It is no longer a question of if the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change our ways of working, but when. The answer might be sooner than you think – COVID-19 has already ushered in a new era of digital transformation. While the pandemic has provided a global impetus for working remotely and many businesses are restructuring to move their systems and processes online, traditional employment structures and contracts will start changing, opening up a world of new opportunities for both employers and employees.
Nevo Hadas, dY/dX partner, speaks on SAFM to explain what businesses can expect and how to prepare for the coming changes.
Nevo Hadas, partner at dY/dX, a digital transformation company – we’re in conversation with you this evening because we need to talk about something which makes a lot of senior employees somewhat uncomfortable – engaging technology and how companies themselves are not necessarily moving with the times. COVID has forced the agenda of working remotely and increasing the use of technology, and all of that speaks favourably to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What is your response to that?
I think it’s spot on. What we’ve seen is a massive and rapid shift for companies and society to move into remote work. It’s left a lot of companies, and especially managers and leaders, in a very uncomfortable position because they have no skills and haven’t been trained in how to manage and lead people that aren’t at the office. I think it has impacted many businesses as you said.
What should be the process or protocol that companies employ? How much of my own personal equipment is supposed to now suddenly be work equipment? What responsibilities does the employer have to provide me with this infrastructure at home? I understand it could be costly, for instance, I’m a lawyer – if we were working in a legal environment the turnover for paper would be astronomical. You would need a printer. Sometimes you would need a colour printer when you engage graphs and colour diagrams. What balance, if any, can be struck between the expenses in relation to fulfilling one’s obligations as the employer and employee?
I think that’s a great example. I’m going to first use the example, then I’ll answer the question of who takes on this cost, and what the future of work looks like in an employer and employee relationship. We have a lot of solutions in the office – things that we use and that we do every day that are actually solving a problem that doesn’t exist in a digitized world. So for example, the issue of printing – one of our clients was working quite effectively running radio stations, where they have a traffic department who needed printer desperately. This was one of the key requirements of this department – they would print out documents to see which ads were running where and track their performance and results on paper, just like you as a lawyer – and still, they were forced out of the office. Suddenly paper wasn’t a critical requirement because they worked out ways to work without paper, and everything became digital. A similar thing will happen to the legal profession; the idea of a physically signed contract will shift into digitally signed contracts, and those contracts will become more accepted. So what you find is the requirements that we had before, for things like paper, were actually habits that we’ve developed from working in an office-based environment, and once we move out of the office, we find new solutions that get
rid of those problems.
What that means from an employer-employee perspective, talking about who is responsible for certain costs – what you’ll see is generally a progression, especially for the digital-first or remote working companies. The traditional structure of an employment contract which is a nine-to-five – you’ll be at the office at 9 and go home at 5, and all the time between those two periods belongs to me, as the employer… That really starts shifting because suddenly, I don’t know if you’re at your desk from 9 to 5 and I lose control over that period of time. Before, a lot of our contractual and behavioural components came out of the industrial age and a sense of geographic proximity. Location ruled the work environment and employers wanted everyone in the office at one time so that they could maintain control, communicate and do everything they needed to do. But now, I can’t see you and you could be anywhere – I have to move, as an employer and as a manager, to output-based performance. I have to look at what you’re actually achieving. And once it all moves towards output-based performance, I don’t actually have to care how many hours you work and whether you’re working from 9 to 5, as long as the job is done and done well. That dramatically breaks this whole traditional idea of employment. So now people are moving towards flexible employment and Flexitime. The exciting thing for employees is they get more of their life back, they should get more control over what they do with their days, yet still, be able to be employed and produce good work.
On that, it does assume certain things. Some of those things which were not necessarily part of the discussion are now becoming a reality. If we look at the elder generation – it’s enough for them to open the laptop, press the button and start the computer… Then they click on Outlook, Microsoft Word or whatever system they use, and that for them is as much training as they would have needed in interfacing with the infrastructure for the purposes of doing their work. If there was a problem, they’d simply call someone. Now, all of that is taken away because one has to work on their computer at home. Now there are Zoom and Skype meetings and they are forced to be very conversant with this technology, which they didn’t have two or three months ago. Now they have had to have a crash course and learn as they go. This poses challenges to the workplace. And again, whose responsibility is it? I would assume I have to take the initiative but at the end of the day, it can be costing me money to perform my work, which for the most part, was supposed to be something traditionally provided by the employer.
I think there you’ve got a very good point – this transition from the way that work was, to the rapid new world, is the employer’s responsibility. If you’ve come into the contract and you’re already a remote worker, that’s one thing, because you’ve got your laptop, you’ve got your input manufacturing costs, and that’s part of your agreements with your employer. But if you’re a traditional employee and you’re seeing the shift, then definitely – it’s actually in the employer’s interest to help you transition into this new world.
We’ve recently been doing a whole range of assessments for companies and we’ve been breaking it into two concepts – the one is ‘Company Remote Readiness’ and the other is ‘Team Remote Working Maturity’. We’ve been doing this to get a sense of whether these companies are ready for their people to work remotely. In other words, if somebody has a laptop, then it’s great, they can take it home. But a lot of companies don’t have that. They have PCs, for example, in which case you can’t do your job from home. So those companies can’t even transition effectively to remote working. For those companies to be more effective in the future and actually get the benefits of remote working, they need to invest in training their staff from the bottom to the top, in how to adapt to this new way of working. A lot of this training, especially for senior managers is about loss; it’s about what behaviours they have lost by moving into remote work. They will no longer get to walk into the office and greet people – they lose that sense of comfort from having people around. Your traditional ways of management aren’t there anymore, so there’s a big sense of loss for managers, as well as employees, in this whole transition.
This has me thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution; South Africa was talking about it quite a lot, leading up to COVID. Job threats, job security, the advent of technology; we now know we can, in many respects, continue running an economy working off-site. Does this not accelerate, or should it not accelerate, the Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda altogether?
It 100% accelerates the Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda. Guaranteed. A lot of companies that we worked with were debating whether or not they should be allowing people to work from home, and discussing how to do that – and then COVID happened and they had to start working from home. A lot of those debates have ended and that’s bringing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
From a jobs perspective, there are two ways to look at it. If you have a high paying job or are fortunate enough to be in the IT sector, remote working sector or if you’re a knowledge worker, you don’t have to live in a big city anymore, you can live in a small city. This is a massive trend now. This is happening at the top global companies like Facebook. Even in our own business, we’ve had some of our team members saying, “I’m going to go live on a farm for three months.” Which is fine, it doesn’t make a difference. What’s interesting for me, is that it allows South African companies to compete globally without needing to have offices all around the world. Suddenly, it’s acceptable for you to not be there face-to-face with the customer to provide services and products. Suddenly, you don’t need offices in Europe, London, New Zealand or wherever to be a global business. This will hopefully help a lot of companies shift – to realize that you don’t need those big capital costs to expand. That could boost South African jobs and would also hopefully bring a lot of employment demand to South Africa, where we still have lower costs of employees when compared globally, but we also have very strong talent and very smart people. So yes, there is the risk, but I think there are also lots of opportunities if people are willing to grasp them and to see the glass as half full.