2020’s Greatest Lesson

What did you take from a year that was defined by uncertainty and complexity? For Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, it was one word – resilience. 

For most individuals and organisations, it can easily be said that 2020 was one of the toughest years they’ve ever experienced. From the complexities of working from home to the legalities of regulations, and the fundamental changes to human interaction, it was a year that reshaped communication, collaboration and disruption. But there were valuable lessons to be learned from the challenges that the pandemic presented and perhaps the most valuable was the general resilience of people.

It was surprising to see how well people adapted when the pandemic first kicked off in South Africa. When everything moved into high gear in March 2020, most people simply got on with finding new ways of working and living. In general, we found that our clients and our employees were more interested in finding ways around the problems than being overwhelmed by them.

People didn’t throw their toys out the proverbial cot. They didn’t sink into sands of horror or panic-burn their webcams. They just took out their technology, looked at their goals, and found inventive ways of working around the crisis. This resilience is a defining characteristic of South Africans, one that has seen people overcome far more complicated and challenging situations than a pandemic.

From a business process perspective, CRS has adopted a new way of working that has allowed us to realise far better results from our people and for our clients. Other companies have adapted by either downscaling their operations or taking advantage of unexpected opportunities presented by the lockdowns and regulations. While many people have been adversely affected by closing companies and unemployment, South Africans haven’t given up. They have demonstrated a resilience that has carried them through incredibly tough economic times, and that isn’t showing any signs of giving in as the country faces limited access to vaccinations and no clear end to the pandemic regulations.

Going forward, it’s important for companies to recognise this resilience and provide people with the support they need to cope with the coming year. The situation isn’t going to miraculously ease, so there needs to be cohesive and holistic plans made around ensuring people don’t burn out, that they have the right tools to do their jobs, and that they receive psychological support. Management has to accept that people can work independently, and that there is no need to take on the role of big brother unless an individual isn’t performing. It’s an opportunity to measure people based on their ability to achieve goals, not to work prescriptive hours.

At CRS we’ve found that our people have responded really well to being treated as responsible adults. If they meet their goals, if they deliver results, then it doesn’t matter if they worked from 3pm-5pm or a full eight-hour day. This has meant reduced burnout, improved productivity and better results, and has shaped our employee strategies for the foreseeable future. The pandemic may have forced change upon the South African business, but that doesn’t mean that this change isn’t beneficial. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of 2020 – people can be trusted because they are responsible and resilient, and the world of work can reach greater heights as a result.

Assisting transitioning employees from a workplace perspective

Managing gender transition in the workplace is one of the most challenging human resources issues companies are faced with. It does not matter that the South African constitution is regarded as one of the most progressive in the world, LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning and intersex) employees still face discrimination and harassment. Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes that everyone at an organisation has a responsibility to create a more enabling environment.

“Even though there is growing awareness of the struggles trans people face, company policies generally lack the appropriate guidelines to effectively support these employees. The bathroom ‘issue’ is a well cited example of this. What must be done if a transitioning male employee wants to use the female bathroom? Many of the female employees might object, leaving the person in a difficult position,” says Myburgh.

Generally, it is often a lack of understanding that might negatively impact a trans employee’s self-confidence or willingness to disclose what they are going through. And then there is always the risk of office gossip or malicious rumours that exacerbate the problem.

“If an organisation wants to build a more inclusive environment, there are certain aspects to be mindful of when it comes to LGBTQI employees. These steps are designed to protect all employees and create a more enabling culture inside the business, which will result in a more productive and effective organisation.”

Proactive management

To help address this, companies should become more proactive in their management of workplace policies to be more inclusive of trans employees. These must explicitly protect and promote the rights of people of all gender identities and expressions. Furthermore, human resources departments should identify meaningful ways to increase employees’ understanding and acceptance of their trans colleagues.

In fact, such an enabling environment can be good for business. Without fear of discrimination or being bullied against, the company can attract and retain people most qualified for specific jobs. By treating all employees fairly, and judging them on their abilities and not their gender identity or expression, enables an organisation to draw from a range of talented people.

“Without clear guidelines in place, employees simply do not know what to do and how to effectively navigate the processes around trans employees. Such guidelines will show trans employees what they can expect from management while detailing management’s expectations for staff, trans employees and existing LGBTQI workers,” adds Myburgh.

Changes happening

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the normalisation of a distributed workforce, the corporate environment was evolving. The lockdown and its knock-on effects merely accelerated all the change happening.

“To build and retain strong teams, management must develop and lead work environments that are more progressive and flexible, while recognising the need to adapt to changing market conditions and people’s expectations. This is not something that will happen overnight, but there must be a concerted effort to start the process before it is too late,” concludes Myburgh.

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By saying no to the vaccine could cost you your job

Can an employee lose their job if they refuse the vaccine? The answer isn’t cut and dried. 

The COVID-19 vaccine debate has raged on for almost as long as the virus itself. With fake news, the anti-vaccine movement, confusing dialogues in the media and religious reasons, people are opting out of the vaccine and potentially, could be opting out of their jobs. According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, labour legislation specifies that employers are required to ensure their employees have access to a safe work space – a fact which indicates that vaccines should be mandatory – but there are multiple issues to be considered before they can fire anyone for not complying.

“This is not a simple issue. Is this a constitutional right that’s being infringed, or is this a labour law issue? In most situations, companies cannot fire someone for upholding their civil rights,” says Myburgh. “There are numerous boxes that have to be ticked. While employers do have a responsibility to take reasonable action to ensure employee health and safety, they also have to allow for people to uphold their constitutional rights without discrimination.”

Legally, anyone can refuse medical care. To force any kind of medical care on someone is infringing on their constitutional rights. However, if someone refuses to take the vaccine, they could be putting the entire workforce at risk of infection from the virus. They then become a risk to others and other factors come into play. For the company, they then have to ask if there are other ways that this person can contribute to the business. Can they work from home? Are they in close contact with other people? Can they be kept separate from colleagues while still doing their jobs?

When a person refuses to be vaccinated

“If their role requires that they are in contact with others, or if they cannot do their jobs from home, they are a legitimate risk to others,” says Myburgh. “If the company cannot find any other avenue to resolve the issue when a person refuses to be vaccinated, they can say that further employment has become operationally intolerable and this could lead to their employment being terminated. This is not based on misconduct but on operational requirements.”

It’s a challenge. The onus is on the organisation to protect its people, equally to ensure that an employee can genuinely not complete their job if they do not take the vaccine. A fine line, and it is one that nobody has yet figured out how to cross.

“Until this is tested in labour court, we can only speculate whether or not a person can be dismissed for not being vaccinated,” concludes Myburgh. “To achieve that legitimately, there has to be a policy in place that makes it mandatory for health and safety, risks have to be assessed, and each case has to be approached on its own merit. It’s certainly added a whole new layer of complexity to the pandemic discussion in the workplace.”

Putting people first in a digital work environment

One of the concerns that the rapid rise of remote working has highlighted is the potential for employee burnout. Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, says this does not have to be the case, as modernising systems provide scope for increased flexibility.

“This will require decision-makers to shift their focus from having staff clock in and out of work at certain times and rather look at the deliverables they must accomplish. So, even though the workplace of the future will be digitally led, it will be guided by a people-centricity that was previously often lacking in traditional systems,” he says.

By embracing digital solutions and processes, companies will not only ensure their ability to survive market uncertainty, but also optimise economic efficiency. This is where strategy becomes important as it helps guide decision-makers on identifying the stakeholder partners to pursue, the employees best fit for reskilling and upskilling, and incorporating flexibility in how these engagements take place.

Mitigate risk of disruption

“Becoming digital first when it comes to technology and innovation will aid companies in creating a stronger defensive organisational environment that is adept at withstanding disruption, whether this comes from the pandemic or other external forces,” says McAlister. “To do so requires a focus more on systemic enhancements than on generating short-term profit. One of the spin-offs this will bring is companies becoming more focused on employee wellbeing, restructuring organisational processes to optimise remote working environments, and using leadership more creatively to unlock value from their workers.”

Central to this is how technology becomes the enabler to reach the potential a digitised working environment can bring. But providing the parameters to do so effectively requires a focus on getting the most out of people and valuing them for more than the skills they provide.

All about the people

“Research shows that establishing a human-centric culture, adopting agile and nimble organisational structures, and paying attention to health and safety will become the new priorities in this future world of work. These components combine to drive people transformation using digital solutions,” says McAlister.

Some of the factors that human resource departments can consider in this regard include personalising rewards schemes, building skills for the future, and linking performance and productivity. Data-driven insights can help guide companies on how best to capitalise on this and differentiate themselves from competitors by how effectively they embrace digital solutions.

“Throughout this process, productivity, growth, and innovation must remain top of mind. By adding value using digital means to deliver an improved return on investment, companies can capitalise on technology in more optimised ways, ultimately benefitting from digital solutions geared towards a more connected business environment,” concludes McAlister.

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Nicol Myburgh

The Human Factor

Admin, payroll, people and process are the uniquely human systems (The Human Factor) within the business, take care of them

The past year has torn back the traditional office curtains to reveal the inner workings of the human world behind spreadsheets, balance sheets, KPIs and bottom lines. It is the people who drive the business onwards, who had to work from kitchen tables and unsteady bar stools, and who pushed out the boat at 11pm while juggling kids and a global crisis. It shone a light into the crevices that often go unnoticed in the business, and highlighted how important it has become to invest into human resources (HR). According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, employees are critical to the success or failure of the company and now is the time to invest into their success with the right HR practices.

“It’s all about gathering information, collecting the data on your people, and using this data to ensure that your employees are engaged and aligned with your business goals,” he explains. “It has never been more important to have these insights than today, in the pandemic. People need to see their value, they need to understand how their jobs impact the business as a whole, and they need to know what lies ahead.”

HR takes on this role, and with the right tools, can use data and insights to refine the role and how HR professionals engage with employees. They can ensure that your people understand the big picture and how their responsibilities influence others. And they can pull people into the business when they feel disengaged or disenfranchised. This is particularly relevant today with many people still working from home and rising incidents of burnout and fatigue. People need to be inspired and made to feel that their contributions have meaning beyond the 9-5.

Risk of not paying attention is losing your people

“The risk of not paying attention is losing your people, and they are your most valuable asset,” says Myburgh. “If you lose your top performers now, you are going to struggle to replace them in the current market. If you already have, then you need to understand why you lost them and how to prevent this in the future. This is where your investment into HR can make all the difference.”

The reality is that only a percentage of people will return to the office over the next six to eight months; many will continue to work from home as the virus continues to impact health and safety. Many companies have found that the work-from-home ethos has been more productive and valuable for them so they’re actively encouraging people to stay at home, if that’s their preferred approach. Either way, it means that the workforce is fractured, which makes a cohesive and well-designed HR strategy crucial to ensuring ongoing engagement and productivity.

“There are both short and long-term benefits to investing into your HR resources,” concludes Myburgh. “In the short term, you are putting processes in place that can manage the diverse employee landscape and that can take multiple workstyles into account. In the long term, you’re building a foundation that will put people first, and that will cut out the infighting, politics and negative complexities that come with poor communication and visibility.”

HR is a positive tool that can be used to unlock potential, growth and employee wellness. It is also a shield against the risks that come with a disengaged and fractured workforce. If you invest in HR now, then you’re preparing for tomorrow using the lessons learned from the uncertainty of yesterday.


Ian McAlister

COVID-19 reshaping the future of the workplace

Remote working has become part of the status quo as organisations focus on keeping employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hard lockdown last year in South Africa has highlighted how it is no longer necessary to have a full complement of workers at the office. According to Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, people have proven to be as productive (if not more) at home as they are in the office.

The cloud, mobile devices, high-speed internet connectivity, and automation are contributing to how companies are reinventing their human resources processes to better cater for this distributed environment. According to McAlister, central to this is the modernisation of traditional processes into more digital-friendly ones. “Thanks to the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like, employees are now more empowered than ever to take on higher-level strategic business functions.”

He says the pandemic has resulted in a radical rethink about what will define the organisation of the future. So, even though working remotely is not a new concept, the impetus to do so, given the events of the past several months, means companies can no longer simply pay lip service to it.

Putting digital transformation first

“Beyond remote working, the business of the future must put digital transformation at its core. Part of this requires reimagining the business model to capitalise on a new way of working. Core disciplines like human resources, payroll, marketing and sales are all being pushed to the cloud, thanks to the greater need for interconnectivity between employees, managers, customers, vendors and other stakeholders,” adds McAlister.

Given the challenging economic market, recovering revenue has become a primary objective. Companies simply cannot ease back into business but need to position themselves for the long term while identifying sufficient revenue drivers to manage short-term cash flow concerns.

Skills development

“Part of this entails empowering workers with the skills, tools, and applications required to become more effective at their jobs while operating remotely. This is where human resources will play a critical role as traditional paper-based approaches will no longer be relevant,” he says.

To this end, digital channels will be the preferred pathway to manage payslips, leave applications, employee appraisals and so on. But just as the human resources function needs to be digitised, so too must the sales function reflect a better understanding of what customers will value in this new operating environment. Identifying and prioritising revenue opportunities must happen now, as opposed to having to wait until lockdown ends completely or conditions change.

“Rebuilding operations to protect the business against future disruption must happen as a matter of course. From the supply chain to internal processes must be audited, reviewed, analysed and improved upon for a future world of work. By putting the focus on digital technologies, the organisation will be able to introduce a new level of resilience that it otherwise might not have done had the pandemic not disrupted operations.”

Future work landscape

McAlister believes that the future of work will incorporate such dynamic elements as machine learning, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, the cloud and the Internet of Things, to name just a few. “Those companies best able to embrace these innovations and adapt their traditional systems will see a much more improved responsiveness to satisfy the requirements of their customers, as well as meet the digital expectations of their employees.”

The need to be agile and data-aware, coupled with a willingness to think differently about aging infrastructure and solutions, will drive the development of companies in a post-COVID-19 world.

“This could give rise to smaller, more agile teams that link together and serve specific strategic functions. Extreme agility will become part and parcel of many, if not all, operational procedures. Using digital solutions, especially mobile apps, to keep in touch with employees and manage their performance reviews must happen across the business. It is now about centralising all technology innovations to accelerate change to improve productivity, increase revenue and deliver a superior customer experience best reflective of the world of tomorrow,” concludes McAlister.

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future-proofing your work environment

How to approach future-proofing your work environment

Now, more than ever, companies are looking for ways to help ensure their work environments better reflect the needs of the modern employee in the ‘new normal’. Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, says a critical component of this is for human resources practitioners to rethink workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies.

Even though there are a myriad of strategies and tactical interventions at a company’s disposal to do this, the underlying theme centres on being less reliant on traditional roles and more focused on the skills required for a digitally transformed business that will contribute to it becoming future-proof.

“Employees must therefore be encouraged (by both human resources and their direct reports) to learn new skills that fit into these digital requirements. While some steps to change organisational behaviour can include embracing remote working at all levels, alternating employees at smaller offices using hot desks, and leveraging digital technologies in more innovative ways, the core is using technology as an enabler to deliver more rapid business value,” says McAlister.

Enhancing skills

To this end, companies must consider using technology to augment and not replace people.
“This fits in with the empowerment message that is permeating the South African workforce. With job losses a constant threat, business leaders must explore how technology can be used to bring more skills to existing employees, instead of finding ways to replace them with automation. After all, people will always be necessary to deliver the strategic insights that machine learning cannot provide on its own,” he adds.

Remote working will contribute to the transformation of talent management. With many employees, and the companies themselves preferring remote working, future-proofing the business will entail an element of delinking people from place. In other words, the office is no longer the only enabling environment to grow and nurture staff.
According to McAlister, it is now about recruiting talent globally, adopting new metrics for onboarding, promotion and leadership training, and better integrating human resources with the day-to-day operations of the business.

A soft touch

“Of course, these uncertain times require more than simply focusing on remote work and reskilling employees. Companies must also become more caring about the welfare of their people, no longer approaching employment on a ‘by-the-numbers’ system. Instead, it is about creating a corporate culture that reflects a renewed focus on purpose and ethics in a digital-centric world,” he says.

This means companies can no longer be tied to static structural strategies more focused on traditional approaches. They must be able to outmanoeuvre any future uncertainty by being fluid in their outlook – both short-term and long-term.

“This requires reassessing assumptions, re-evaluating scenarios, and adapting faster to current and potential future disruption. People will remain the dominant force in any organisation. By preparing fit-for-purpose plans that unlock all the value they can give, they can better evolve as heath and economic conditions change. While embracing digital technologies will be important in this regard, it comes down to changing mindsets as an instrumental first step in helping future-proof the business,” he concludes.

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Work from home: Drinking on the job

Work from home: Drinking on the job

Drunk at 12pm? Thinking of a quick glass at 1? It can be a fireable offence

Working from home has become a normal part of business life, a part that is unlikely to come to a crashing halt any time soon. Within this new normal are casual clothes, comfortable working conditions, as well as less time spent in cars and chatting around the water cooler. These changes are immensely valuable to both employer and employee – boosting morale, productivity and work/life balance. However, there are also risks to this new found freedom, one of which is that an employee could see it as an opportunity to have a drink or two while working.  According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, this is a very risky move as many companies have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and people can lose their jobs.

“It comes down to one simple decision – if it impairs your ability to do your job, then you should not be doing it during working hours, even if you’re at home,” he explains. “That said, as an employer it is important to set boundaries and understand the letter of the law when it comes to an employee acting as if they are under the influence. A good first step is to investigate the situation, then ask them if they are alright and to explain their behaviour on the day in question.”

If the employee admits to having a drinking problem, this introduces a new layer of complexity for the company. If a person has any kind of substance abuse challenge, the employer is obligated to provide them with reasonable assistance, according to the Labour Relations Act. While the business has to help them find treatment and ensure that they are given the right kind of support, it is not required to pay for it.

If the person denies drinking

“The other side of the coin is if the person denies drinking,” says Myburgh. “Labour legislation expects the company to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that someone is under the influence. If they are behaving in a certain way or doing certain things, this can be reasonably inferred, but proof is mandatory for further action. That said, this situation needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

One incident of bad behaviour can be overlooked – the person made a poor judgement call and is rarely the type to cause problems so you can ignore it. If this becomes an ongoing problem, then you need to establish proof of whether or not the person has a problem, and then enforce any action based on company regulations and employee behaviour.

“These rules apply to any kind of mind-altering substance,” says Myburgh. “From alcohol to marijuana to illegal drugs. When it comes to medicinal drugs, however, the person does have the right to take them, unless it has a severe impact on their work. In that case, there has to be a process in place that works out how company and employee can continue within the limitations of the medication.”

Drinking on the job, whether at home or in the office, is often a fireable offence. Many companies will fire someone caught under the influence because this is outlined in their employment policies – documents that employees signed when they joined the company. For the employee, the best course of action is to avoid any kind of substance abuse during working hours as it could lose them their job. For the employer, it’s essential to find proof before accusing someone of being drunk, and to then perhaps take a more human approach to a once-off offense.

Constructive Dismissal

The constructive dismissal paradigm

Constructive dismissal remains one of the most difficult things for an employee to prove.

The rules that govern constructive dismissal haven’t undergone any major changes over the past three years, a fact that should give any employee pause before they embark down this difficult road. With many other forms of employment legislation, the onus lies on the company to prove that they didn’t do wrong by their employees. With constructive dismissal, however, the onus sits on the employee. According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, this puts immense pressure on the employee to prove that their relationship with the company was completely intolerable.

“The employee has to substantiate their constructive dismissal claim by ticking boxes and showing that they’ve put in all the work and followed all due process,” he explains. “This is very difficult to prove in many cases and the claim often doesn’t make it past the first hurdle.”

If you want to bring about a claim of constructive dismissal against your company, you will first need to attempt to resolve the problem using internal processes and systems. This means you will have to exhaust all the mechanisms available to you and prove that you are the target of victimisation, discrimination or targeting.

People do win constructive dismissal cases

“Intolerable conduct beyond the norm, such as threats, abuse or violent behaviour by an employer will be considered very carefully,” adds Myburgh. “But constructive dismissal excludes not getting a bonus or not liking someone’s management style. You have to prove that you’ve been the victim of a targeted and unpleasant personal vendetta and this is very hard to do.”

That said, people do win constructive dismissal cases, so if yours has documented proof, you have witnesses and you’ve gone through the internal company processes with zero success, then you could be one of those people. Just make sure that you approach the situation with caution and armed with the right information.

“If you win, there are several findings that can be made under the constructive dismissal banner that can include anything from zero to 24 months compensation,” concludes Myburgh. “It’s a challenging process, but one that can be won if you have the right information and the right case.”

Ian McAlister

Choose a service provider ready for the digital age

The recent outage of a popular cloud-based accounting platform in South Africa has highlighted the importance of being always on in a digitally driven business environment to avoid disruptions to mission-critical systems such as human resources and payroll. Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, believes that because CRS is a technically powered organisation, it has been able to stay ahead of the curve and thrive, despite the pandemic and resultant lockdown conditions.

“The lockdown and rapid decentralisation of the workforce last year caught many organisations off guard. They had to rush to migrate their employees to digital environments that would enable them to remain operational, regardless of their geographic location. During this time, many compromised on establishing the technological foundation required to effectively manage a cloud environment. As things started to normalise, however, the flaws in some of the systems and infrastructure have been exposed, with some companies experiencing significant downtime as a result,” he says.

Meeting demand

According to McAlister, customers’ expectations have evolved over the past several months as they expect more digital enablement from their service providers. They do not care about whether the infrastructure is up to the task or not – it must simply work and deliver on their business requirements.

“Unfortunately, so many small companies are unable to meet the needs of their customers due to the lockdown and putting remote staff in place. Many of these were initially hesitant to go the cloud route and are now paying the price. But this does not mean there is nothing they can do to stop the bleed. By scrutinising their service providers and doing an honest assessment on whether they can cope with the needs of a digital world, they will likely find more robust partners that can help them grow in an agile environment,” he says.

Delivering on digital – a service provider ready for the digital age

Fundamentally, it comes down to the capacity of a service provider to be able to service existing customers and an influx of new business that is likely to result from this shift in focus.

“Given everything that has happened in recent times, service providers cannot continue to blame system upgrades, aging infrastructure and the like. They must evolve with the times and ensure that their IT processes are ahead of the curve to keep their customers always on and connected. No company can afford downtime, given the economic challenges brought about by the lockdown. It is time to work with a trusted service provider that can be the enabler for change going forward,” concludes McAlister.

Inspired, engaged and rewarded employees
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Email: info@crs.co.za

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