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Why remote working is a must for SA

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Construction in Sandton and Fourways, gridlock in Cape Town are all factors building a strong case for companies to embrace remote working. But is your business geared to make the move and if not what can you do to make it so.

South African commuters are starting to feel the pressure of getting to work on time mounting, which is in itself causing undue stress on both employees and employers. Spending between an hour to two hours in traffic just to get to the office on time is becoming the norm, and in a country where public transport is not as pervasive as it is in Europe and the United States, the problem isn’t going anywhere fast.

“Employees are feeling trapped which is breeding an unhealthy and unproductive environment, which is why corporate South Africa needs to start embracing flexi hours and remote working,” says Marius van Wyk, operations and technical director at SkyGroup Communications. “There simply is no excuse. The technologies and tools, such as remote data access, video conferencing facilities and cloud solutions like Skype for Business exist, all of which support remote working and promote productivity.”

According to van Wyk remote working has to date been reserved for workers willing to take a knock in salary in order to be able to benefit from more flexibility in work hours. This is particularly true for those employees with children. But he says the view needs to shift to one which supports productivity and employee well-being, particularly as news reports and daily traffic reports paint a bleak picture of the state of South African roads.

“Internally we have implemented a pilot project called P.O.P – Place Of Productivity, which encourages employees to work from home.  Project P.O.P. is an initiative to gauge employee productivity and general business engagement irrelevant of location.  It is centred on our belief that your place of work should not be tied down to a single location.

“What we have seen is that as long as an employee has a stable Internet connection at home, have access to collaboration tools such as our videoHUB conferencing solution and relevant business applications i.e. Microsoft Office, Skype for Business, hosted or cloud based telephony services etc., they are even more productive at home than they are in the office,” he adds.

Surely not more productive? This is the standard answer from much of corporate South Africa who still battle to relinquish face-to-face “clocking in” of employees. Reports from Fortune Magazine, the Harvard Business review as well as a slew of independent studies all build the case for remote working.

All of which speak to the fact that office workers who spend between 45 minutes to 2 hours commuting, arrive in the office feeling like they have already spent a day at the office, and can take as long to get into their work. The growing cost of real estate that is forcing the need for open plan offices is another factor. Open plan offices are a sure fire way to kill productivity, unless the corporate culture supports these.

In one case study run by Chinese travel website Ctrip, sales people working remotely were able to complete 13.5% more calls than their office bound counterparts. The company said it estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months just in office finishings and space. It also managed to completely eradicate the “water cooler” effect which is a sure fire way to eat into productivity hours.

“It is not all a bed of roses though. Instilling a remote working culture and making it successful relies about 50% on technology to support the environment and the other 50% on company culture, incentives and the willingness of the employee. You can’t just deploy a cloud-based video conferencing solution, buy mobile data and install fibre at the home of an employee to make it work.

“You need to develop policies, gauge if the individual is disciplined enough to embrace it and set out incentives to encourage its success. Furthermore, regular meeting and ‘management check in’ points need to be established, reports need to be submitted and management need to review these. But the benefits far outweigh the pain points,” adds van Wyk.

Looking ahead, the construction in Sandton is not going to improve in a hurry, nor is the traffic trap that is Fourways or the gridlock that is gripping Cape Town. Which begs the question: if you aren’t considering remote working then why not?

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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