As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in front of us, most are already looking to what happens beyond the crisis. Many aspects of that future are still very uncertain, although one change that is already visible is the shift in the relationship between work and the workplace.

“The restriction of movement during the lockdown has forced everyone to adjust to online meetings and the many benefits that come with working remotely,” said Mosidi Modise, the founding curator of the Global Shapers Stellenbosch Hub and managing director of Pivot Ventures. “I would go so far as to say that this crisis will accelerate digital transformation in the workplace. Previously reticent business leaders have been forced to recognise that having at least some staff working remotely will be the new normal.

“I predict the coronavirus crisis is going to catapult many more people into this mindset, supported by a rethink from corporate leaders on how to get the most from their work force.” There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that attitudes to work-life balance is changing, with younger generations in the workplace openly questioning the sense of office-based work environments.

Shaping the future of work global report

One report that supports this view, Shaping the Future of Work, was recently published based on the findings of a global study conducted in 2019 by the Global Shapers Community. This network of young people driving dialogue, action and change is a World Economic Forum initiative. The research project gathered insights from more than 2 500 young people from all regions, with the majority from Africa (34%) and Latin America (37%). Modise, who has exposure to digital transformation initiatives within financial services, said nearly half of all survey participants agreed on four main aspects of the future of work.

“More than half said they expect that people will be able to work remotely and with flexible schedules, while a similar percentage believe that new industries and jobs will be created as a result of technology.” This is despite many (42%) believing that technological advancements will require less human involvement. “I’m especially encouraged by the 44% of respondents who see a move toward self-employment and entrepreneurship. That would undoubtedly be enabled by a shift in employee-employer relations that allow someone to have multiple sources of income.”

Close to home

It would be easy to dismiss this as a vision for the future of work only in developed nations, but the study results show that African youth share the same aspirations and attitudes. Some 60% of these respondents believe that the largest perceived change to the future of work will be greater flexibility in the workplace. Technology (49%), and entrepreneurship and self-employment (45%) are the next biggest changes they foresee. It is no surprise then that nearly three-quarters of the continent’s respondents think of a career as a combination of education, paid jobs and volunteering, as well as the pursuit of personal ambitions.

Time for a rethink

Modise says that corporate leaders need to aid in the shift for employees to view the workplace not just as a place for employment but a place of empowerment, allowing staff to work in a more flexible manner while creating opportunities for them to grow professionally through relevant skills development programmes, that reflect what the business will need in the future.

Highlighted in responses from across Africa was a call for a reboot of the education system to prepare them properly to compete in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Less than 60% of them felt that their education did not prepare them with the skills needed to participate meaningfully in Industry 4.0. Respondents also cited the role of government and policy in facilitating this development.

“It’s clear from the responses that the appetite for a reimagining of the workplace is there. And based on how companies have responded during the COVID-19 lockdown, I think that will become more widely accepted. There is no doubt that we still have many economic and social challenges to overcome, including reforms to make our labour market more competitive. The crisis has underlined that any economy that resists the irresistible move toward a digital future will be holding themselves back,” Modise said.

Supplied by King of the Jungle PR on behalf of Mosidi Modise, the founding curator of the Global Shapers Stellenbosch Hub and managing director of Pivot Ventures.

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