Beyond COVID-19

What’s on the other side of the coronavirus? There are some positive outcomes to be achieved, says Bernice Hynard, MD of Printacom, a division of Tarsus Technology Group.

Johannesburg, 26 Mar 2020
Read time 5min 00sec

Businesses are having to rethink the way they work, but not all companies are embarking on the same journey.

We’ve been talking about a digitised environment and the possibility of remote working for a long time. The technology has been there, but the mobile workforce has been slow to take hold. What’s been holding us up from widespread adoption? It’s human beings and outdated management styles, according to Bernice Hynard, managing director of Printacom, a division of Tarsus Technology Group.

“The onset of COVID-19 and the whole concept of social isolation has brought businesses to the realisation that remote working can be implemented relatively quickly,” says Hynard. “Companies with as many as 400 employees are managing to get them out of the office, mobile and functioning within the space of a week. This highlights that where there’s a will, there’s a way. We just haven’t previously had the will to do it.”

Hynard believes the COVID-19 crisis will encourage business to adopt a better and more mature management ethos where the focus is on tasks and productivity instead of the number of hours worked. “This really gives companies an opportunity to treat their employees like adults and manage them in a more emotionally intelligent and mature way. While many businesses claim their staff are measured according to KPIs (key performance indicators), this is often not the case, with more focus on hours spent in the office than deliverables, and micro-management the order of the day.”

Remote working is giving employees the opportunity to demonstrate their true productivity, that they can be efficient and that they don’t need to be micro managed. When everyone and everything can be managed remotely, that’s when true productivity happens, according to Hynard.

“Having a mobile workforce brings so much more opportunity for the business and its workforce. Over and above the productivity wins, one also has to consider the benefits from an improved overall quality of life perspective and reduction in stress levels. Particularly for people who have to get up early to use public transport to ensure they arrive at work on time, or who spend two to three hours a day in transit to and from work. All of these positives are coming to us now, made possible by technology.”

This is an opportunity for people and businesses to leave behind some of the bad habits that they acquired pre-epidemic, such as mass consumerism, for one, as well as the trend towards a disposable economy, where items are discarded instead of being repaired or repurposed. “It’s a good time to ask whether we really need all of the stuff that we have and to reconsider our mindset around material possessions. We’re also coming to the realisation that we need society to survive – we can’t do it alone. People – and businesses – need to be more altruistic and understand that we survive as a community. No man or business is an island.”

Hynard also talks about the positive impact on climate change as less people are travelling, less fuel is consumed and there are less emissions. “We’re all trying to figure out how we can have less of an impact on the environment by recycling glass, paper and plastic. This is showing us that we can do phone or Internet sessions instead of driving to meetings unnecessarily.

“We’re having to think more about the impact of our actions on wider society. There’s a tendency to think that our individual actions won’t make a big difference, but when you have 60 million people each doing small things, that can have a major impact on environment. For years, we’ve known that we need to change the way we think about things, and something like this could be the impetus we need to make real change. This virus has forced people to reevaluate what’s important in terms of consumption and human interaction.”

How businesses have responded is very telling, she continues. “They faced a very real choice between continuing with business as usual and trying to make a profit, versus considering how they could best look after their staff. There’s a dividing line between financial profit and caring about your people. It’s true that a business’s survival depends on financial success, so they need to find a balance between providing their employees with an income and sustainability, while keeping them safe at the same time, as well as considering the greater community by allowing people to isolate themselves. This is a huge moral dilemma and companies have to ask themselves whether they made the right choice.”

“The short-term risk is that the business might not hit the numbers that it anticipated, but the long-term risk is financial success at the expense of an ill workforce and the impact of that on wider society. The bottom line is that everyone needs to protect their own small community.”

It all comes down to the ethics and value systems within the business and whether those are really lived by the business. “Do you live your values? If you say you invest in your people and care for them, this is when you show it, by bettering people’s lives through digitisation and thereby adding value to all stakeholders. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s the only choice that business should make.”