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The Workplace Of The Future – Or Now?

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The time for an intervention of the workplace has arrived. The traditional office as we know it, bound by a desk with set working hours, being present for meetings, and processing paperwork, is no longer functional. Technological advancements have changed the way people work so that it’s no longer where it gets done but that it gets done. These are some of the key insights shared by Deloitte in a series of reports released towards the end of 2016.

One of the reports revealed that the work place of the future will be mobile and not bound by location; it will be independent (contractors); more people will be working from home; and co-working spaces will be an alternate to working from home; all this ties in with a traditional workplace no longer being functional.

The future is mobile

Technology such as laptops, tablets, smartphones; wireless connectivity; and networking software will be a key driver to this paradigm shift. Mobile manufacturers are catering to this – the new Samsung S8 offers a “Dex” mode that lets you switch to a desktop mode by attaching a few peripherals to its smartphone. According to Deloitte, many workers may still have a designated office space for themselves but they are treating work as something they do rather than where they do it.

Not bound by location

The combination of portable devices, WiFi and modern software solutions, means employees can work from anywhere and don’t necessarily have to come into an office, or sit in traffic to get there – an issue South Africans can identify with. As more companies shift to cloud-based or custom solutions, it means one can work from any location yet still collaborate via shared documents in the form of Google Docs, Office 365 or Dropbox, to name a few.

Co-working spaces

There has been an increase in co-working spaces in South Africa with companies renting out ‘hot-desks’ to freelance individuals. These spaces come with desks, phones, high-speed internet, boardrooms, meeting areas, coffee, and whatever other amenities are required to work from ‘anywhere’. Provided one isn’t bound by specific machinery; one could find themselves sharing office space with individuals from varying industries. Access to a set-up with all amenities is usually tied to a daily/weekly/monthly/annual fee, offering greater flexibility for contract work.

Gig economy

The gig economy is one of the major elements of the workforce of the future. It is where independent contractors and freelancers will be used for short-term projects, and also ties in with not being bound by location. If a job can be done remotely with the right hardware and software, a greater pool of employees are available for the picking. With people changing jobs more frequently, the gig economy is said to be an evolution of this. Additionally, businesses save on other costs such as office space, training, and employee benefits.

No more paperwork

Going digital or moving to the cloud means no more unnecessary paperwork, saving businesses a huge chunk in costs. All it takes is moving to smarter solutions such a digital HR software; electronic contracts; accounting software; online project management tools; collaborating via shared documents, and online video chats instead of face-to-face meetings.

Inside The House Of The Future

Could this work in a South African context? Forty-year-old Daniel Calbacho, Managing Director of RED Marketing based in Illovo, Johannesburg, took an interesting, non-traditional approach with his company. He “fired” all his staff and re-hired them as independent freelancers.

Calbacho manages a team of young writers and recognizes that people are all different, have a life outside of standard working hours and want to pursue their passions as part of their lifestyle.

“Each person in the business is encouraged to see themselves as an entrepreneur, and focus on their predominant skillset, which is linked to their passion to earn a living.” His team comprises of individuals who are motoring journalists, photographers, writers, bloggers and even a pop singer.

Is There A Future In Cellphones?

They are also encouraged to grow at their own pace, and if they’d like to earn more, they don’t have to wait for an annual increase.

“Millennials are about instant gratification – ‘I want this now’. If someone in the team would like to earn a specific amount, we work towards that. Obviously this means taking on more work, much like earn-as-you-go.”

RED Marketing has offices with all the mod-cons, allowing the team to use its facilities at leisure. Cost saving for the company has presented itself in the form of equipment, bonuses, and benefits. As independent contractors, the team supplies their own laptops, cameras and smart devices, which they’ve insured. “Bonuses are no longer a cost consideration albeit we do believe in sharing the company’s profits for outstanding work, and there are no costs for medical aid or pension.”

Skills development has not stopped, says Calbacho. “Every three weeks the team gathers and a person within the group presents knowledge or a skill they’ve been elected to share.”

Leave has also become a secondary HR issue, with each team member allocated 18 days a year to take off completely. “Days are logged, not scrutinized; and most of them don’t take all of it because they are free to manage their time without the construct of a nine-to-five job.”

Calbacho says what they are doing currently works for the business. “The company is successful because the team is happy. Our main focus is delivering the best product to our clients.” – Written by Nafisa Akabor

Health

Surge Of Smartphone Apps Promise Coronavirus Tracking, But Raise Privacy Concerns

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Topline: A pan-European team of researchers announced Wednesday their plan to release a smartphone app that would notify users if they’ve been exposed to someone infected with coronavirus, the latest example of tech-driven coronavirus solutions that have also raised concerns about user privacy.

  • A European project called Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing is working toward releasing a coronavirus tracing app in the next week that would use anonymous Bluetooth technology to track when a smartphone comes in close range with another, so if a user were to test positive for coronavirus those at risk of infection could be notified.
  • Contact tracing, or determining people who may have been exposed to someone with a virus, is an established aspect of pandemic control and was used effectively to tackle coronavirus in countries like China, Singapore and South Korea in the form of smartphone tracking.
  • University of Oxford researchers and the U.K. government are working on a similar project— but unlike other smartphone tracking systems, the British version in development would be based on voluntary participation and bet on citizens inputting their information out of a sense of civic duty.
  • The U.S. government is in talks with companies like Facebook FB and Google GOOGL and other tech companies about tracking if users are social distancing using large amounts of anonymous, aggregated location data— this information is less precise, and more likely to anticipate outbreaks rather than pinpoint individuals who have been exposed to the virus.
  • 1.5 million Israelis have voluntarily downloaded a mobile app that alerts users if they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus— but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has still ordered that potential coronavirus carriers have their phones monitored, a controversial move the government says is necessary, as the 17% of the population using the app is not enough to fight off the pandemic.  
  • Moscow , on a city-wide lockdown since Monday, announced Wednesday that a new phone app that will officials to track the movements of people diagnosed with coronavirus in the capital city would be launched on Thursday, saying the government will lend a smartphone to anyone unable to download the app.

Crucial quote: “We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against [coronavirus]. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps ,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu told the The Washington Post. He made sure to note it “would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”

Key background: Private and public entities alike are looking for ways to fight off coronavirus as the pandemic continues. On Wednesday, there were more than 900,000 confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 50,000 deaths.Officials told The New York Times NYT that The National Health Service, Britain’s centralized national health system, is trusted by citizens— and paired with the strong data privacy laws in place, said they think people would agree to join the effort to share their private information to help trace infections. However, American tech firms are reported to still be skeptical about sharing substantial data with the U.S. government ever since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was collecting information from the firms clandestinely. 

Surprising fact: The information tech companies have access to data that sheds light on Americans’ behavior in light of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Facebook analysis, restaurant visits fell about 80% in Italy and 70% in Spain— while Americans only stopped eating out at a rate of 31%.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Apple Is Donating 9 Million Masks To Combat The Coronavirus

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Topline: Apple will donate 9 million N95 protective masks to combat the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, making Apple one of several California tech companies pitching in as hospitals across the country report a shortage of protective gear.

  • Pence thanked Apple for agreeing to donate 9 million N95 respirator masks to healthcare facilities across the country during a press briefing on Tuesday.
  • Pence’s remarks come after Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted over the weekend the company was “working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19” and “donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe,” but did not offer more specifics.
  • N95 respirators are masks that form a protective seal around a wearer’s mouth, filtering  out at least 95% of particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes them necessary to protect healthcare workers from being exposed to the disease from patients.
  • Facebook has also said it is donating its stockpile of 720,000 masks purchased during the California wildfires last year, which degraded the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes asking if all of the donated masks were stockpiled because of the wildfires or if the company got them from somewhere else.

Chief critic: Teddy Schleifer, a reporter at Recode, wrote that health systems shouldn’t rely on the generosity of big tech companies to make up for the failures of the federal government. 

“But there is a risk in relying on corporate philanthropy—rather than the government—in solving this problem. For starters, it depends on the voluntary generosity of these companies to deal with an unprecedented emergency, an altruism that could vanish at any time,” he wrote.

Crucial quote: “And I spoke today, and the president spoke last week, with Tim Cook of Apple. And at this moment in time Apple went to their store houses and is donating 9 million N95 masks to healthcare facilities all across the country and to the national stockpile,” Pence said.

Key background: Apple is one of several California tech companies to give away N95 masks. In addition to Facebook, Salesforce, Tesla and IBM have also announced mask donations.

News peg: Doctors and nurses are sounding the alarm that they don’t have enough masks to protect healthcare workers. Not only does inadequate protective gear put important frontline health workers at risk, public health experts say, any situation endangering medical personnel may only further depletes the U.S. health system which already doesn’t have enough capacity to handle a surge in cases. State officials in New York and Illinois have criticized President Donald Trump for not stepping in to force companies to manufacture masks or allocate masks from private companies to ensure that states don’t outbid each other for the same supplies.

Rachel Sandler, Forbes Staff, Breaking News

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Video Games Are Being Played At Record Levels As The Coronavirus Keeps People Indoors

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Topline: With school closures, mandatory work-from-home policies and lockdowns taking place in the U.S. as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, gaming has seen higher engagement, especially over this past weekend.

  • Steam, the most popular digital PC gaming marketplace, reached new heights Sunday, drawing a record 20,313,451 concurrent users to the 16-year-old service, according to third-party database SteamDB.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released by Steam-owner Valve in 2012, seems to be the top beneficiary of the increased engagement, breaking it’s all-time peak on Sunday with 1,023,2290 concurrent players, topping its previous peak last month by a million, which itself beat the record set in April 2016.
  • Like other esports, CS:GO has had to cancel events due to the virus, particularly the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice earlier this month, though its peak viewership reached over a million, making it one of the most watched tournaments in the esports’ history.
  • Activision Blizzard’s new free-to-play battle royale spinoff Call of Duty: Warzone, launched March 10 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is also likely benefiting, drawing in a staggering 15 million in three days, besting the record 10 million in three days by last year’s battle royale sensation Apex Legends.
  • These new heights follows similar effects of the virus on China and Italy: Telecom Italia’s CEO told Bloomberg it saw a 70% increase in traffic over its landline network, with Fortnite playing a significant part, while Chinese live-streaming service Douyu experienced increased viewership of the country’s most popular games, according to market analyst Niko Partners.
  • While gaming was considered “recession proof” during the 2008 market crash, stocks aren’t immune to the current historic drops: software developers like Activision Blizzard are facing a 9% decrease in price year-to-date, while hardware companies that rely on Chinese manufacturing like Nintendo are seeing bigger drops of 24%.

What To Watch For: If these records keep rising as the closings and lockdowns continue. Arriving this week is Nintendo’s long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch console, a relaxing “life-simulator” that’s set to have a big day with many fans not-so-jokingly asking Nintendo to launch early.

Surprising Fact: Plague Inc., a game that tasks players in creating a virus that wipes out humanity, surged in popularity late January, becoming the top-paid game on the Chinese app store at one point, but the game has now been removed in China at the direction of the government.

Further Reading: So You’re Suddenly Working From Home And Want To Try Gaming? Here’s How To Get Started.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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