Our world changed in just 2 weeks

Written by: Emma El Karout  created on: 15-03-2020


The Hacking HR global conference on ‘HR innovation and the future of work’ took place recently and I was privileged to have moderated 2 of the panels along with some amazing people.

On the first panel was Sherisa Rajah (Partner at Fasken) and Emmanuel Michael (Founder & Host of #HRwithEM, and Head of Human Capital at Letshego) and me.

The second panel saw me joined by Yemi Faseun (Top 501 Most Fabulous Global HR Leader; Top 150 Global HR Influencer; Top 8 HR Thought Leader in Africa) and May Nyaga (Head of Human Resources at Copy Cat Group).

Both panels focused on the Future of Work in Africa. The replays of the sessions are now available on YouTube via Hacking HR.

Some of our related discussions are listed below - given the COVID-19 situation and the impact it has having on life in general and work in particular, those conversations are even more relevant today than they were 2 weeks ago. The dynamics are changing at such a dizzying pace.  

When we hosted these panels 2 short weeks ago, we were hopeful that employers in Africa would start seizing the opportunities available by adopting flexible ways of working, leveraging on freelancer platforms, and infusing remote skills into their workplaces.

Today, businesses in Africa are on the verge of having to go remote overnight, and not by choice. Most of them are unprepared and looking for guidance from experts who can help them get the transition right.

We were already living in a dynamic era of change, pre-COVID-19, powered by new and continually shifting workplace trends. This was a hallmark of Industrial Revolution 4.0 aka the 4th Industrial Revolution. This era is defined by a wide range of new technologies and innovations that allow robots, Virtual Reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to play important roles in the workplace, and the broader economy. It also gave rise to the accessibility of on-demand “stuff”, whether a service like transportation or accommodation, or sharing rather than owning outright.

The implications are a range of exciting new opportunities in the workplace, to bring more people contributing online, connecting them into communities, and improve business efficiencies and productivity along the way. These can impact most work disciplines and industries, including HR, and will ultimately redefine the meaning of “human” in HR.

The biggest changes will be related to how we work, and the very substance and meaning of Work. Technology has unleashed opportunities for us to work smarter and faster at the first instance, but also to re-examine the role of work in our lives, and how we incorporate work into our lifestyles.

The resultant challenges are related to managing existing workforces in a way to harness these opportunities through re-skilling and training, while still delivering business value and commercial success.

HR leaders today are busy leading the way to ‘future proof’ their workforce in Africa. While at the same time, the pressure on HR to optimise its impact and contribution to the bottom line, is stronger today than ever. This comes at a time where everyone is being forced to switch to remote work overnight.

The CHRO plays the very important role of an enabler to the entire organization, ensuring they are not just ready for the future of work, but also primed to ensure the primacy of people as part of business strategy.

Succeeding in the future of work needs active real-time collaboration, feedback loops, and the elimination of silo thinking towards networked perspectives. Collaboration occurs both inside and outside organizations and involves a fluid adaptable workforce model that has a mix built on collaboration as a concept.

The biggest obstacle facing business in Africa is resistance to change. Old ways of thinking and entrenched systems are often cited as reasons to stand still instead of embracing change.

With COVID-19 now spreading into Africa as well, overcoming the change obstacle and facilitating the use of technology, innovation and robotics to open up doors of possibilities suddenly is no longer an option or a luxury for businesses. The deeply entrenched duty of care backed up by environments with organized labour in most African countries, means that working in partnership with trade unions to make this possible will be a sign of strength to employer brands.

The current crisis might bring the African economies under strain. When we talk about improving the existing situation economically in the African countries, everyone turns to entrepreneurship, chasing the next unicorn. Today, more than ever, SMEs need support.

Support to adopt a new way of working and adapt to a new way of living. SME offerings will need to pivot the soonest to strive, and indeed survive.

In this new world of work, the pace of change in the world is quick and Africa is playing catch up. Businesses have plans in place to upskill and reskill their people and many great initiatives are happening throughout Africa – specifically in South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Job creation locally has always been a struggle in Africa. Today, we are talking about opportunities that are available worldwide and how we can leverage on technology to bring those opportunities closer to where the people are.

The reality is clearly triggered by the pandemic, business will be forced to adapt to those flexible work methods. This is no longer optional.