South Africa will soon be opening its borders to international travelers and dropping some of the harshest lockdown measures taken by any country.
Spring is in the air and South Africans are looking forward to enjoying it much more than in the past, given the long winter months stuck at home.
With a sense of going back to normality I ask myself how this crisis has changed our society, what is temporary and what is here to stay?
The first thing that comes to mind is that Covid-19 crisis has taught us to work remotely. European research has shown that productivity among highly skilled office workers has even increased. But we must be mindful that South Africa’s social economic situation is not comparable to Europe’s. Poverty prevents many from having the luxury of space and privacy in their homes. The lack of a reliable internet connection and load shedding reduces productivity considerably. It is my opinion that many South African companies have started making a mind-shift of reviewing their staff’s performance based on output instead of the number of hours in the office. This is an important shift and will ultimately allow South Africa to be more competitive globally. In the future we will most likely see hybrid models of working between office and home, leading to higher efficiency and less gridlocked infrastructure.Although the private sector had to be creative to keep their workers productive during lockdown, our Government did very good to continue the services of employees and instead many enjoyed a very long, ‘paid’ absence from working.
In the Immigration sector both the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Missions worldwide remained closed for four months. With the correct security measures in place and access from home for workers, this could have been avoided.
If security concerns prevented this transition the time could have been spent to up-skill workers with compulsory online training programs. In my opinion it is a missed opportunity that government should have used to digitize its people and processes. Now the tax payers have paid for a wage bill, for several months and received nothing in return.
The social distancing and sanitation measures, we all had to adhere to, have made us more aware of personal hygiene and the responsibility of avoiding the spread of germs. We hope this practice will remain as a norm in society especially for international air travel where it is expected that stringent hygiene protocols are maintained.
Sadly, the lockdown measures worldwide have led to a severe decline in GDP, poverty has increase and the standard of living for most has dropped. Sadly, the effects may be long term and South Africa will be in an unsustainable cycle of debt that might require more external borrowing and policy changes dictated by outside institutions.
In conclusion, life the way we knew it, is not expected to come back soon and Covid-19 will be the accelerator to ‘smart’ remote work. The years ahead will challenge our economic status and increase the levels of suffering.
On a positive note, this will force us to develop high levels of resourcefulness and entrepreneurship.
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Written by: Hans Kroll