Generally, when people refer to the future of the workplace, they’re talking about two aspects – the ability for people to work remotely instead of at fixed offices and to hold freelance roles instead of full-time employment.
When we say the future, we’re not even talking about a very distant time. In fact, for many industries the future is already here. Some industries, such as IT, lend themselves well to remote and freelance work, where all you need is a computer and an internet connection.
The idea of not having a stable, full-time job and an office is a scary prospect for many workers, particularly in a country with an unemployment rate at an 11-year high of 29.1%.
So is South Africa ready for this future workplace? Let’s look at some of the challenges our country will need to face before we can adopt this type of working environment.
Our labour laws mostly reflect the needs of workers in the traditional workplace by promoting job security. However, with more people doing contract work, the focus of job security becomes largely redundant. People will likely work for multiple clients on multiple projects at a single time, so our labour laws will need to reflect this.
Being able to work remotely requires access to the latest technology like smartphones, laptops, Macs, and tablets, along with access to a high-speed internet connection. We have a large divide between rich and poor in terms of income and access to opportunities and public services, so making sure everyone in the country has access to the technology and infrastructure needed is a major undertaking.
Skills in industries across the board are in shortage in South Africa. Now more than ever it’s imperative that businesses work with skills development companies to train and educate people to fill skills gaps. Government is also doing its bit to assist, such as by embarking on an IT skills development programme which aims to train one million young people by 2030.
Just as important as legislative changes are amendments to HR practices and policies. Few companies are making provision in their procedures for external employees and freelancers. However, if their internal employees are outnumbered by external service providers, these need to be revised.
Businesses need top-notch data security measures in place. These precautions generally form part of a closed system, protecting only those within the place of business. However, using external service providers poses some challenging security risks which companies must find a way to deal with.
Despite these challenges, if South Africa can adapt to this new working norm, it could entirely transform the country, particularly with regard to the problem of physical access to work opportunities. Jobs are concentrated in cities where the cost of living is high and places to stay are few and far between. Having a workforce that can operate from anywhere in the country completely removes the challenges associated with commuting vast distances.
In addition, with better access to the internet comes access to more information and education. There are many online learning institutions that can teach skills to people who would never have had access to them before. This could completely transform our economy and, more importantly, provide a better quality of life for everyone in South Africa.
What do you think of the workplace of the future? Do you think South Africa will be equipped to embrace it any time soon?