Change is coming

Although I’m sceptical about how radical the ‘new normal’ will be, there’s no doubt that we are already seeing nuanced changes in the African workplace. 2020 accelerated the digital transformation of everything, and not because technology got better. Rather it was we, as human beings, who decided to lean into it. We must continue that movement so, for your interest, here are some developments to look out for.

Our physical world. In 2020 we learned social distancing. As we spaced out, we had the chance to take stock and rethink the future workspace. With the help of data analytics, we’ll soon figure out how to design spaces with the advantages of social distancing and without the sense of being apart. We’ll be able to make our employees healthier and safer, rather than packing them in more densely in the quest for efficiency. We’ll find new ways to encourage the social dynamic that is at the heart of every successful enterprise. Making work a place you want to come to for stimulation and collaboration, rather than being obliged to report to at fixed times.

Audio-visual communication. The traditions of business writing will change dramatically. Images, videos, voice and sounds will gradually replace the valued but tired workhorses in the Microsoft Office stable. Keyboards are already dying out as we adapt to voice activated computing (this article was spoken not written). Lockdowns have introduced us to the joy and pain of multimedia, and we’ll get better at it. That in turn will release more time for creativity, and improve collaboration. Humans work together best when stimulated by eye contact and vocal tone. And when it comes to building relationships and transacting with a brand, customers also want to do what’s natural to them. So companies will explore user interfaces like voice, chatbots and other forms of audio and video.  Motivating and persuading people will use the written word less and less.

Knowledge sharing. Being separated has made business leaders realise how dispersed their institutional knowledge has become. ‘The way we do things around here’ is vested in too few members of the organisation. Bob knows how we clean down the Processing Plant, Wangui is our Supply Chain wrangler and Faisal gets the Finance team prepped for audit. But we don’t plan for a time when any of the three aren’t here. This is a bigger problem than simple succession planning, it’s about building capacity. To address this, we’ll see an increase in virtual academies – secure online spaces that permit the curation and sharing of essential company knowledge with more of the employee base.