Stephen van Coller looks at how we can navigate a post-COVID-19 landscape.
Getting back to work, safely
The first challenge we need to solve for is the human challenge – finding a way to work as productively as before without endangering our lives or health. It is inevitable that the productivity and efficiency landscape will change forever – defining new ways of work and a new normal.
Offices and physical workspaces are not gone forever. They just need to be managed in a way we haven’t had to consider before. Digital workspace management can track and manage workspace utilisation, and combined with no-touch building access and real-time building occupation management to create safe and frictionless environments for staff returning to work and into the future. Technology like crisis management apps, thermal scanning, electronic scripting and contactless access are needed to manage the safe return of the workforce. Workspace booking functionality, paired with density monitoring software, allows the automated management of transmission risk.
But though offices might endure, it’s inevitable that work will take place remotely to a degree previously unimaginable. Many of us are going to adopt remote working as standard practice, and jobs in general are going to shift towards a freelance model, whereby we sell our outputs and retain flexibility and agility. Communication is crucial as we navigate the new normal, as shown by the exponential growth in the usage of apps such as Houseparty (50 million new users in one month) and Zoom (from 10 million to over 200 million users since March 2020).
Democratising training and learning
As we emerge from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upskilling and reskilling of staff will be critical to ensure employees are tech-literate and equipped to keep pace with their organisation’s inevitable digital transformation. We need to fundamentally reconsider the way in which we train our people
(young and old) in a digital world of work, facilitate access to technology from a young age, and create innovators and entrepreneurs who can take advantage of the best solutions the world has to offer.
The first step in this process is to rapidly expand access to cheap data. I’ve argued before for the importance of affordable data, but it really is the crucial step in the democratisation of learning and work. Without a robust connection to the internet and to communication channels, we are increasingly hamstrung in our ability to participate meaningfully in the information or formal economies. On the other hand, with a basic, affordable internet connection the world is opened to us. There are enough exceptional learning resources available online which makes receiving a remote world-class education completely possible.
In South Africa we have a policy of free basic services, including water and electricity. We need to extend that policy to data, recognising it as the essential service it is. It is, after all a national asset, not dissimilar to minerals in the ground. As a minimum, the telecoms operators ought to zero-rate educational sites that government has approved as being in line with the curriculum.
A more efficient, inclusive payments system
We also need to democratise that most ubiquitous of economic systems: payments. The fact is that cash is actually an expensive form of tender, and that cost is predominantly borne by the poor. Mastercard did a study for the SARB in 2017 that showed cash cost the South African economy 0.53% of GDP annually. A more efficient, inclusive payments system post-COVID-19 will be needed to help rebuild our country.
In a country divided by apartheid, equal opportunity for all must be our priority. Mobile money could serve as an effective, inclusive catalyst to accelerate the economy post this pandemic and to remove financial insecurity. And the world agrees: as of 2018, mobile money was used by more than 866 million registered accounts in 90 countries, with $1.3 billion transacted every day, according to the GSMA, and regions such as South-East Asia have seen growth year-on-year of almost 50% since then. Mobile money can go a long way towards breaking the glass ceiling on financial services for the poor, giving them a low-cost entry into the payments system, and paving the way to financial inclusion.
This is the second in a 3-part series looking at solving COVID-19 by Stephen van Coller