, connected community, co-working space and purpose. If we evaluate each of these aspects, these are all things that technology can achieve.

Video conferencing, for instance, is now a staple in workplace communication and is connecting colleagues around the world. In one global study, 92% of employees surveyed believe that video collaboration technology helps to improve relationships and fosters greater teamwork. It also allows for employees to cultivate a co-working space in an agile environment; individuals can meet their teams from a coffee shop in London or even a hotel in Bali. In the future, widescale implementation of 5G will make this form of communication even more life-like and immersive. With higher speeds and lower latency, 5G will make virtual reality meetings a possibility, enabling employees to feel like they are actually in a room with their colleagues. It begs the question, if you can create a life-like enough simulation of a physical space that meets the needs of employees, do you need a real one?

Satisfaction

Workplace design and technology go hand in hand, and increasingly they are one and the same – entire office environments are available on digital workplace portals specifically designed to meet the objectives and values of an organisation. Ultimately, the question of what the office of the future looks like for your business comes down to the type of organisation business leaders are trying to create. Collaboration, productivity and engagement are key to the long-term success of a business, and we have seen how technology can help to drive this whether in an office or some remote location. However, key in all of this, is selecting tools and a workplace design that enhances employee satisfaction. When employees have the freedom and tools to work in their own way, their satisfaction grows exponentially and for businesses this marks improved productivity, reduced churn and a bigger bottom line. While there is no single solution, and a combination of a physical office and remote working capabilities works for most enterprises, companies today have more freedom than ever to consider whether they need four walls to make their business a success.

For more information about Canon, please visit www.canon.co.za or follow Canon on FacebookTwitter,Instagram or LinkedIn

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AppDate: uKheshe bring banking to the masses

In his apps roundup, SEAN BACHER highlights uKheshe, FNB’s banking app with its will feature, Split Payments, Momentum Safety Alert and Fleetonomy.

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uKheshe micro transaction platform

Financial inclusion took another step forward as local start-up, uKheshe, South Africa’s cheapest and most convenient QR cash card and micro transaction platform, won the 2019 Global Fintech Hackcelerator @ Southern Africa competition. 

“The issue of financial inclusion is a global one and the more we can do to uplift the unbanked and under banked, the healthier their respective economies will become,” says Clayton Hayward, co-founder, uKheshe.

While 1.2 billion people have opened a financial account since 2011, there is still an estimated 1.7 billion adults worldwide (or 31% of adults) who don’t have a basic transaction account.  Globally, two-thirds of adults without an account cite a lack of money as a key reason, which implies that financial services aren’t yet affordable or designed to fit low-income users.

To find out more about uKheshe click here

FNB’s banking app with will feature

First National Bank now lets its customers draw up their own wills via the FNB Online Banking platform at no cost. To date, the bank has seen a significant increase in the number of clients who drafted their own wills online, with over 52 000 clients already accessing the functionality.

Approximately 80% of South Africans don’t have a valid will in place; and many people believe that it’s a need only when they get older, or later in life. 

“Whilst the digital process is simple and easy to use, the solution also helps with a dedicated client support centre should clients need further assistance or advice regarding the drafting of their wills,” says Johan Strydom, Growth Head, FNB Wealth and Investments. “The solution aims to simplify the process and allows customers to easily draft a will online anytime and at any place, at no cost. In addition, FNB will keep your original will in safe custody at no extra cost.”

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Available the FNB app which can be be downloaded here.

Split Payments

PayFast has launched Split Payments, a South African-first that instantly splits a portion of an online payment with a third party. The service is designed to facilitate fast, safe payments for platform-based businesses, including online marketplaces.

For those who run a marketplace that brings together multiple sellers or merchants looking for new sales channels, Split Payments addresses payment headaches with a simple API integration.

Consumers are used to engaging with large global transactional platforms such as AirBnB, Uber, and Amazon. The benefits and extended reach of these types of platforms are catching on locally, and organisations like estate agency groups and even community marketplaces are setting up digital trading platforms.

The app allows businesses to instantly split out commission, membership or listing fees, when a payment is made via one of its supported payment methods.

For each online payment received  the business can determine what the split is, either a fixed amount, a percentage, or a combination of both. Custom recurring payment integration, such as subscriptions payments, can also be split automatically.

Platform: iOS and Android

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Download Split Payments here

Read more about Momentum’s new Safety Alert app and Fleetonomy.

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Why 4G is still a thing

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Even with the 5G era already upon us, investment in 4G/LTE networks is still vitally important for operators in sub-Saharan Africa and must remain a core focus of network construction for the immediate future. This is according to David Chen, Vice-President, Huawei Southern Africa. 

“Currently, the mobile broadband penetration rate in Africa is only 47%, while 4G penetration rate is merely 10%,” Chen said.

“Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks, resulting in significant decline in user experience. It also leads to congestion on the 2G and 3G networks and makes it difficult to release spectrum used by 2G and 3G.”

Chen said that LTE and 5G complement each other and are evolving in parallel. In the next few years, 5G will mainly be used in more industrial communications.

LTE will remain the primary choice for global mobile communications through 2025. It will form the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to the mobile broadband access.

“It will take a long time for 5G to provide nationwide continuous coverage. Before that, enhanced LTE networks can guarantee optimal user experience for 5G users, including services such as VR, AR, and cloud gaming,” said Chen.

He said that it is important for operators to invest in 4G to secure future growth, as it is estimated that there will be an additional 80 million LTE users in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

Driven by this growth, LTE traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by a factor of 8.8. By 2025, about 80% of all data traffic in the region will be over an LTE network.

LTE will also be the main source of future revenue for operators.

“According to GSMA Intelligence, 2G and 3G users in sub-Saharan Africa will gradually migrate to 4G,” said Chen. “By 2025, the proportion of 2G users will drop from 46% to 12%.”

Part of the reason for the migration to 4G is because the ecosystem is mature.

“The price of feature phones supporting VoLTE in the sub-Saharan Africa market has been as low as $25,” Chen said.

Since 5G equipment is already available, there is an opportunity for operators to build out their 4G networks while ensuring that they can evolve to 5G in future.

Chen offered the following tips to operators to ensure they are ready for 5G:

  • All future equipment installations should be 5G ready, allowing easy upgrades to 5G through software updates.
  • Software should support multi-standard spectrum sharing to improve spectrum efficiency, and to allow the smooth migration of 2G and 3G users.
  • Networks must support 4G and 5G coordination, in terms of spectrum, operation and maintenance. This will ensure that users have a consistent experience as we enter the 5G era.
  • The value of existing ICT infrastructure, such as base station sites, must be maximised to avoid overlapping services and wasted resources. This would mean boosting the capacity and coverage of every station for optimum efficiency.
  • Carriers should explore the business case for all possible 5G innovations when building 4G networks, and not just embrace 5G for its own sake. This will mean building business models around IoT, video, live broadcast, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
  • It is important that operators build partnerships with providers that can support the ongoing spectrum evolution with fast site upgrades and large-capacity solutions. The idea is to maximise the value of 4G networks, and smoothly evolve to 5G without unnecessary infrastructure investment.

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