Monique Verduyn asked three CAs(SA) to share their thoughts on the year ahead.
2022 was a year marked by local and global crises. War returned to Europe with its attendant humanitarian disasters, the US policy of strategic engagement with China came to a halt, protests rocked Iran, and extreme weather events became commonplace.
South Africa’s inflation hit a record high in July 2022, its highest level in 13 years, driven mainly by rising food, transport and electricity prices. Protests rocked the nation in response to ongoing unemployment, inequality, poverty and corruption. 2022 was the worst year on record for the country’s energy crisis, with 205 days of rolling blackouts and no solution to Eskom’s woes in sight.
The year did, however, bring some good news. Most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic eased in many countries. But its impact on the world of work is unlikely to go away. The pandemic has encouraged many to reflect on their futures and what they want out of life.
According to Alliance Manchester Business School, Generation Z and young millennials are making a move toward ‘quiet quitting’, where they work their 40-hour weeks but don’t want to commit to a long-hours, workaholic culture. Instead, they want a better quality of working life and more balance in their lives, a trend that is likely to have an impact on older millennials and mid-career professionals and workers as well over the coming years.
The result will be greater mobility of talent, and savvy employers striving to create a more meaningful culture where people have greater autonomy and control over their job and a better balance between their professional ambitions and private lives.
The future of work was shifting even before COVID-19 upended lives and livelihoods, according to McKinsey, with the pandemic accelerating three trends that will continue to reshape work:
- Remote work and virtual meetings are likely to continue, although less intensely than at the pandemic’s peak.
- E-commerce grew at two to five times the pre-COVID-19 rate, and other virtual transactions such as telemedicine, online banking, and streaming entertainment took off. Shifts to digital transactions also propelled growth in delivery, transport, and warehouse jobs.
- The pandemic propelled faster adoption of digital technologies, including automation and AI. Companies are using them to control costs or mitigate uncertainty; they also deployed these technologies in warehouses, grocery stores, call centres, and manufacturing sites to either reduce workplace density or deal with surging demand for items.
Flexibility isn’t going anywhere
Jarred Noche, director of Fundrr, a company that provides funding for small businesses, agrees that the establishment of virtual workforces will continue to make it easier for employees to work remotely across the country or even around the world.
‘People seem to have found their groove when it comes to working from home for part of the week,’ he says. ‘Organisations like 4 Day Week are formalising this approach and gaining traction which is wonderful to see.’
4 Day Week is currently running a pilot with forward-thinking South African businesses to test whether a shorter work week can lead to improvements in productivity, wellness and gender equality, and whether it may have an impact on unemployment and youth upliftment in the longer term.
The wellness imperative
Trendhunter reports that people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of taking care of their physical and mental health: ‘Overall, the lifestyle trends of 2023 are expected to be focused on wellness, sustainability, technology, and the gig economy,’ according to the trend platform.
‘I’m also seeing the focus on employee wellbeing growing as a trend,’ says Noche. ‘This is likely to drive more organisations to adopt policies to promote the mental health of their employees. There have been a few start-ups in this space that offer a full mental well-being solution for businesses which is interesting. This signals that there are opportunities to take advantage of the demand for wellness solutions.’
Kovini Moodley, founder of women empowerment platform Boss Babes of South Africa, says a key trend is that employees want flexibility and cohesive work environments that are built on mutual respect.
Globally, flexible working has become a permanent trend in certain industries, with many workers preferring flexibility over other benefits. ‘Most of my colleagues enjoy hybrid working arrangements,’ Moodley says, ‘but many prefer full work-from-home arrangements with face-to face-engagements when they are needed and are value-adding.’
McKinsey found that with 87% of employees taking advantage of work flexibility, it’s logical that employers will continue offering it. Other studies have concluded that employees would even choose flexible work options over a pay increase or other tangible, financial benefits.
‘Many individuals are becoming more aware of their purpose, passions and life goals and choosing workplaces that are closely aligned with their values,’ Moodley adds. ‘Role fit within organisations – the degree to which a person’s values, personality, and goals match those of the company − is key to driving up employee engagement and excellence in deliverables.’
She stresses that it’s important to ensure that correct processes and good leadership are in place to support employees and help them grow and leverage their best skills through their contributions to the organisation. ‘Employees are human beings; they will remain in environments where they are supported, respected and fairly remunerated, promoted and appreciated.’
The link between wellness and work is set to continue. Studies show that many employees will expect their employers to make employee mental well-being a priority in 2023. A recent report from Indeed found that 52% of all workers are feeling burned out, which represents a 9% increase from a pre-COVID survey. It is likely that employee assistance programmes will become differentiators, especially as skilled seek out more supportive work environments.
New ways of leading
Jacques le Grange, director of Outsourced CFO (OCFO), points to how remote working has moved companies to the cloud, with cloud applications and services allowing organisations to support remote workforces, regardless of their geographical location.
‘With the increased adoption of remote working has come the need to adapt management and communication styles to this new environment,’ Le Grange says. ‘Remote working has also awakened the need for belonging. Employees are more concerned than before about how employers are adding value to society. Building strong foundations around company purpose and core values count more than ever.’
He notes that hybrid working has also increased significantly due to the increased adoption of remote working policies. There is a need for more flexibility, work-life balance and less time in traffic. People are wanting to live in towns and are moving away from cities as they seek a more balanced lifestyle. This has become a major factor in recruitment and employees are choosing opportunities that allow for this. These developments require a change in management approaches and collaboration efforts.
This will call for leaders to take a proactive role in openly speaking about their mental health to destigmatise the discussion for their employees. A recent Monster.com survey found that 91% of Gen Z employees reported they want to be able to freely discuss mental-health topics with their colleagues and managers.
On the money
Fundrr’s Noche is all too aware that the current environment is tough for small businesses and consumers alike. ‘Certain industries are suffering because of load-shedding. This, coupled with high interest rates, make it a tough environment to trade. People will always seek out well-valued products and I believe if you can offer value to consumers you will succeed. There are countless opportunities for tech to be implemented across industries such as property, finance and education.’
Advancements in technology can make certain products and services more accessible and affordable for consumers, while also improving security, speed, convenience, coverage, and customer experience. The latter holds great appeal for marketers and consumers alike: consumers increasingly want their relationships and interactions with brands to be impressive and experiential. This means that brands that want to stay relevant must create customer journeys that are thoughtful and memorable. People also want more control over their buying decisions than ever before, including flexible payment options, personalization capabilities and access to a wider range of products.
OCFO’s Le Grange is enthusiastic about the South African SME environment which has given rise to some amazing developments. ‘Quick turnaround funding solutions service providers have entered the market, which is great news for small businesses. Cloud technologies have allowed these providers to assess facilities within 24 hours of application making the process much easier for growing businesses, and that bodes well for our struggling economy.’
Managing risk is critical
On financial trends, Boss Babes’ Moodley says the landscape is forever changing. ‘Our ability as finance professionals to adapt to change is critical to sustainability in our economy. As a risk and audit transformation specialist with global experience, I believe regular risk assessments, strong mitigation plans, and dynamic risk models are key factors to the successful identification and management of key risks.’
In South Africa, she says, in addition to the impact of load shedding, the emigration of skilled professionals and the political climate are key considerations that need to be assessed and supported with careful, insightful measures to ensure a sustainable future.
Technology poses risks too. The world is largely a digital landscape today and the effects of digital transformation also introduce risks that must be managed.
From an audit perspective, Moodley adds, enhanced strategic planning across a combination of people, processes and technology aspects are key to organisational streamlining, and the development of robust processes that optimise organisational performance.
On the background of worldwide slowdowns in investment sentiment, capital is still searching for good yield. ‘Africa has been the only ecosystem where venture investment increased year-on-year in 2022. Key growth industries are attracting an outsized amount of investment, with fintech, renewable energy and AI being some of the frontrunners.’
Indeed, the 2022 State of AI in Africa report published by AI Media Group shows that in the past five years, many companies across the continent are making efforts to leverage AI for business efficiency. Analysts say AI could expand Africa’s economy by a staggering $1,5 trillion by 2030 − about 50% of its current GDP − if it could only capture 10% of the fast-growing global AI market. Countries that dominate in AI in the continent’s cardinal regions are South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria.
One important factor to keep in mind is that the social isolation brought about by the pandemic affected young propel the most. According to Gartner 46% of Gen Z employees the research firm surveyed said that the pandemic made pursuing educational or career goals more difficult. This generation has missed out on developing soft skills in the workplace, such as negotiating, networking, speaking confidently in front of peers and crowds, and even developing the stamina required to work long hours in an environment that includes other people.
The Gartner study affirms that organisations will need to redefine professionalism for their entire workforce to address this key challenge.