Friday, October 23, 2020

Inside the week that changed Botswana’s business tradition

Our next-door neighbors, Bullsheep Creative Studios closed their atelier on Thursday and worked from home.

The advertising and branding creative artists remote work was a dry run test of their business continuity strategy in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

For now, the jury is out on whether this experiment is simply a fad that will fade away over time, or the beginning of a workplace revolution in Botswana.

What is clear, however, is that the Bullsheep remote working is part of a movement by local and global corporates to adapt and ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

Although Botswana is yet to record its first confirmed coronavirus case, the disease is already dealing a devastating blow to the country’s brick-and-mortar businesses as public health officials warn against in-person interactions.  Debswana, which is the trailblazer in Botswana’s evolution to the new coronavirus economy has charted a way for other local companies to follow in ensuring minimal human contact. Since January 2020, the diamond mining company has been communicating regularly with employees about the health risks that the coronavirus poses, and initiated various counter-measures.

Effective March 23th, Debswana introduced shift working and working from home, “with guidelines to limit interaction and ensure the safety of employees” states a press statement from the diamond mining company and Botswana’s biggest private sector employer.

A press statement issued by Debswana last week states, “We have further intensified our risk containment efforts in the best interest of our employees, their families, business partners and the Company itself.  All regional and international travel has been suspended. …….  We have also stopped all external business partners and visitors travelling to meet us and instead utilize video conferencing to engage each other.”

These social distancing moves by Debswana which is Botswana’s trendsetter and other corporates that are following its lead are resulting in a shift towards digitization. Some businesses might snap back to in person business dealings after a temporary reprieve of social distancing. But there are no guarantees how long this new phase will last, and for now no one knows for sure how corporate Botswana will look like after Covid-19 subsides. What is certain is that virtual business is blooming from the opportunity of social distancing.

For many years, corporate Botswana has been trapped in the ruts of doing business. Practices such as remote work and online meetings have been slow to win widespread appeal because of behavioural inertia. But the Coronavirus is accelerating the uptake of these hitherto unpopular ways of doing business. It remains to be seen if jamming the rush hour traffic to work and travelling for business meetings would still be the normal way of doing business even after Covid-19.

The sense that the coronavirus outbreak is speeding up the digitalization of Botswana’s economy was palpable at the Botswana Editors Forum meeting last week to chart the Covid-19 Botswana media protocol.

While Botswana media houses have been slowly moving towards digital platforms, Covid-19 is expected to accelerate the shift. Botswana media houses have not been earning any money from their digital platforms, but there was always a sense that they presaged a major shift in presenting content and garnering readership cheaper.

Editors, Spencer Mogapi The Telegraph, Outsa Mokone Sunday Standard, Aubrey Lute The Weekend Post, Emang Bokhutlo The Voice Newspaper,Rorisang Mogojwe Gabz Fm and Sakaeyo Jane Broadcasting Sservices who met March 25th at  The Voice Newspaper boardroom agreed among other things to “ urge advertisers to migrate to mainstream media digital platforms”, to minimize person to person contact.

Norcaz training Academy and ABEA which offers short training courses for professionals in Botswana and other African countries announced last week that, “as from 1 May 2020 most of our courses will be offered online.”

While Botswana stands to suffer dramatic job and business losses companies that do most of their business online are expected to buck the trend. Telework and online education are expected to take root and flourish.

Multichoice Botswana also issued a press statement last week that, “across the continent we are seeing disruptions and delays. Production has been impacted across many countries and production has come to a complete halt in South Africa as the industry adheres to the national lockdown. For many years we have been a leader in the sector, and are a leading investor in local content production. We have deep rooted partnerships and long-standing commitments that have grown the industry for the benefit of many, both in front and behind the camera. It is for this reason that MultiChoice has decided to implement several measures, aimed at safe guarding the incomes of cast, crew, and creatives as well as the sustainability of production houses. With these measures we can hopefully steer the industry through this tumultuous time……..Through the MultiChoice Talent Factory we will be launching an online learning portal that will support over 40 000 members of the industry to gain access to courses and online master classes, so they can continue to hone their craft whilst adhering to the public health measures of social distancing and isolation.”

Seedstars Botswana chapter also issued a statement last week that, “given the growing concerns around the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, we’ve decided to redesign the Seedstars Summit and bring it fully online to ensure everyone’s safety.

“The Online Seedstars Summit 2020 will happen on the same dates (31 March to 3 April) and will be completely free and open to everyone

“Of course, we are disappointed that we won’t be able to connect in person, have a quick chat at a coffee break or welcome you with a warm hug at the Summit, but let’s use this opportunity to spread the knowledge and connect virtually. And trust us, with the Seedstars team distributed all over the world, we can still have virtual coffee, as well as online breakfasts!

At the moment, we are preparing an updated agenda of the virtual Summit. We will inform you shortly on all the details. Please subscribe to the event updates to receive an invite.”

While some economists caution that these shifts may be temporary, others see long-term changes taking hold. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, online meetings and remote work may actually end up as the new normal.

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