The new, global work-from-home normal could open new opportunities to tackle unemployment
With South Africa’s unemployment rate at above 30% for Q1 2020 – and more than half of the youth estimated to be unemployed – we need to get creative about addressing our joblessness crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic could be the catalyst that sparks new thinking about economic opportunity in our country.
Along with the economic pain the virus has caused, it has also forced us to think differently about work. With millions of people working from home during lockdowns around the world, we have put digital tools and working practices through a rigorous stress test. We have conclusive proof that people in many roles don’t need to go to an office to do their jobs.
And once an enterprise accepts that someone can work as well from home as from a centralised office, it’s not a big leap to accept that their home could be anywhere in the world. There is an opportunity, thus, for South African professionals and companies to position themselves as service providers to companies in other parts of the world.
The idea of pursuing offshore work isn’t new – companies worldwide have ‘offshored’ call centre and software development services to countries like India and Poland for years and Cape Town has a burgeoning business process outsourcing sector serving a global client base. What is new, however, is how the work-from-home paradigm expands the opportunity to new job roles and new types of clients.
Amazon’s work-from-home jobs
I was fascinated to see Amazon advertise 3,000 new virtual jobs in South Africa in roles ranging from customer service to technical experts. These jobs are home-based, with the advantage that Amazon can rapidly scale up without large real estate or other infrastructure. If this becomes a new normal way of working, it surfaces a massive opportunity for South Africans.
We have a large pool of graduates with strong English proficiency, we share a time zone with Europe, and we can exploit the value of the rand for a cost advantage. Individuals and companies alike could offer a great balance of value and performance to a growing list of overseas companies that are open to working with people offshore.
It would have been much more difficult to run digital media campaigns for overseas companies when I started in this industry in 2005. Not only would clients not be interested in outsourcing to providers outside their home territory, but the collaboration tools for remote work were immature and we did not have the in-market publisher relationships.
Today, however, it’s possible to efficiently run a digital media campaign for any market from any market. You can trade in ad inventory via online auctions in much the same way as an asset manager trades stocks. The certifications for working on platforms like Facebook and Google are globally standardised, too, so what really matters is one’s proficiency with the tools and data.
Digital tools are ready for the new world
Relationships are still important, which is where today’s tools like Slack, Zoom, Teams and so forth come into play. As we all get used to the digital normal, we find that we can cultivate good relationships using these platforms.
I haven’t seen a colleague face to face since March and we are operating at a higher level of efficiency than before. The time we save on car travel makes it worthwhile. We’ve been able to put these extra hours to productive use – for example, I’ve had more time to participate in meetings I would otherwise have missed.
Of course, it’s not desirable or possible for companies to outsource their digital media and marketing needs in their totality. There are some areas where brands will want to keep tight internal control, particularly strategy.
But when it comes to roles such as programmatic buying or search and social, we think South African teams that have the same levels of platform accreditation as a team in the UK (for instance) at a fraction of the cost will be a compelling offer for many offshore companies.
Not only applicants and digital media companies, but also recruitment specialists should look at the potential that this new way of working offers for South African jobhunters. We have many great candidates to offer the world – and many companies elsewhere in the world may, for the first time, be willing to consider them as work-from-home employees or contractors.