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?
How panic-buying disrupts traditional supply chains
Panic buying has become commonplace during the COVID-19 crisis. PAULO DE MATOS, chief product officer at SYSPRO, outlines how good technology and ingenuity is panic-proof.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the world cannot afford for manufacturing and distribution to grind to a halt. From food on our shelves, to medical necessities, these sectors are at the heart of our economy and must keep going at all costs. Although the global supply chain is usually a well-oiled machine consisting of a system of organizations, people, processes, information and resources, disruption of this well-oiled machine has become the new reality. According to a new survey released by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), 75% of companies worldwide have reported supply chain disruptions as a result of COVID-19. Added to that is the increasingly unpredictable demand caused by panic buying and consumer stockpiling.
Reinventing the supply chain to face the challenges of today
In response to the pandemic, manufacturers and distributors have had to pivot in a new direction, to turn the supply chain challenge into a competitive advantage through ingenuity.
The US recently invoked the Defense Production Act to allow American manufacturers to suspend their normal production schedules and begin manufacturing materials such as ventilators, which are needed in this time of crisis. The Act, which was originally passed in 1950, was a war mobilization effort. It allowed the government to direct efforts of manufacturers to focus production on the much-needed necessities in times of need, from medical supplies through to necessary disinfection products.
Australia has applied a similar approach through the implementation of ‘wartime’ manufacturing. Due to a shortage of necessities like ventilators and hand sanitizers, the Australian government is offering financial packages that incentivize factories to manufacture critical supplies. For example, one of Australia’s biggest packaging companies, Pact Group, is converting production lines at three of its Sydney plants as it starts making hand sanitizer for the first time, instead of industrial cleaners.
Within Canada and South Africa, distilleries have also committed to supplying alcohol, a key ingredient in hand sanitizer.
Using technology to ensure long-term resilience
Until recently, China has consistently supplied global manufacturers with the bulk of their required components, raw materials and or processed materials. Presently, 6 in 10 (62%) of the respondents of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) survey have reported that they have experienced increasing delays in receiving orders from China. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, with the pandemic now impacting almost every country in the world; delays are going to begin affecting deliveries from every country, and the lateness of the delivery is expected to increase. With the increasing shortages of parts, global manufacturers are now scrambling to identify alternative suppliers and supply chains to make up for the missed deliveries.
Technology systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, can certainly improve the situation by giving manufacturers improved visibility of the reliable local suppliers and their supply chains. Through ERP integration, representatives from different supplier companies can interact on a single platform, improving the flow and availability of information and improving the reliability of delivery. For example, the SYSPRO Supply Chain Portal was originally launched with a Request for Quote capability, which enabled the formal invitation of suppliers to tender for the supply of goods and services. Not only can manufacturers identify local suppliers who can meet their orders in a time of scarcity, but manufacturers themselves could easily find alternative suppliers.
ERP also has the added advantage of reducing document handling and other manual activities and facilitates cross functional collaboration by enabling an online process for engaging with customers and suppliers. What’s more, planned receiving and manufacturing process steps can be amended temporarily in your ERP system to include additional Quality Assurance. For example, the wiping down of surfaces and spraying of goods with appropriate chemical or detergent cleansers and adding waiting times before issue or delivery.
In times of unforeseen scarcity, as the world is currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the supply chain is kept open and full. The challenge that the company faces is to identify the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this, using their own unique combination of technology and ingenuity. If there is surplus stock in the supply chain, the surplus could easily be sold onto neighbouring organizations – after all, the function of a manufacturing organization is to fulfil whatever is identified as a shortage in the economy.
Managing disruption in the long-term
The World Economic Forum has suggested that moving forward after this pandemic, there will be a “new normal”, a need to manage disruption by developing predictive models for proactive scheduling, and dynamic planning of supply with careful consideration of the uncertainties and risks. This change will most likely usher in the next level of digital transformation, based on the collection and analysis of data from various disparate applications.
Ultimately, having the right combination of technology and dynamic ingenuity will allow manufacturers to weather the storm and navigate the unknown, bringing with it the success of discovering “the new world.”
Pandemic will change co-working – and vice versa
By CHARMAINE LAMBERT, WorkInProgress – an Absa Innovation Lab
The COVID-19 pandemic is set to realign the world’s social and economic structure, and fundamentally change the way people work and interact, personally and professionally. While the current social measures in place around the world are aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, there’s a good chance that there’ll be a residual adoption of elements of them as humanity adapts to ‘the new normal’ – because the world will fundamentally never be the same again.
Hundreds of thousands of people are set to lose their jobs as economies tank – but the optimistic view is that that’s an opportunity for the future, rather than the very real catastrophe it feels like at the moment – particularly in the SME space. It’s a rare economic situation that sees major corporations struggling as much as SME’s, and the upshot is that people may have to create employment opportunities for themselves and others, rather than returning to the jobs they had before the pandemic.
It’s clear that the world will need more entrepreneurs, whose smart ideas can help rebuild economies, create employment opportunities and re-establish – and rebuild – the livelihoods of entire communities.
Many have glibly asked ‘could that meeting have been an email?’ – but the reality is that the working world is rapidly discovering the benefits of finding new ways to address business needs, that rely less on physical face-to-face interactions. Catching up as a group on a Zoom meeting is important, but cutting out a commute, the niceties of the preamble to a meeting and repeating yourself for the guy who stumbled in five minutes late has made meetings more efficient and to-the-point.
Meetings won’t go away, because humans are collaborative. It takes one person to have a great idea, but it takes a team to realise and implement it – which is why co-working spaces will remain an important part of life for those taking up the challenge of employing themselves, and others by forming SME’s, in the new world order.
The shift in ways of working has also shown that decentralisation is possible – something that may become a necessity in the future. All those shiny offices in global centres are expensive line items on the annual budget, and since budgets are going to be way tighter – if not non-existent – in future, even SME’s may have to make peace with the fact that not everyone needs to share a space. And knowing what we know now about how easy it is to spread viruses in close-contact working spaces, there’s a convincing health argument for decentralisation, too.
If an SME team is driven enough, nobody will have to worry about clock-watching or ensuring that people are doing their jobs by having a manager stalking the halls and peering over cubicle walls. There will be essential functions that rely on being physically present in a space – but there’s no reason that different functions of a business can’t be split across different spaces, cities or even time zones to maximise efficiency and save costs. And with flexibility of working time now becoming an option across many industries, that demand will need to be catered for by SME’s and other employers, in the future.
Building more efficient spaces has been an important global trend over the past few years as companies realise the impact their business has on the planet. What about the environmental cost of getting people to that office every day, and of business travel? Cutting out the commute for the global workforce has already had a noticeable effect on the environment – fake-news dolphins in the canals of Venice, aside – so now that we’ve proven it’s possible to decentralise or work remotely, why not continue that?
Carbon monoxide emissions in New York have been slashed by 50% over the past few weeks – mostly on the back of reduced road traffic – and an analysis by climate website Carbon Brief indicates that the shut-down in China has resulted in a 25% drop in energy use and emissions over a two week period at the height of the pandemic there, which is set to lead to an overall drop of 1% in the country’s carbon emissions for 2020. As industry ramps up again around the world, emissions will rise once more, but those numbers do illustrate the significant impact a reduction in worker commuting, can have for the planet.
4IR Creating Opportunities
While there’s plenty of concern that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is going to cost millions of jobs, it’s also set to deliver millions of opportunities and plenty of efficiencies.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can take over manual, repetitive tasks – but instead of making the people in those functions, redundant, it frees them up to tackle more important and non-automatable tasks which can improve business operations. The global economic crisis means that efficiency and multitasking are going to become the order of the day – something the lean SME space is used to, to an extent. Embrace technology and let the people who are the heart of your business focus on helping you re-establish it and re-invent it. It’s time to innovate.
While things are set to be very different, there’s a huge benefit to collaboration to establishing and maintaining a dynamic, agile business. Entrepreneurs and innovators thrive off being able to kick around ideas, sense-check decisions with others and find ways for seemingly-unrelated companies to work together to deliver unprecedented opportunity – and there’s nothing the world is going to need more than opportunity, once we come out the other side of this.