Will Covid-19 usher in the workplace of the future?


Tom Wells: Covid-19 provides an opportunity to transition towards a more digital, remote and dynamic workplace.

COVID-19 is here and I'm sure you have received lots of emails with informative details and advice on what to do, so I'm not going to repeat any of it. Rather I’d like to address the opportunities this situation brings to companies like ours, that can operate digitally, and maybe some of the ways we can go about ensuring that we maximise those opportunities (of course alongside trying our best to stay educated and helping to flatten the curve).
The remote work debate
At Synthesis, one of the central discussions we have had over the last year has been around the ability to support more of a "flexible workplace" culture (which naturally includes the topic of “remote work"). Of course, there are pros and cons to this. One pro is the ability to attract talent and customers from around the world (for example our Mauritius projects) bringing more of a global market into our view. However, this of course introduces a plethora of cons, like less ability to be directly customer-facing and all the drawbacks associated with this. Being very close to our customer has always been a core tenet of Synthesis and it’s hard to even start to consider this trade-off.
Working in the age of Covid-19 and the workplace of the future
We sit today with the Covid-19 outbreak and, at Synthesis, we have and are continuing to put in place the measures and policies around how we will contribute towards the global strategy to contain it. A huge part of this strategy is to build structures that promote "social distancing" – that is avoiding direct contact with each other as we go about our day-to-day business. A lot of businesses out there, like retail shops, hotels, transport, food and so on, rely directly on physical human contact, and unfortunately they have a terrible trade-off to make as they begin to implement these measures, and will no doubt suffer economically. For Synthesis however we are lucky –- we are in the digital business, and have had lots of practice doing business electronically – we just tend to rely quite heavily on the physical face-to-face because that's just been our preference.
Today we are being forced to adjust this preference temporarily – and as a priority ensure that team and customer communication happen only via virtual channels. I've often imagined the workplace of the future, and in my mind, it's something disconnected from physical boundaries, highly decentralised and highly dynamic, where people come together loosely, work in a tightly connected communication mesh, which is then dissolved rapidly and the people move on to other things as quickly as tasks are completed.
The opportunity in this whole process is the ability to test this transition towards something that is more digital, more remote, and allows for a more dynamic workplace. It is possible that it will not work. If so, we take this experiment as a failure and revert to something that looks a whole lot like the old way of working as soon as Covid-19 passes. However, imagine if this does actually work, and in fact, we realise that this style of working is much better. Imagine we increase productivity! Imagine our deliverables are better, and that our customers are even happier! Imagine we have even more freedom to choose who we work with and for. This right here is the opportunity to take companies to the next level.
Synthesis has always been in command of its own destiny. Never scared to try new things. And generally, those new things work out for the best. I really hope that this particular challenge is just another one of those new things that digital companies will embrace in order to create new opportunities and succeed.

Related articles

Why social impact is a critical issue for CFOs

With South Africa among the bottom 20 percent of countries when it comes to social impact effectiveness, Kearney experts unpack how CFOs can align purpose with profit to improve the “S” in their ESG impact.

CFOs should be Road Runners, not a Wile E. Coyote, says Ray de Villiers

Future of work guru Ray de Villiers says that, as the role of finance teams changes due to generative AI taking over their number-crunching responsibilities, it’s up to CFOs to make sure their people understand what the new future will look like, and the power they have to impact it.

How to be an optimistic CFO in 2024

The CFO Centre’s Rowan de Klerk reveals how CFOs can remain optimistic in the new year despite the challenging business environment South Africa is in.