Working from home: the real implications for public services

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Patrick Perkins | Unsplash | Working from home | Public service | covid-19 | Dec 2020-2

The last 2 global digital statshot reports by We Are Social and partners show that some of the Internet consumption trends that were inspired by COVID-19 are here to stay.

One such trend is working from home.

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I shall show in this eNsight why governments, including in South Africa, should be keeping an eye on digital trends such as the one above given the potential impact on the economy, and thus determine the need for adapting delivery of public services accordingly.

Table of Contents

Inspiration for this eNsight

I facilitated a digital literacy training session with some of the top officials at Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality on Friday the 4th of December.

While going through the latest digital trends as part of preparation for the session, the penny dropped. 

Working from home, a digital trend that was accelerated by COVID-19 lockdowns, has real implications for the delivery of public services by the likes of the Ekurhuleni Municipality.

This light bulb moment inspired the development of this eNsight. 

First, latest developments on COVID-19

Resurgence of infections

COVID-19 is on the resurgence in some parts of the world; including the US, Europe and Asia.

Thankfully, as I publish this post, vaccines are being rolled out in China, Russia, the UK and the US; and there is hope that we are nearing the end of this dreaded disease.

Africa has been spared

Africa has to date experienced one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the world, and this is a relief.

South Africa, which is leading the continent with number of infections, has also been relegated in the global infection rankings, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest speech on the disease on 3 December 2020.

Working from home: a COVID-19 lockdown trend that caught my attention

According to the July 2020 Digital Statshot Report, 27% of the world’s Internet users (or 1.2 billion people) say they would prefer to continue to work from home, even after COVID-19 ends.

Graph 1 below breaks down this finding across top 18 countries.

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | Digital Statshot Report July 2020 | Working from home | implications for public service | covid-19 | Dec 2020-3
Graph 1

As Graph 1 shows, South Africa is in the top 3 countries for Internet users who want to continue working from home even after the COVID-19 season.

SIDE NOTES: 6 in 10 South Africans have access to the Internet;
and 5 in 10 are active on social media.

FinFind Survey: where employees of South Africa's surviving SMME's worked during COVID-19 lockdown

FinFind has just released the results of a survey report titled The SA SMME COVID-19 Impact Report | November 2020.  

The key objective of the report was to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the SMME sector in South Africa. 

One of the key findings, which relates to the subject of this eNsight, is captured in Graph 2.

eNitiate | Bra Willy Seyama | FinFind SME COVID-19 Survey | Working from home | implications for public service | Dec 2020
Graph 2

As Graph 2 shows, most of the employees of surviving SMME’s have been working from home.

QUESTION:

Will South Africans who want to continue working from home – a whopping 15 million residents – have the infrastructure to enable this permanent arrangement?

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More specifically, are the various arms of government up to the task of ensuring reliable and consistent delivery of public services that will make working from home possible?

The real implications for public services

Working from home demands reliable supply of electricity as a prerequisite, among other key services. 

As it is the case with many basic services such as the supply of water, the overwhelming majority of South Africans rely on the government for the supply of electricity. 

Sadly, as every South African now grudgingly accepts, the never-ending erratic supply of electricity has become a fact of life in this country of almost 60 million people.  

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Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams, have you been analysing these digital trends?

The persisting unreliable supply of electricity has resulted in many work places putting a backup power source in place, which in many instances is diesel-run generators that are always on standby. 

However, many households cannot afford such a facility due to associated prohibitive costs.

What does this mean for those who prefer to work from home?

The impact of erratic supply of electricity

Working from home is enabled by the ability to charge a workstation, access the Internet so as to work on the company cloud and participate in virtual meetings with colleagues, break for a freshly made hot cup of coffee, and have warmed up nibbles if they so choose – all which require a power source.

Add to the above the anxiety that the erratic supply causes, and the fun of working from home quickly disappears.

Without reliable supply of electricity, workers’ productivity is adversely affected, and this makes working from home a proposition that is not viable for businesses.

Do public service providers understand the implications of the emerging digital trends?

This is an important question.

Government cannot build, improve or adapt public services if there is a gap in the basic understanding of the implications of emerging digital trends.

I am not certain that there is the required understanding, and I dare say this gap exists beyond government in South Africa and the continent at large. 

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The lack of understanding of the implications of emerging digital trends is the reason why I am a huge advocate of digital literacy training.

Ekurhuleni has shown commitment to up-skill the municipality’s human resources, as evidenced by the digital literacy sessions that I facilitated to date at various levels of management in this local government.

As I conclude

One thing is clear, the current inefficiencies in public service delivery are laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am hoping that focus on digital literacy by government at all levels is going to be yet another trend that emerges from this era of COVID-19.

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