South Africa’s already strained economy and infrastructure were dealt a severe blow on Sunday with government declaring a national state of disaster to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

From schools shutting down to a ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people, no sporting events taking place, and some municipalities even closing public areas like zoos, parks, and sports grounds, the very fabric of what makes us South African is being tested.

During this crisis, many companies have been forced to review their polices and allow people to work remotely wherever possible. Of course, this brings with it its own set of challenges as people need to show self-discipline and avoid the distractions that working from home could bring. South Africa is a social country, but for at least the next several weeks this will have to change if we are to weather this storm.


Inadequate business continuity

Even though the shutdown is only a few days old, it has shown that the business continuity plans of companies do not accurately reflect the massive societal impact at play. Granted, very few organisations around the world could have prepared for all these eventualities. But the situation must now create an awareness that more must be done to ensure operations continue as close to normal as possible.

Failing this, the economic impact on travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, events, and education will spread like wildfire through all sectors of the market to influence every South African irrespective of their background, political viewpoint, or financial standing.

Social distancing has become the new norm and will likely increase pressure on the country’s infrastructure.

It is imperative that businesses try to mitigate some of these risks by embracing this age of digital engagement. Employees need to have access to the tools necessary to work remotely. But this is just part of the equation.

Yes, people need reliable internet access, they need secure connectivity to the corporate back-end, and they need other tools to ensure work is done. But if a high level of productivity is not maintained remotely, there could be long-term consequences that will extend way beyond 2020.

Traditionally-minded organisations will feel the need to micromanage their remote workers. This not only takes away from the time they need to spend on realigning strategic objectives, but it will unnecessarily pressure employees who are already stressed with the current circumstances.


Opportunities for success

Businesses must therefore consider four key pillars in these difficult times built around the expected increase in digital engagement – connectivity, security, mobility, and cloud.

From a connectivity perspective, remote workers are not just consumers of large volumes of data, but also content generators themselves. Their access must be geared to reflect the growing upload needs required for video conferencing and sending work files back to the business.

While wireless or fixed wireless connectivity is considered as an alternative, these are best effort services. The more people that connect to the base station, the worse the connectivity experience becomes. This hinders employees from performing their duties, especially those that are customer-facing which can negatively impact the brand.

Turning to Fibre during this time will provide organisations and their employees with stable, low latency connection. Given the type of activities that employees will be engaged with, it is critical that a symmetric option in terms of upload and download speeds is selected.

Government has promised uninterrupted power supply – lets pray that this time their promises hold up.

That said, to ensure uninterrupted service delivery to customers, all staff working from remote locations need to ensure that they have access to a UPS that can keep a workstation and connectivity up for at least 4 hours.

An equally important aspect is that of security. This is resulting in the edge of the company network being extended bringing added challenges for those in charge of maintaining the organisation’s IT infrastructure. So, while a business can protect its network, company laptops, and smartphones, the situation is less clear when it comes to the home networks of its employees. In this scenario, people have multiple devices connected to their router, creating additional points of vulnerability for the company network.

Mobility and the cloud are two sides of the same coin. Firstly, businesses will need to consider what systems they want to be able to let employees have access to from their homes. Is it just an extension of the PABX so calls to the office are automatically routed home? Do they just want to focus on video conferencing, or unified communications and collaboration? What about all the data and applications – such as for finance, customer relations, supply chain, and more – that workers need access to?

Enabling a true work from home environment where employees can be fully productive, with access to all the tools and information they need, requires a well thought out cloud strategy.


Wood for the trees

Even in accomplishing all this, more still needs to be done around employee education and upgrading the redundancy plans of organisations. Once the crisis is over, it is safe to say that nothing will ever be the same. Companies will no longer remain unaware of their disaster recovery plans and what they must do in times of crisis.

The only thing left to do now is to solider on, be as productive as possible, and try to weather the uncertainty as best we can.

The indomitable South African spirit will live on. We must persevere and embrace the new digital way of doing things.