It’s not always the strongest that survive

Johannesburg, 04 May 2020
Read time 5min 30sec

Remote working isn’t a new thing, but COVID-19 has made it a business essential. Itumeleng Mochocho, UNS Executive at Sizwe Africa IT Group, says: “It’s going to be the new normal going forward, and businesses need to prepare for it long-term.”

Mochocho has come up with his own acronym for the top three things that should be at the forefront of business leaders’ minds, AIR: Agility, innovation and resilience.

  • Agility – the ability to move quickly and easily.
  • Innovation – the action or process of innovating.
  • Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

“If a business isn’t sufficiently agile, it’s going to struggle to survive the pandemic. In addition, businesses need to be able to innovate and come up with new solutions that will allow them to continue trading. Finally, resilience speaks to the organisation’s ability to recover.“

Itumeleng Mochocho, UNS Executive, Sizwe Africa IT Group
Itumeleng Mochocho, UNS Executive, Sizwe Africa IT Group

COVID-19 is changing how offices work forever – and only those businesses that were quick to adapt and change will endure. Work and business as we know it will change forever. To quote Adam Grant, Professor of Management and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: “It’s not always the strongest species that survives; it’s sometimes the most adaptable.”

“Virtually overnight, many employers were forced to embrace more flexibility around working from home and having virtual teams. Most found out that it wasn’t as impossible as they thought it would be, with the right technology in place,” says Mochocho. However, a mindset and skills shift also has to happen. For instance, older generation managers who are used to face-to-face meetings are having to embrace online audio or video meetings using applications like WebEx, Zoom, Teams, Skype or Hangouts, whereas Generation Z managers will find it much easier to adapt.

“Employers also need to move on from the mindset that a workforce has to be visible in order to be productive. A physical presence is no longer regarded as a measure of productivity. Those businesses that can’t make this shift and adapt, will literally die.”

People are often more productive at home, which companies are starting to realise. But remote working holds other benefits, as laid out in a study by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom on the productivity effects of working from home. In his two-year study, Bloom found out that the productivity boost among the remote workers was equivalent to a full day’s work. When working from home, employees had better focus and experienced fewer disturbances, while unnecessary meetings were reduced. A better work-life balance made for happier employees, resulting in a 50% drop in employee attrition. Employees took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and took less time off.

Over and above the immediately apparent productivity gains, the business is contributing towards a reduction in carbon emissions as a result of fewer cars on the highways, will spend less money on office space, and will cut transportation time and costs, both for itself and employees.

Other costs that can be avoided or reduced significantly include spending on office supplies and furniture. However, spending on ICT resources such as WiFi, laptops, multifunctional devices and software, as well as IT support, might increase, Mochocho cautions.

Many businesses – particularly those in the technology sector – had remote worker policies in place prior to COVID-19 and have been realising these benefits for years, he says.

However, it must be said that there are also some challenges presented by a remote workforce, and these cannot be overlooked. These include loneliness and lack of human interaction, a tendency to overwork, dealing with management trust issues and technology-related issues. Mochocho believes the biggest of these is around security. “Both employers’ and employees’ data and networks are left vulnerable as more endpoints are connected to the network. Businesses need to implement solutions that can secure remote workers, providing real-time insight into potential security risks on the network and enabling the business to identify the required mitigating actions to minimise threats.”

He goes on to talk about the importance of ensuring a secure remote work environment, saying there are different ways to secure a network.

Network access control

To ensure potential attackers cannot infiltrate your network, comprehensive access control policies need to be in place for both users and devices.

Anti-virus and anti-malware software

To protect an organisation from a range of malicious software, including viruses, ransomware, worms and Trojans, deploy software that not only scans files upon entry to the network, but continuously scans and tracks files.

Firewall protection

Firewalls, as their name suggests, act as a barrier between the untrusted external networks and your trusted internal network.

Virtual private networks

Virtual private networks (VPNs) create a connection to the network from another endpoint or site. For example, users working from home would typically connect to the organisation’s network over a VPN. Data between the two points is encrypted and the user would need to authenticate to allow communication between their device and the network.

Mochocho says: “Some providers are offering free trials of their software over the lockdown period, and businesses should take advantage of these. Previously, businesses only had to secure data and devices while they were within a physical building; now they need to be able to do this at scale and across multiple sites, adding to the complexity challenge.

“Tech companies have to recognise that the newly emerging remote workforce has its own needs owing to its mobile and dynamic nature, as well as being comprised of different generations of employees with diverse communications preferences. The bottom line is that we have to enable them to be relevant. Especially with the advent of new technologies such as 4IR, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc, innovation is the name of the game,” he concludes.