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The case for #WFH…Or not

“Is anybody here? Can you hear me? Hello….anybody….” crackling and some hissing sounds finally coming through…”ohhhh Thank G-d”.

This may sound like a séance, trying to communicate with the spirits but it is not. This became part of our 2020 experience of working from home or studying and communicating via any of the virtual platforms, such as Zoom, MS Teams and WebEx.

In a recent management meeting held at our office, after more than six months of not seeing each other, face to face, we felt how grateful we are for the human contact. (Regardless of an exasperating noise from construction outside our window that couldn’t be managed by just muting the microphone). Although productivity was not affected, from working remotely, there was no doubt that so much more can be discussed, explored and even come up with new ideas when we are physically together.

So when listening to experts and webinars dealing with the question of what will the workplace post Covid19 look like, it is no surprise that there are no definite and confident answers.

In a recent event held by ORT SA , Prof Barry Dwolatzky, JCSE at Wits University was the Keynote Speaker for the evening. “The Digital Transformation has been fast tracked due to COVID-19 and our primary function should be to focus on getting businesses online and familiar with the Digital World”.

Covid19 and the lockdown implications have prompt digital transformation in education, medical practices, the justice system and many other industries.  But what will the work place look like?

According to Prof Barry, the definition of a ‘job’, as we know it, will change.  Currently a ‘job’ is defined by the number of hours per day that need to be “filled” with work and an employment contract with one single employer. What he believes working from home did, is the realisation that some tasks can be automated and many can be done from anywhere in the world. He introduced the concept of a “Gig economy” where we no longer have a workplace and we no longer have a “job” but tasks to complete.

I, personally believe, that we should not neglect the possible effect of working remotely on our emotional and social state. Both for introverts that feel comfortable with isolation and for extroverts that get their energy from interaction with people.

Working at home created a false comfort zone. It is quite convenient to be home and not to worry what we wear below the chest and, as it is acceptable to have camera off in virtual meetings, not even to worry about our look.

While the world is dealing with the pandemic, contemplating with various degrees of lockdowns and shutdowns, we should be thankful for the technology that brings us together in computational means. But we also should be careful not to sink into a new routine that can lead to isolation, loneliness and maybe even depression.

Education in times of crisis

(Insight from Webinar http://www.ort.mx organised by ORT University Mexico)

One of the things that Covid19 brought with (together with worldwide chaos and uncertainty) is the understanding, that this is a crisis, in its full definition; the virus targets human lives, is unexpected, it creates uncertainties and poses a threat to human existence.

Another interesting phenomena is happening, almost parallel to the spread of the virus; the break through of usage of virtual platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts and YouTube streaming. Many of the online webinars and forums are dealing with the crisis in various ways, from the psychological to professional and economic impacts.

One of the most interesting virtual webinar I attended, recently, was organised by the University of ORT Mexico and World ORT, discussing ‘education in times of crisis’. What I found enlightening in the discussion by top professors in the field of education, is the forward thinking and ‘out of the box’ ideas that were shared with almost 500 participants from all over the world.

Ms. Mariana Ludmila Cortés who is the former Vice-president for development of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), where she traveled to over 40 countries developing and implementing large scale education projects for disadvantaged children, claimed that there is a crisis in education worldwide, regardless of Covid19. According to World Bank (2018), globally, 6 out of 10 children and youth are not meeting proficiency levels in reading and mathematics despite of completing years of schooling in the developing world. The Learning crisis calls us to be specific with the terms we are using while trying to tackle the problem. Learning vs Teaching ; Education vs Schooling. She suggested that we need to change HOW we deliver education and urged people to take charge of their own learning.

Prof. Sidney Strauss Director of Research at Ammachilabs, professor at Amrita University and former Professor of Education has vast years of research in education. He shared the finding, that children are able to teach each other (from as early as one year old). Teaching is natural to human beings. He claims that evidence in caves of our ancestors shows that, already at the times when human were making stone tools, they had managed to transfer the knowledge.
If this is the case, what are the implications on education? we need to rethink of schools and the roles they play. We need to find ways to harness this natural ability of people to teach and for children to teach each other.

Prof. Moisés Salinas Fleitman Rector of the ORT University Mexico, examined the roles of education in times of crisis. In addition to the obvious roles of being a source of reassurance , reducing stress and ensuring delivery of practical and psychological tools to confront the crisis, he added that the crisis could be seen as an opportunity for innovation. Crisis has a disruptive manner and it could be a tool for us to switch from threat to opportunity for innovation in education.

I do believe that, we now have an opportunity to analyse the disruption in a creative and collaborative manner. We could learn from different industries and how they have been adjusting to the changes (such as communicating and expanding stakeholders networks through virtual platforms). We also have to be mindful about those communities that do not have the privilege of technology and accessibility to connectivity.

Screenshot of the ORT.MX Webcast April 2020

Insight from Business Day Focus 4.0

The Business Day Focus 4.0 Conference held at the beginning of March this year, aimed at exploring the implications of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) on our economy and society.
The presence of leading Hi-tech companies’ CEOs as keynote speakers and in panel discussions illustrated the importance of this topic to the business world.

Below are my three main takes from the conference:

1. It is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” we adapt to the 4IR

According to MD Tech Accenture, Kirstan Sita, 85% of South African companies are vulnerable to future disruption (Accenture research).
One of the reasons companies fail is if they missed, or not responded fast enough, to changes in the market (Prof Bran Armstrong, Wits Business School). The more we delay our adopting to changes, the more we widen the gap.
The challenges of poor infrastructure development and the need for cities to work collaboratively towards the creation of smart cities was alerted by Liquid Telecom CEO Reshaad Sha.
It was reiterated that government has to elevate infrastructure as high priority and enable connectivity (survival need) in an equal distributed manner.

2. Technology is neutral. It is what we do with it that matters

Alison Jacobson from the Field Institute, argued that before looking at digital strategy of the business one needs to look at the business strategy and the specific needs of the business through the customers’ needs. “Do you understand your customers? Only then deploy the technology”. Competitiveness in the market and creating the competitive advantage has to be customer-centric.
Devina Maharaj from Digital Investec Bank recommended “Understand the needs first, than plug the gap with the relevant tech solution”.
According to Prof Brian, there are many reasons to automate. Machines have many advantages over human being. If the first and second industrial revolutions were about ‘machines enhancing power’ the third and fourth industrial revolutions are about ‘machines enhancing human brain power’. We need to stay alert in the wake of the ‘digital vortex’ upon us and be ahead of it.

3. Range of skills are needed for the future workforce

Assaf Luxembourg, Business Development Consultant from Israel, noted that ‘technology changes fast, but culture changes are slower’. He then recommended that each individual see himself/ herself as a ‘business unit’, as the ‘CEO of themselves’ and seek to promote oneself. Adjusting to the dynamic nature of the market he says, is to think as entrepreneur and not as employee (even if you are one).
Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville, CEO of YES, said that tech skills can be easily taught, the need is to create mechanisms to ensure that resources are available to the youth in all communities as in some of them access is limited.
The real skill needed to adjust to 4IR as noted by Alison are the abilities to identify the problem and use critical problem solving and team work.
We should ask, ‘how do we become the best version of ourselves by using technology’ and plan for our career to ensure relevance for the future.

Be ahead of the 'Digital Vortex'
Be ahead of the ‘Digital Vortex’

Preparing for Corona is unpredictable as predicting the future

The Corona virus crisis hitting the world country by country on a daily basis makes one realise the sad, known fact that we cannot predict the future.
When we started this new year of 2020, or when we approach new month, week or day, we need to be prepared for changes, knowing that change is the only certain thing we can be sure of.
Whether we run a company, manage teams, train/ teach, in retail, health, education or any other industry we should be prepared to surf the wave of change and be able to adapt to it’s implications.

The epidemic caused by the Corona virus is a an example of a case that can impact almost every area in our lives and change the way we do things, go to work, school or maintain our health. Technology has a role to play in assisting ‘surfing the wave’ and we could be applying new ways of doing things as we learning and adapting to new realities.

Though we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for what we think it will bring. Learning from countries impacted by the virus, we can, each in our own industry, think on measures to take to alleviate the impact that the changes may bring into our lives. 

As schools close down due to concerns of the epidemic spreading, we should explore online learning platforms to ensure that learning and the schooling is not disturbed.
Online applications could also help with identifying the symptoms and alert on areas that are impacted by the virus.

Please share – What measures did you take or are preparing yourself to take in light of the Corona?