Thursday, October 6Inside Business Africa
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Embracing tech to enable new ways of work Khomotso Molabe, Chief Information Officer at Standard Bank South Africa

The pandemic has reaffirmed our belief that technology can make us more human, not less The pandemic has reaffirmed our belief that technology can make us more human, not less

For large organisations, the past few months have been a stress-test of their digital infrastructures and their ability to quickly adopt new ways of working.

 Established organisations globally had to shelve traditional ways of working almost overnight as governments imposed national lockdowns aimed at curbing the humanitarian impact of the pandemic. 

 For companies that were not already well on the way to becoming future-ready, the shift to remote work was disruptive and challenging, and, in some cases, an existential threat. On the other hand, those organisations that had already laid the groundwork have found the transition to be relatively painless, and their digital journeys have taken significant steps forward.

 Thanks to deep investments in digital technology in recent years – Standard Bank Group spent nearly R12bn in IT over the past 18 months and bolstered its strategic partnerships – the shift has been smooth.

 Adopting new ways of working in a matter of days is no mean feat for a multinational organisation with more than 50,000 permanent employees. Africa’s largest bank invoked its business continuity plans in March, when national lockdowns were announced across most of its African portfolio, and these largely remain in place today.

 Since the onset of the crisis, the group has built on its existing technology capabilities by enhancing its remote-work capacity, further strengthening its cyber resilience, and by developing tools to keep employees informed and connected.

 More than 75% of the group’s employees are still working productively from home, leveraging the bank’s digital tools, including a purpose-built Covid-19 Connect App. To enable remote work, the bank has provided about 27,800 mobile data Sim cards to its employees in South Africa, up from 8,600 pre-COVID-19. 

 Standard Bank Group employees are now holding roughly 500,000 Microsoft Teams meetings every month, from  20,000 before the crisis. Even large conferences, including the Standard Bank-hosted Africa Investors Conference (AIC), are being held virtually for the first time in partnership with Microsoft. Encouragingly, participation at AIC was even better than in previous years.

 While the group is planning a gradual, phased return to the office, this process will be subject to risk assessments and country-specific regulations, including social-distancing requirements. The bank is in no rush to return to traditional ways of working, particularly given the success of the shift to digital.

 Upskilling our workforce

 The group has also increased its focus on ensuring that employees are prepared for the ‘new normal’ and that they build career resilience and the skills needed for a digital world. In doing so, Standard Bank is becoming more digital yet more human, and is striving to leave no one behind in the process. Human connections are particularly important in the age of social distancing.

 In addition to the group’s own training programmes – which are aimed at empowering employees with digital skills, analytical capabilities, and customer-centricity – the group is building future competencies in partnership with the likes of Degreed, IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce.

 Digital skills such as coding, artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity, as well as data analytics, will become increasingly important as we align ourselves to the needs of individual customers.

 They will also complement uniquely human skills and qualities such as emotional intelligence and problem-solving. In 2019, Standard Bank piloted a Behavioural Science Academy, the first of its kind, and designed a framework for the development of ‘meaningful conversation’ skills, for instance.

 And our new online learning platform, launched at the end of April 2020, has been a huge success. More than 22,000 employees have accessed the platform, and close to 400,000 learning items have been completed so far.

 The group’s leadership team entered the crisis in a strong position to lead remotely, having already taken various steps to improve their ‘digital savviness’ so as to better guide the digital transformation of the business. These initiatives included completing a study module facilitated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and executing digital projects where directors were paired with younger members of staff. 

 

Positive feedback

 Naturally, working from home has been a major adjustment for the leadership team and for all employees. An extensive internal survey, in which more than 22,000 employees participated, revealed that while staff have generally been anxious – this has been the most uncertain period of our time – they are also grateful to be employed and to be able to continue working productively, and there is a general sense of optimism about the future.

 As many as 83% of our employees have accessed content and tools via our Covid-19 Connect App or our Intranet Information Hub, which provides information on precautionary measures, symptom checkers, myth debunkers and other informative topics. This has been particularly valuable given the plethora of information out there, including misleading content.

 Encouragingly, 95% of employees say they have already adapted to working from home, with many saying they have enjoyed being able to spend more time with their families. And most employees say they have become more productive. Moving forwards, there is clearly an appetite for a more flexible working environment, where employees work both at home and in the office.

 All organisations, regardless of size, are at an important juncture as the pandemic speeds up the shift to digital and takes its toll on the global economy and on people’s livelihoods. 

 Standard Bank Group is confident that thanks to its ongoing investments in digital technology, the diversity of its operations, the strength of its balance sheet and the depth of its skills, it is well placed to weather the storm and help its customers through the pandemic. The bank is determined to emerge from this crisis stronger and more future-ready than ever before.

 

 

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