Tag: workplace

In the race to attract and retain the best talent, dramatically improving the workplace experience to make it a ‘super experience’ is now on the radar of every organisation.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said that as new technologies and design practices raise the bar in what can be achieved, South Africa, as in the rest of the world, is now entering the era of the ‘super-experience’ at work.

A ‘super-experience’ is a heightened experience that creates excitement, is original and impactful and which goes beyond the typical and more mundane ‘user experience’ which people experience at traditional workplaces.

Said Trim: “Super experiences make you feel excited or that you’ve achieved something; they can stimulate curiosity, create a sense of purpose or instil a sense of belonging to a company. They can be unusual and unexpected – or reassuring and morale boosting. They can be small and intimate or executed on a grand scale.”

There are many examples of the ‘super-experience’ at some of the world’s best known companies. These include office buildings such as Amazon’s biophilic glass orbs at its Seattle headquarters which bring people closer to nature creating the sense they are working in a rainforest.

The Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco famously created 16 “neighbourhoods” in the office, each comprising desk spaces, large communal tables, standing desks, phone rooms and personal storage lockers. In South Africa, Giant Leap created state of the art training rooms for new employees at Flight Centre so people got to experience a ‘super-experience’ from day one at the company.

Data and media company Bloomberg’s new base in London is based in two buildings joined by bridges and located between the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral in London’s famous Square Mile. It features a giant 210 metre ramp at its heart that aims to encourage collaboration between workers, offers and a pantry with free snacks and views over London.

NASA’s scientists have formed a ‘Space Orchestra’ which plays around the world.

“Employee experience wasn’t really on the workplace map a few years ago but many businesses are now scrambling to create experiences inside and beyond office buildings that support innovation, wellbeing, productivity and learning.
“And as part of a newly thriving ‘experience economy’, new job titles are emerging in organisations such as CEXO (Chief Experience Officer),” Trim notes.

She added that to create a ‘super experience’, companies should take a people-first approach, offering a flexible portfolio of experiences, and keeping an open mind on bringing in new technologies.

“The era of the super-experience will depend on new lighting, AV, soundscaping and sensor technologies in the workplace along with digital apps. The property sector will also require new skills, knowledge and ideas from theatre, arts, hospitality, retail and behavioural science if it is to make super-experience more of an occurrence in the workplace,” Trim concludes.

During the last decade, the workplace has undergone dramatic change: but it pales in comparison to how new organisational structures will impact the work environment as we move towards 2020.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Our ways of working have changed as many societies become wealthier, as consumers demand new types of products and services and as we constantly seek to increase productivity.”

She notes that there are four megatrends, which will have a profound impact on how we work:

The rise of mobile knowledge workers

A knowledge worker uses research skills to define a problem, identify possible solutions, communicate this information and then works on one or several of these possible solutions. “The rise of knowledge workers sets new requirements for office design. Knowledge work is flexible, and knowledge workers are far more likely than other types of workers to work from home and be more mobile.

“The design of the work environment must be adapted to specific work needs as well as suit personal preferences, “ Galloway-Gaul notes.

Burst of new technology

For more than 30 years, IT and mobile advancements have had a profound influence on how we work and it’s likely this exponential advance will continue.
A few emerging technologies are already so advanced that it is possible to gauge their future influence. For example the Internet of Things, a connected network of physical devices, can connect and exchange data, resulting in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human efforts. Real time speech recognition and translation will support easier communications between different language speakers and big data will allow companies to recognise patterns and make better decisions.

From Generation X to Generation Y

Generation X describes people born from the early 60s to the early 80s, many of whom hold now senior and work-influential positions in society today. Generation Y, often referred to as millennials, represent the generation that followed Generation X.

Says Galloway-Gaul: “Looking ahead to understand how our ways of working will change, it is necessary to understand what Generation Y need from their workplace, what their characteristics are like and how differently they see the world.” For example millennials tend to be more family-centric which means they are willing to trade higher pay for a better work-life balance. They are also the most tech-savvy generation which makes remote work possible, even desirable. They are achievement orientated and seek frequent new challenges.

Globalisation and the pressure to perform

Globalisation affects how we work in at least two ways. “Firstly, there is a now a larger, global talent pool available which means talent is more geographically dispersed and culturally diverse.

“As we head towards 2020, people will increasingly work with co-workers they have never met before,” Galloway-Gaul says.

Secondly, globalisation increases the pressure to perform. Previously companies could produce goods and have a secure home market with limited competition. “Now many products are sold at similar or more cost effective prices with the same or better service, and innovation is copied by competitors within weeks. This puts the question of whether work or services should be outsourced to other countries on the strategic agenda of any corporation,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

So far the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) have been slow to reveal themselves in businesses in South Africa but the scale of the oncoming change is starting to become apparent overseas.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “AI’s influence is growing in the workplace and will bring substantial change to South African offices in the next few years as machine learning, task automation and robotics are increasingly used in business.”

The ability of computers to learn, rather than be programmed, puts a wide range of complex roles within reach of automation for the first time.

Bots and virtual assistants

As machine-learning trained systems gain the ability to understand speech and language, so the prospect of automated chatbots is becoming a reality.

One example is UK electronics retailer Dixons Carphone, which used the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services to create a conversational bot.

Google demonstrated the potential of chatbots last year with its demo of its Duplex system. Duplex rang up businesses such as a restaurant and a hairdressers booking an appointment while sounding and behaving enough like a human.

“Household names are also muscling into the area of creating a virtual assistant for the enterprise space like Amazon’s Alexa for Business. With many AI-assisted technologies, the aim of using chatbots and virtual assistants appears to be either making existing employees more effective or replacing manual roles,“ noted Galloway-Gaul.

Workplace sensor technology and analytics

Huge amounts of data can now be collected from inexpensive sensors applied to smart decisions. For example, South African workplace sensing technology company MakeSense allows businesses to accurately assess just howmuch of their workplaces they actually use, likely saving a lot of money in the process.

It works by placing small sensors around the office which analyses peoples’ movement.

“Workspace occupancy sensing technology helps businesses understand how desks, meeting rooms and break out spaces are used in extraordinary detail. For example on average 40% of people don’t turn up to meetings so many meetings room are probably too big and are wasted space and cost.”

Machine vision in the workplace

Machine vision is an area of AI that could allow the automation of many manual roles that until recently would have been considered too complex for a computer system to handle.

A case is point is Amazon Go, a grocery store where shoppers just pick up what they want and walk out of the shop with their goods. The system works by using cameras dotted throughout the store to track what each shopper picks up. The shopper is charged when they leave, via an Amazon app on their smartphone.

Robots in the workplace

Robots are nothing new in the workplace, having been a fixture in car manufacturing plants for decades.

“But what’s different today is that robots are beginning to be used for less repetitive and predictable tasks. Robots can increasingly cope with a greater deal of uncertainty in their environment, broadening the tasks they can take on and opening the possibility of working more closely alongside humans.” Galloway-Gaul noted. Amazon again is leading the way in using robots to improve efficiency inside its warehouses. Its knee-high warehouse robots carry products to human pickers who select items to be sent out.

Robotic process automation

Back office tasks like data entry, accounting, human resources and supply-chain management are full of repetitive and semi-predictable tasks.

Increasingly, robotic process automation (RPA) software is used to capture the rules that govern how people process transactions, manipulate data and send data to and from computer systems, in an attempt to then use those rules to build an automated platform that can perform those roles.

“Change is therefore coming to all workspaces all around the world; the trick will be getting AI to help business grow and work well with humans,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

Top tips for workplace happiness

Many people think that if only they worked for a cooler company, had a different job or made more money they would then be happy at work.

But Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that we should look to ourselves first for work happiness.

“The fundamental responsibility for being happy at work rests with the individual. You can be happier at work by following some simple ideas.”

These are her top tips:

1. Choose to be happy at work

Happiness is mostly a choice according to just about every expert. So you can choose to be happy at work. It sounds simple, but it’s often difficult to put into action.

“Think positively about your work. Dwell on the aspects that you enjoy. Find coworkers you like and spend your time with them. Your choices at work largely define your experience,” said Trim.

2. Only make commitments you can keep

One of the biggest causes of work stress and unhappiness is failing to keep commitments. Many employees spend more time making excuses for unkept commitments and worrying about the consequences than they do performing the tasks promised.

Create a system of organisation and planning that enables you to assess your ability to complete a requested commitment. “Don’t volunteer if you don’t have time. If your workload exceeds your available time and energy, make a comprehensive plan to ask for help and resources,” Trim advised.

3. Take charge of your personal & professional development

Said Trim:”You are the person with the most to gain from continuing to develop professionally so take charge of your own growth.” Ask for specific and meaningful help from your boss, but stick to your plans and goals.

4. Make sure you know what is happening at work

People often complain that they don’t receive enough information about what’s happening with their company, projects or coworkers. They wait for their boss to fill them up with knowledge. But the knowledge rarely comes. Why? “Because the boss is busy doing their job and doesn’t know what you don’t know. Seek out the information you need to work effectively. Develop an information network and use it,” Trim advised.

5. Ask for feedback often

Many people complain that their boss never gives me any feedback, so they never know how they are doing. “The truth is, “ said Trim, “you probably know exactly how you’re doing especially if you feel positive about your performance.” If you’re not positive about your work, think about improving and making a greater effort.
And then ask for feedback and and an assessment of your work.

6. Don’t be a neg-head

Choosing to be happy at work means avoiding negative conversations, gossip, and unhappy people as much as possible. No matter how positive you feel, negative people have a profound impact on your psyche. Don’t let the neg-heads bring you down.

7. Make friends

“One the best ways to be much happier at work is to have a best friend at work, “ said Trim. Enjoying your coworkers are good predictors of a positive and happy work experience. Take time to get to know them.

8. If all fails, searching for a new job will make you happy

If none of these ideas makes you happy at work, it’s time to re-evaluate your your job.
Most work environments don’t change all that much. But unhappy employees tend to grow even more disgruntled. “You can secretly smile while you spend all of your non-work time searching for a job, “ Trim concludes.

The future of work in a digital world

By Cathy Smith, MD at SAP Africa

The digital age, and the new technologies it’s brought with it – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – is seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job gets automated? How will I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flood of data that’s washing over us?

The bad news is that the nature of work has already changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated, will be. We already live in an age of “robot restaurants”, where you order on a touch screen, and machines cook and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo is providing shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, there are an estimated 3.4 million drivers that could be replaced by self-driving vehicles in 10 years, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.

We’re not immune from this phenomenon in Africa. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, compared to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This doesn’t mean millions of jobs on the continent will be automated overnight, but it’s a clear indicator of the future direction we’re taking.

The good news is that we don’t need to panic. What’s important for us in South Africa, and the continent, is to realise that there is plenty of work that only humans can do. This is particularly relevant to the African context, as the working-age population rises to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. We have a groundswell of young people who need jobs – and the digital age has the ability to provide them, if we start working now.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that this so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is going to disrupt many occupations. This is perfectly natural: every Industrial Revolution has made some jobs redundant. At the same time, these Revolutions have created vast new opportunities that have taken us forward exponentially.

Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it’s estimated that the demand for data analysts globally grew by 372%, and the demand for data visualisation skills by more than 2000%. As businesses, this means we have to not only create new jobs in areas like data science and analytics, but reskill our existing workforces to deal with the digital revolution and its new demands.

So, while bus drivers and data clerks are looking over their shoulders nervously right now, we’re seeing a vast range of new jobs being created in fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.

This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to be had. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of home-grown African digital creators, designers and makers, not just “digital deliverers”. People who understand African nuances and stories, and who not only speak local languages, but are fluent in digital.

This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more business operations data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless human-machine interaction.

Of course, in the longer term, we in Africa are going to have to make some fundamental decisions about how we educate people if we’re going to be a part of this brave new world. Governments, big business and civil society will all have roles to play in creating more future-ready education systems, including expanded access to early-childhood education, more skilled teachers, investments in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills, and providing robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This will take significant intent not only from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to fund this.

None of this will happen overnight. So what can we, as individuals and businesspeople, do in the meantime? A good start would be to realise that the old models of learning and work are broken. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s Global Head of Learning, talks about how the old approach to learning and work was generally a three-stage life that consisted largely of learn-work-retire.

Today, we live in what Ms Dearborn calls the multi-stage life, which includes numerous phases of learn-work-change-learn-work. And where before, the learning was often by rote, because information was finite, learning now is all about critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation and even the ability to un-learn what you have learned before.

Helping instill this culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure, is something that all companies can do, starting now. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they are going through major changes to their skills profile. WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.

This is a huge wake-up call to companies to invest meaningfully in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There’s no doubt that more learning will need to take place in the workplace, and greater private sector involvement is needed. As employers, we have to start working closely with should therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to provide learning opportunities to our workers.

We can also drive a far stronger focus on the so-called “soft skills”, which is often used as a slightly dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today’s workplace are active listening, speaking, and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEF’s “21st Century Skills Required For The Future Of Work” chart bears this out: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to make sense of the modern world of work, we also need innately human skills like communication and collaboration. The good news is that not only can these be taught – but they can be taught within the work environment.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the Digital Age, businesses are going to have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy AI, build data warehouses, and automate every process in sight. The companies that will stand out will be those that that focus on the things that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning – uniquely human skills.

I have no doubt that the future will not be humans OR robots: it will be humans AND robots, working side by side. For us, as business people and children of the African continent, we’re on the brink of a major opportunity. We just have to grasp it.

Successful companies the world over are making the necessary shift of recognising the value of the workplace as a business tool to help hire and keep the best talent.

Linda Trim, director at workplace specialists Giant Leap, says that for South African companies, the overarching imperative must be to see workplace strategy as a business opportunity rather than a just a design challenge and a cost containment exercise, which is why she refers her followers and business owners to read them all here on how they can make their workplace much more efficient, thus not just improving the internal working of the business but also helping it grow on the whole.

With 80% of the average company’s costs tied to its talent, which is increasingly globally mobile, here are the top 5 workplace changes South African companies will need to adopt in the next 2 years to keep pace with international trends:

1. Build the ‘Internet of Workplace’
In larger companies, “Internet of Things” (IoT) integration has so far primarily been at the building level, using real-time dashboards to track workplace occupancy, building water consumption, elevator usage, temperatures and more.
“However, threads of the next stage of this are starting to emerge, “ Trim notes.

“Companies are starting to embrace everything from smartphone apps that control the window shades, to tablets in meeting rooms that enable employees to order a coffee through a virtual concierge or to adjust the temperature.”
Companies that build a workplace linked by internet connectivity – an “Internet of Workplace” – will leverage devices, furniture and environments that interact digitally to drive productivity.
For example, Dutch bank ABN Amro is using occupancy data to help employees find available workspaces, and analysing traffic patterns around lunchtime to manage lift rush hours.

2. Ingrain the co-working mentality in real estate strategy
By 2020, there will be 26 000 co-working locations worldwide. By comparison, there are 24 000 Starbucks globally. Initially, co-working was simply a term for the use of a shared workspace that businesses – many of them individual entrepreneurs or small startups.

“Today, top class co-working spaces like FutureSpace in Sandton, are used by a wide variety of businesses, including multinational companies,“ says Trim.
In the future, companies will also need to think more about accessing office space rather than owning or leasing it. This paradigm shift will require an evaluation of “core” and “ flexible” space needs so that businesses can execute a real estate strategy that minimises cost and maximises opportunities.

3. Make employee experience a core part of business strategy
While most business leaders already have an understanding of the importance of employee engagement, three-quarters of those surveyed in a Harvard Business Review study said that most of their employees are not highly engaged.

Says Trim: “Engagement and productivity can have a direct impact on the bottom line. One of the best ways that companies can ensure that their employees are engaged is to dedicate someone entirely to the employee experience. By creating a position of a chief experience officer, you can focus attention and resources to reduce work-day friction and create positive experiences for employees.”

4. Create a workplace that makes people healthier
Low productivity due to poor health damages companies profitability. In the U.S. for example, overweight workers and those with chronic health conditions account for more $153 billion in lost productivity annually.
“To combat these trends, wellness is and will remain one of the hottest topics in workplace design, “ said Trim.
“Employees will soon expect to be healthier when they leave the office than when they arrived. This will be thanks to access to high-quality air, natural light, water and healthy food choices, plus wellness programs with opportunities for exercise, health care services and social engagement.”

Technology can also play a role. Some European companies encourage employees to wear Fitbits and answer daily questions to assess exercise levels, stress levels, productivity and overall well-being. Employees then translate data-driven insights into decisions around how, where and when to work.
“By 2020, we expect that the importance of benchmarking built- environment performance to wellness standards will increase dramatically,” Trim adds.

5. Enable an agile organisation
Most organisations have dedicated teams with certain expertise that work on specific products or services for clients.
“Due to changing client demands, a quickly shifting environment and evolving technologies, organisations are starting to rethink these structures by prioritising collaboration between teams, breaking down silos.
The “agile organisation” is a term that’s getting a lot of attention right now,” said Trim.
To boost collaboration between people with different areas of expertise and backgrounds, agile organisations must be able to bring people physically together to work. Collaborations are key, which means that more people will come to the office and average occupancy rates will increase. Additionally, formal planned meetings are replaced by short, effective “meeting moments” and continuous informal collaboration within teams.
According to a study from McKinsey & Company, businesses that are deploying agile development at scale have accelerated their innovation by up to 80 percent.
“The year 2020 isn’t that far away. It is critical for South African companies to make space and location decisions that create engaging and productive experiences for employees,” Trim concludes.

What time do you power down your laptop at night? Look at the plug next to your bed. How many devices are plugged in there? Your answers to these questions have probably revealed you’re at the office more than you’re actually in it, tucking into some bite-sized admin with breakfast at the corner café or catching a quick IM meeting from the back seat of an Uber. Your staff are no doubt doing the same. So, how do you restore work-life balance to encourage happy, healthy and motivated employees when everyone’s overflowing inbox is tagging along home with them? Make them feel at home with a lifestyle-focused work environment.

At the moment, a fundamental shift away from hierarchically designed offices, toward more inclusive, collaborative spaces, is taking place. One major reason for this is the growing platoon of Millennials in the modern workforce. These super-social and adept multi-taskers like open plan coffee-shop style environments, tech bedecked meeting hubs, acoustic pods, and even working from treadmills or barber shop chairs is not an unusual request these days. As a result, more and more companies are starting to mimic the trendy offices of the Googles and Facebooks of the world. But what if that doesn’t align with your brand… and your older staff just can’t comprehend the idea of morning meetings in an indoor treehouse?

Embracing lifestyle-focused work spaces doesn’t mean your office needs to look like a children’s playground. It’s simply about making the office more flexible to your employee and business needs. That means the first step to an ideal workspace is to understand your company requirements, culture and staff. Traders are bound to their workstations, attorneys require privacy, creatives like space to throw ideas around in, and so all the lifestyle-focused workspaces for these kinds of employees will need to be different to efficiently support the way in which they operate. However, there are a few minor changes that we’ve noticed can help to streamline any and every office, improving efficiency while giving it a homey air.

Comfortable soft seating hubs, intimate task lighting, quiet areas, private spaces, warm colour palettes, and the smell of brewing coffee are just a few minor tweaks that make most staff feel at home in the office. But another major stand-out benefit and consideration of lifestyle-focused work spaces is scalability. Lifestyle focused spaces allow for expansion without the costs of a new workstation for each new staff member. Instead, employees may move around an environment, without desk ownership, working from a pod or quiet room, canteen or bar-height collaboration table.

A lifestyle focused workspace that looks and feels more welcoming and comfortable will put your staff at ease, make their work-lives more meaningful and encourage them to invest more passion and drive into a company that is investing in their in-office experience and overall work-life balance. After all, home is where the heart is. Start your journey to a more lifestyle-focused workspace today and get more heart from your staff, as well as a responsive and agile office that changes and grows around you, instead of the other way around.

By Robyn Gray, Associate Director for Tétris South Africa

After the landmark sexual harassment case involving Real Security was reported in 2003 I warned employers of the dire consequences if they do not take decisive preventive action. The automatically unfair dismissal claim was based on the fact that the employee was forced to resign because her employer allowed her to be discriminated against by the supervisor who sexually harassed her.

The Court cited section 60 of the EEA that says:

(1) “If it is alleged that an employee, while at work, contravened a provision of this Act, or engaged in any conduct that, if engaged in by the employee’s employer, would constitute a contravention of this Act, the alleged conduct must immediately be brought to the attention of the employer.

(2) The employer must consult all the relevant parties and must take all the necessary steps to eliminate the alleged conduct and comply with the provisions of this Act.

(3) If the employer fails to take the necessary steps and it is prove that the employee has contravened the relevant provisions, the employer must be deemed also to have contravened that provision.”

The Court awarded the employee compensation for unfair dismissal, unfair discrimination, medical expenses, pain, suffering and impairment of her dignity. In total she was awarded R82000,00 which equated to 41 months’ pay which is almost three and a half years’ pay.

Despite the warning that the outcome of this case sounded, employers are still not implementing measures to prevent sexual harassment and are obviously still losing cases in the Labour Court.

For example, in the recently decided case of Christian vs Colliers Properties (2005, 5 BLLR 479) Ms Christian was appointed as a typist by the employer. Two days after starting work the owner of the business asked her if she had a boyfriend and invited her to dinner. He also invited her to sit on his lap and kissed her on the neck. When she later objected to the owner’s conduct he asked her whether she was “in or out”. When she said that she was “not in” he asked her why he should allow her employment to continue. She was dismissed with two days pay and referred a sexual harassment dispute.

In a default judgement the Court decided that:

• The employee had been dismissed for refusing the owner’s advances

• This constituted an automatically unfair dismissal based on sexual discrimination

• Newly appointed employees are as deserving of protection from sexual harassment as are their longer serving colleagues

The employer had to pay the employee:

• 24 months’ remuneration in compensation

• Additional damages

• Interest on the amounts to be paid

• The employee’s legal costs

13 years after this case decision employers are still getting into trouble because they fail to utilise the best available labour law expertise to:

• Inculcate acceptance that a business can be ruined financially by allowing sexual harassment to occur

• Design a comprehensive sexual harassment policy

• Ensure that every owner, manager and employee understands the severe consequences of committing such acts

• Communicate to all concerned that such misconduct will result in severe penalties including possible dismissal

• Ensure that all employees feel entirely free to report sexual harassment.

• Train all employees in the abovelisted issues as well as in what constitutes sexual harassment, how to deal with it, where to report it and the company’s supportive policy towards sexual harassment victims

By lvan lsraelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

As we enter a new year, it is prudent to pause and consider the many challenges and opportunities we are likely to face in the year ahead. Matters of innovation, digital transformation, technological advancement and business success often take center stage, but for me there is one aspect of our business which I believe will be instrumental to our success on the African continent: that of diversity.

A vibrant and dynamic continent
According to UNESCO estimates, Africa is home to as many as 3 000 ethnic groups speaking more than 2 000 different languages across 54 countries. The African population is the second-largest of all continents, as well as the youngest. In some African countries, up to half the citizens are under the age of 25. Any company wishing to do business successfully in Africa must prioritise diversity, or run the risk of alienating the very people with whom they want to do business.
Whilst Africa may sometimes be perceived to be making slow progress with modernization; it is in many respects a world leader. Recent statistics regarding gender diversity in particular have been encouraging: the 2016 McKinsey Women Matter Africa report found that in Africa, 29% of senior managers are women, and 5% of African companies are headed up by female CEOs. While this is still low, it beats the global average (in Europe, female representation at CEO level is only 3%) and points to a concerted and honest effort to bring equal opportunity to women in the workplace.

The business case for diversity
I am of the firm belief that a company that champions diversity will be more innovative, able to respond quicker to changing customer needs and in a better position to adapt to the challenges presented by a rapidly evolving global economy, than its more homogeneous peers. Data supports this: research has found that African companies with at least a quarter share of women on their boards, had on average 20% higher earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) than the industry average.
More tellingly, the global war for talent, which is set to be one of the core issues businesses will face in the next few decades, makes workplace discrimination a recipe for failure. Any business that ignores the contribution, skill, and talent of a potential employee purely based on their gender or culture or background, is effectively undermining its own ability to adapt and survive in a rapidly shifting and evolving global market.
Decades of science backs this: socially diverse groups (those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups, as they are better at solving complex, non-routine problems, anticipating alternative viewpoints, and making important decisions.

Understanding our customers
For companies wishing to do business here, having a culturally and gender-diverse workforce in place is essential to success. At SAP, we have a vision of making the world run simpler. Achieving this vision requires us to focus not just on the technology, but on the customer journey. We can’t understand what journey our customers want to go on, if we don’t understand our customers, of which SAP has an immense and diverse base that spans the globe. We must employ, empower, and inspire a diverse workforce if we are to realise our “Run Simple” vision.
As a business, we have made great progress on the road to diversity and inclusion. Globally, SAP set a goal in 2011 of ensuring that 25% of people in leadership positions are women by 2017. At SAP Africa, 33% of leadership positions are now occupied by women. We are also introducing new initiatives to support and inspire women in technology. Our Women in Data Science initiative, a collaboration between SAP’s Next-Gen Lab and Stanford University in the US, is designed to inspire women to pursue careers in tech, create awareness about data science, and showcase and celebrate the achievements of women in tech.

Playing an active role in fostering a culture of diversity
At SAP, it is critical to focus on how we can embrace diversity and instil a culture which enables success in a globalised workforce. By creating a diverse team with a range of experiences and perspectives, you can unlock new approaches to problems that seemed insurmountable at first. This, of course, depends on there being a culture which encourages all team members to look for the strengths that each unique individual brings to the team and incorporate their views into the customer solution.
Driving a successful diversity strategy begins with the senior leaders; but in order for it to be fully sustainable, it needs to be lived by each and every one of us.
That is my call to action to all staff, partners, vendors and even our customers: make diversity a core focus for your business this year. Enable the people who work with you to bring diverse viewpoints and experiences to the boardroom table. Inspire your teams to have the courage to bring new perspectives to existing problems and challenges. Instill a culture of openness and trust that makes it easier for people to contribute to the success of the organisation. Never doubt that your contribution has value to the team, the business and society at large.
Our success as a business, and as individuals, will be inextricably linked to our ability to foster diversity in the workplace. Can any of us truly afford to ignore the challenge?

By Brett Parker, MD of SAP Africa

A recent survey of 12 000 office workers nationwide has revealed the most important things we demand from our workplaces.

The survey also uncovered the things we like best and hate most about the place where we spend a third of our lives.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says the poll threw up some surprising findings.

“We asked people what was the most important thing for them in the workplace and 95% said access to good tea and coffee.

“This topped the list ahead of security (91%) and a healthy environment (87%) of what South African see as most important in the workplace.”

Rounding out the most important things was natural light (85%), greenery (71%), canteens (65%) and comfortable chairs (52%).

“Essentially it’s all the smaller things that people really need to be happy in the workplace,” says Andrews.

The poll also quizzed people on their biggest annoyances at the workplace.

Top of the list was loud colleagues, followed by colleagues who “smelled up the place” by eating lunch at the desk.

Third was ‘unbearable bosses.’

“It seems as many offices move to open plan design, the trend of squeezing more people into less space has brought workers in closer proximity to each other. There is nowhere to hide from other peoples’ habits.

“People talking loudly on the phone, endlessly talking to colleagues and making a general ruckus (88%) topped the list of the biggest peeve.

“This was followed closely by people who eat lunch at their desks thereby smelling up the workspace (76%).”

Andrews added that bad bosses (66%) was in third place particularly those that were hyper-critical and micro managers. Lack of privacy also featured with just over 50% citing that as an office downside.

Other strong office dislikes were dreary office spaces, long meetings, dress codes and working hours.

When asked about the best things about the workplace, the social aspect of meeting new people and becoming friends with certain colleagues was the best thing about the workplaces according to 80% of respondents.

Also favourable was the ‘learning and personal development’ that the workplaces offered (61%) and this was followed by ‘a place to make money’ at 49%.

Filling out the remaining office positives was ‘stimulation’, ‘sense of worth’ and ‘contribution to society.’

Andrews says that more businesses in South Africa were moving to address concerns such as those highlighted by the survey.

“Quiet spaces, places to make private calls and a trend towards more comfortable and relaxed spaces will improve the day to day office experience.”

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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