Finance Indaba hears from the leaders spearheading the new world of work

Raisibe Morathi and other panellists shared their learnings from working through Covid-19.

Hundreds of visitors joined up for the opening session at the launch day of the Finance Indaba Network, to hear leading professionals share their views on the challenges of working through Covid-19, and the learnings that will shape the workplace of the future.

One thing is clear. While the post-Covid-19 workplace will not look the same in every industry or company, the workplace will not return to where it was before the crisis.

For Raisibe Morathi, the incoming CFO of Vodacom, the virtual workplace offers more pros than cons. One of these advantages is how a virtual environment can flatten the distance between leadership and employees. “A digital workplace allows you to connect with many more people than you ordinarily would,” Raiseibe said. “Location is no longer important. An employee no longer needs to penetrate through management levels to reach a leader within an organisation.”

Raisibe believes this is a time for leaders to lead with empathy and consider the different environments that employees are working from. While she held the position of CFO at Nedbank, she kept in regular contact with her 900 finance team members through a WhatsApp group.

“The virtual environment doesn’t take away the importance of leadership. Leaders still need to motivate their employees. This is a time to show people that we really care,” said Raisibe. While holding the position of CFO at Nedbank, Raisibe made personal contact with every employee who tested positive for Covid-19.

Raisibe also noted that the new flexibility of remote working makes it possible to recruit talent from anywhere in the country and to be a more attractive workplace to people put off by commuting.

Taking a health check
Dumo Mbethe, CEO of Momentum Corporate, doesn’t foresee a situation where all employees work from home or from the office. Rather he predicts a hybrid approach where employees come to work for part of the week. “We can’t stay away from the office forever – we still need to connect in-person to build company culture. We are already seeing working hubs emerging where a group of employees meets to work in a coffee shop,” said Dumo.

A survey of Momentum Corporate employees revealed a high fear of getting infected at the office and a strong desire to continue working from home at least some of the time. The company has equipped employees with access to data, laptops, office chairs and technology tools for employees to receive calls from clients on their laptops.

In the first weeks of lockdown, Dumo saw an increase in employee productivity as the volume of work also rose. Then load-shedding hit and was yet another challenge but our employees stayed focused to maintain their productivity and morale.

As the head of Momentum Corporate, Dumo said he has a “front-row seat to watch what happens to SA Inc”. The firm saw a 60 percent drop in disability claims during the hard lockdown period. He attributes some of this decline to a delay in applications due to HR teams not being in the office and therefore unaware of new disability cases. Another contributing factor is fewer motor vehicle accidents.

Sister organisation Momentum Metropolitan Health has seen an overall decline in GP visits and 80 percent drop in mammograms during the height of the lockdown period as people stayed away from medical services. This could lead to a wave of other health issues emerging.”

For Dumo, the mental health of both clients and employees is a major concern. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), roughly one in 4 women and 1 in 5 men will have an episode of depression in their life. Remote work can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness, and managers of virtual teams should try to combat that by fostering connection and belonging. “The blurring of work and home boundaries is stressful for employees. This is compounded by the financial pressures that they may be facing,” Dumo added. He noted that calls to the SADAG doubled during the lockdown.

To combat stress in the workplace, the company has introduced “no meeting Wednesday”, with no meetings after 1 pm and insists that employees take their annual leave.

A new kind of university life

For Nolwazi Mamorare, CFO of the University of Johannesburg, the Covid-19 pandemic was a real test of the organisation’s business continuity plans. The University has 50,000 students and a staff complement of 5,000.

“Our goal was that the academic year must not be lost and that no student should be left behind. Fortunately, we began investing in blended learning some time ago. This meant that we were able to open the academic term only one week later than the calendar. We are also able to complete our academic year, which is unusual compared to other universities,” said Nolwazi.

The university negotiated discounted data rates for students and leaned on corporate sponsors for laptop donations. “We accommodate some of the poorest students in the country. We could not let them be disadvantaged due to a lack of data or computer equipment,” said Nolwazi.

Nolwazi predicted that universities will evolve to offer continued value to students. “We expect that a hybrid model of contact and online learning will emerge. We will need to cost this model differently. We must also compete for students with international online universities. The digital world makes these studying options open to local students.”

From a personal perspective, balancing a full-time job and supervising schoolwork schedules was difficult for Nolwazi. She predicts that companies will be more open to flexible work arrangements and she believes that parents will benefit. “A more flexible approach provides an opportunity for mothers and fathers to spend more time with their children. This is a huge win for society,” said Nolwazi.