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By 16 October 2020 | Categories: feature articles

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This year’s SingularityU Summit, which is currently taking place, has been both atypical and typical. Atypical because for the first time, it took place virtually only, including the second night afterparty, which happened in a virtual reality world. This who ventured into the V-Hive VR where able to dress up as an Big 5 of their choice, rewatch some of Kishi Bashi’s opening night performance or chat around a virtual watering hole.

The conference was also typical, in that it brought a staggering array of speakers and quality content, across an array of topics, some highly pragmatic and others, more futuristic.

Just one of the highlight topics – and an increasingly relevant one for our world seeking a new normal in light of the pandemic, was on remote working.

Our changing world

Molly Pyle, the Senior Manager of International Summits at Singularity University, Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Network at SU, began by noting that the Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in a “great reset” for many industries, our lives, and of course, work.

It has also brought with it three trends, including mass global unemployment, exposure of gaps in failed systems on a mass scale; an acceleration of the pace of automation, and finally, business and societal transformation at every level.

The burning question, she posed, is how we redesign the way we work for a better and more equitable future?

Pyle explained that remote work is the answer. She stressed that this is not just for the short term but applies for the long run, recommending that people and business embrace remote working permanently. Her top reasons for this are:

  • Remote works enables a future that is more exponential for your business – in terms of cost savings, retention and growth.
  • It also enables a more inclusive workplace, in terms of hiring and promotion.
  • Remote work is better for the environment - carbon emissions are greatly reduced with less cars on the road
  • It reduces exposure to sickness, enabling us to keep each other safe.
  • Companies can make huge savings on office costs  
  • Employees save hours every day, not having to spend this time travelling
  • Hiring is on average 33% faster
  • There is on average 55% less staff attrition and subsequently more retention             

Proven by some

The proof of the pudding may be in the eating, but the tangible benefits of remote working have already been proven, she noted.

As an example, Pyle pointed to Dell Technologies, which launched its Connected Workplace initiative in 2010 to encourage more remote work. Two years after they launched this, they reported a $14 million cost saving as well as over 6 000 metric tons carbon emissions saving. As well, she cited the Global Workplace Analytics Report, which found that American companies save on average $11 000 allowing part time workers to work remotely. This was pre-pandemic.

“Companies that enable remote work can be more diverse as this gives more people opportunities. A Stanford University study showed that remote workers are 13% more productive than their office working counterparts,” she added.

Work, from anywhere

So does that mean offices are dead an buried? Not necessarily. Pyle explained that offices are one of the many options where work can get done. In a post-Covid future, Pyle believes that people will want to work from anywhere, not just from home, but also from co-working spaces as well. That is, when it become safe to do so and when social distancing measures no longer need to be in play.

“Think about the model of co-working spaces,” enthused Pyle. “If we could develop these in remote areas in Africa, these could be a real driver of growth and opportunity. Imagine what this could do for income and wealth distribution! This could make a great impact on local economies,” she added.

As to what remote working means for Africa, and South Africa, which has devastatingly high unemployment, it could have a profound impact on job creation. Indeed, when you can have several employers located around the world, or side hustles that reach global markets, earning potential skyrockets.   

In closing, Pyle’s recommendations for businesses include:

  • Get rid of your offices.
  • Use this saving to give employees a fee to move to places in need of economic development (if they want to)
  • Redesign your system
  • Embrace new tools eg digital conferencing

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