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9 2 5? IT’S 2 0 1 8!

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Following which I am immediately composing this column, marking my diary and checking and responding to my emails. It’s not surprising that I am getting immediate replies – others are working at this ungodly hour too.  Should I blush that I am interacting with my clients while I am unwashed, hair ruffled and clad in nothing but scant clothing which improvise as pyjamas?  I find solace in the thought that what my clients can’t see won’t hurt or scar them from life and this is part of the reality of working from home.

I don’t think anything of working like this. When I first moved to Botswana to start my business I worked from my bedroom and would get up every morning and put on collar and tie to do my job – even if it meant that I would not leave the room that day or come face to face with a client. I wouldn’t have dared make a telephone call or send a telex or fax after hours thinking this was unprofessional.   At 5 o’clock I changed, figuratively and metaphorically, as the business day was effectively over. 

Today it’s all different.

My thought this morning is how companies cater and compensate for such out of hours work which we all do and of course the only way is by genuinely allowing a more flexible approach to work.  I strongly believe that people should have individual control over how, when and where they choose to do their work and that this makes for more inspired outputs.  I know a lot of managers still struggle with this paradigm and question how can you stop people taking it too far and is it really possible to produce your best work while on a camping chair in the delta?

The biggest plus factor for flexible working is that it inherently suits us as human beings. The old 9 to 5, pigeonholing of people just feels wrong because, well we’re not pigeons who all behave in the same way like those birds in their communal loft. While we are similar as homo sapiens we are uniquely different when it comes to circadian rhythms, or our 'body clock', which has a huge impact on our behaviour and productivity – and that explains why some people, like me, are quite happy to be hammering away on the key board at 5am while others rock up  9 still wiping the sleep from their eyes.  

When you are aware of your natural rhythm you can organise yourself so that you do your best and most productive work at the right time, not in the slot allocated to you by the job. How many times I have heard people say things like ‘I am useless before 10’ and I have thought ‘OMG we have just paid you for two hours of nothing’! Flexibility to work allows an organisation to get the best from their colleagues 100% of the time like starting that employee at 10!.

What about location?  Someone once told me that offices were generally designed with everyone in mind, which meant they worked for precisely no-one – by which he meant that no one would choose to have an office designed in the way they do, mainly grey, functional and to put it bluntly, dull. Fortunately, many companies now try to ensure creative and collaborative spaces, retaining the essence of what an office is meant to do, but putting a bit of 'fun' back into function. 

There may always be offices as there will always be a core of people that need that discipline of coming into an office to be able to produce their best work, same as there will always be a core of people that find working in public really distracting.  I kind of like both. Sometimes I am at a coffee shop, sometimes here in my improvised pyjamas as I write this article or in the board room – it all depends on what needs done and my mood.  Having flexibility with location allows me to choose what works for me for me to work.

The reason that we can work where it suits us is because infrastructure and hardware can support this style of working.  I know you can’t issue everyone with a laptop but that’s not the biggest barrier to really offering a 100% flexible work life.  That is the old bugbear, ‘Presenteeism' – physically putting in an appearance, even if it just for appearance’s sake.

Many managers still subscribe to the notion that if people aren’t ‘there’ how will they know if their staff are working? I say the same way that you would if they were in the office which is by measuring what they do and achieve. But, when you really don’t know what your employees do and achieve because you haven’t figured out how to measure it, then you will reset to default which is measuring their time…they came and they left – it’s the 9 to 5 box which you tick even when it is meaningless so to do.

Flexible working arrangements require trust and clear standards to truly be successful and whilst many organisations can happily deal with the latter, it is often the former that is missing. So, we don’t allow flexible time because we are scared that people could take advantage so psychologically we obsess on the 1% who might abuse it rather than the 99% who would embrace it. It's actually very easy to spot someone who is being a bit too flexible (read ‘lazy’) when it comes to their work as the output just won't be there, just as it is easy to spot the people who might be overdoing it and working too hard. This is the core role of management and it doesn’t disappear or get diluted just because a more fluid approach to work is adopted.

For me having flexibility improves my happiness and satisfaction and that of my staff – without a doubt. But its not just staff who benefit, customers do too.  The world has moved beyond 9-5 and services that fail to keep up, die.  Many of our customers are working more flexibly themselves, so we need to make sure we can be there for when they need us, not when we think it is convenient.  A flexible working approach means you can explore a greater range of opportunities in a greater range of time zones and a greater range of operating hours.  The harsh reality is that we have moved into a global workplace which operates 24-7 even if that sometimes means in the privacy of our own homes and in our scanties!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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