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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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