Author Archives: Vanessa Clark

Relearning in uncertainty

How are South African companies transitioning workers to adapt to the changes in the workplace?

Media reports coming out of this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos revealed that Western business leaders are taking a Janus-faced stance on the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on their employees. While the public conversation was laced with concern about providing a safety net for people who are replaced by machines, behind closed doors, it appears, the talk was all about the imperative to drive automation and gain the promised cost savings and productivity wins as a matter of competitive necessity. Doing more with less is the mantra.

The question arises then, what are these business leaders doing about Gartner’s advice that companies need to reinvest a significant portion of the money they save through automation into training their people? Gartner’s point goes beyond a moral obligation to existing employees, and speaks to the historical trend that every time there’s an increase in automation, formal education needs to be extended. Take a lawyer who no longer needs to do the repetitive drudge work that a first- or second-year associate typically does, because they’ve been augmented by software that can wade through contracts and review them, freeing the humans to do more rewarding work. However, when it comes to drafting complex contracts, the human lawyer hasn’t had the hours of experience reviewing contracts to draw on, and this capability gap needs to be filled in other ways. Likewise, the call centre employee who no longer deals with the routine, day-to-day inquiries, gaining valuable basic experience, but is expected to immediately cope with more complex inquiries that machines aren’t yet able to deal with.

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Working nine to five, or not.

Estate agents Simony Santos and Kyle Leigh wanted to operate their startup agency in a different way, but they were not totally convinced that a mooted new business model could work. Traditionally, agents get a percentage of the total sale of a property, but they were not sold on the model adopted by many other newly formed agencies, which charge a flat-rate for selling a property. So, they went back to the drawing board and figured out a way to make it work.

They ended up doing something radical.

They decided not to have an office at all, to embrace flexible working, i.e. giving staff the freedom to work where they please.

The cost advantages of the new model are clear. Not having the overheads of an office enables them to pay their agents a higher percentage of the commission, and still run a sustainable business.

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Crowdfunding 2.0

Friends, family and fools: the typical starting point for entrepreneurs with a good idea, but not enough money to get it off the ground. Now, around the world, since the 2008 global financial crisis, that cohort has a new member: the crowd.

Crowd-based funding has seen sites like Kickstarter and the locally based Thundafund make it possible for people to support projects in exchange for swag, experiences or early releases of the product.

Crowd equity funding is a step up from this. It gives backers the opportunity to own a piece of the startup they want to support. First seen in the US, UK and other countries that have provided favourable regulations and tax incentives for investing in small businesses, crowd equity has now arrived in South Africa.

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