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Africa has largely embraced the hybrid work reality

Mark Walker, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.
Mark Walker, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

The past year has seen seismic shifts in how organisations approach work, technology and collaboration. One of the biggest shifts has been the acceptance of hybrid work as a reality – companies have had to bow to its demands in a landscape still controlled by the pandemic.

This is according to Mark Walker, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey, who said that the hybrid work reality is now embedded in Africa – especially in urban and metropolitan settings.

“During COVID restrictions many organisations were forced to adopt measures to enable continued operations and these measures have now become an accepted norm as the benefits of increased productivity and improved communications are realised. An IDC survey conducted across Sub-Saharan Africa in December 2020 showed that over 90% of CIOs would be continuing or increasing their spending on collaborative applications,” said Walker.

The situation has introduced complexities and questions and according to the IDC, many organisations are still trying to find the truth that lies somewhere in the middle between working from home and coming into the office,

Walker said while it is generally correct that rural areas in Africa continue to struggle with connectivity, internet availability and infrastructure costs, this has to be kept in perspective when it comes to hybrid work.

“Keep in mind that the majority of corporate activity takes place in metro/ urban areas where office-based environments typically would exist. In the rural areas agriculture or extraction industry prevails and these, by their nature, would not be as office-centric as other industries such as finance or similar services-oriented enterprises. That said even these industries have moved into hybrid working environments as connectivity has improved and platforms developed to enable hybrid work environments.

Impact on recruitment

This is not the only trend that shaped 2021, and that will have a long-term impact well into 2022, said Walker.

“In addition to managing a workforce that is split between the office and the home, organisations are now able to hire people from anywhere in the world as full-time employees. Employees can live in South Africa and work for a company in the United States, for example. This introduces new complexities around regulation, income, taxation, and labour laws. How will the labour environment adapt to this transformational redefinition of the employee? And how will this change the nature of the employee/business relationship?”

According to the IDC the hybrid workforce and the geographically dispersed online workforce both offer organisations measurable benefits, but these models have to be refined in the future to ensure that labour laws, regulations and employee rights are not adversely affected.

How does Africa match up in terms of labour law and regulation?

Walker said this is not so much about regulation but rather about appropriate solutions for unique industries. “The only reality now is that hybrid work has been proven to be a viable, workable and effective working style over the last 30-odd months. Doubts concerning productivity, efficiency, and managerial control have largely been proven to be unfounded and, in many cases, greater efficiencies and higher productivity have been realised. Regulation and policy around the world have to adjust to redefine what the working environment looks like and take into consideration issues around location, working hours, availability, and also issues related to the stress associated with an “always-on” environment. France and Germany have instituted policies related to managing these issues. However, we believe that many organisations will need to re-evaluate their HR policies to define a fair environment.”

Partnerships leveraging tech

Walker added that another trend is an increase in new partnerships and alliances built on new technology platforms that help companies better manage their systems.

“One superb example of this is in the retail sector where companies have collaborated to resolve shortfalls for both. Pick n Pay using PnP ASAP to reach its customers at a time when online has become the de facto shopping choice for many is a great use case. Most people want to order online and get goods delivered, so companies are collaborating to improve customer experiences and refine supply chain challenges.”

In under-served areas, this move has seen an increase in fibre infrastructure rollout with innovations in technology, like TV whitespace, coming to the fore and putting the internet into rural areas. In many of these rural markets, companies are focusing heavily on writing up the office parks and residential estates, and on bringing connectivity into areas like Thembisa and Soweto.

“The rural environment is coming next, and will bring about a much-needed change in terms of access to services and solutions,” said Walker. “Another change is the increase in datacentre capacity on the continent. If you take an approximation of how many businesses are in Africa and correlate that to datacentre availability compared with the rest of the world, we are way behind the high density of US or India or Brazil.”

Datacentre challenges

The IDC said this low-density datacentre challenge has been accepted and already there has been a significant increase in new datacentre announcements, bolstered by investments into terrestrial fibre across Africa.

These improvements in connectivity are critical for the continent, especially now, in a world that has come to terms with online as the new collaboration normal.

“Zoom and Teams and other similar platforms have become the norm with many integrating note sharing and whiteboard planning as standard features,” said Walker. “These technologies came into their own in 2020, but are now becoming increasingly focused on providing companies with ecosystems that deliver comprehensive performance to users. The next year is very likely going to be a case of consolidation as companies buy one another out and it is going to be interesting to see how that plays out when companies realise that owning the platform means owning the clients.”

Staying true to form, cloud silos and security remained hot topics in 2021 and these will very likely remain as contentious in 2022. 

Looking ahead, Walker believes companies will need to evaluate what works for them based on their learnings from the last two years and keep in mind both technological advances (think IoT/ AI/ RPA etc) and human factors (HR policies, labour regulation and staff wellbeing) that have bearing on the future world of work.

Walker concluded: “There will be no single ‘silver bullet’ way of going ahead - instead, each organisation will need to define what works for them within this framework. ICT/ telco implications will be increased reliance on critical communication, compute and storage infrastructure coupled with demands for universal access at the most affordable price point. Companies will continue to focus on the ecosystems that run behind their platforms – supply chains, logistics and data – to ensure they retain market share. Datacentres will continue to expand across the region, and regulation and compliance will remain areas of concern that can potentially limit development and adoption. While there have been great strides in Africa this past year, the next year has to push innovation and development even further. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

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