Cultivating An Ecosystem For The New Way Of Working

By Aasiyah Adams, founder of Abaguquli4IR

Exacerbated by work-from-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic and notwithstanding the return-to-office push of a few companies, the penetration of remote and hybrid work across the majority of blue-collar businesses has created a new way of working. Coupled with rapid innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), these changes have further expanded Industry 4.0, more commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Building on the Third Industrial Revolution, which introduced digital technologies, the 4IR encompasses the next phase of digitisation, one that is driven by disruptive trends such as data and connectivity, analytics, human-machine interaction and improved robotics. 

The 4IR presents an opportunity to cultivate an ecosystem that is more productive, fun, driven by milestones and smaller sub-projects, and embraces gig economy workers. Additionally, as  South Africa further permeates the world stage as part of the BRICS intergovernmental organisation, this new ecosystem will become central to bridging work relations across geographical boundaries.

In recent years, companies seeking to streamline operations in response to economic downturns and investor pressures have made middle management positions redundant, citing these employees as providing little productive value. However, managers will become increasingly integral to the 4IR working environment, where traditional management styles that emphasise rigid structures and hierarchical decision-making processes will be rejected in favour of more agile, collaborative approaches. Employees will be empowered to take ownership of their work and companies will foster cultures of continuous learning, collaboration and embracing of diverse perspectives.

Managers will provide oversight across projects and attach greater importance to achieved outcomes rather than hours obtained. One approach that will be highly prized is that of agile project management, where managers will employ an iterative approach by composing several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of each project. This approach is frequently used in software development projects and promotes autonomy, adaptability, trust, empowerment and collaboration.

In the South African context, cultivating 4IR skills involves investing in education and training programmes that equip individuals with the technical and soft skills required to thrive in this evolving working environment. It includes promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, fostering digital literacy and integration, creating agile work environments, and providing opportunities for upskilling and reskilling using digital software, tools and platforms. By nurturing a workforce that is adept at leveraging technology and embracing innovation, South African businesses can position themselves at the helm of the 4IR work revolution, thereby placing the country in a favourable position for 4IR-driven opportunities amongst the BRICS nations. 

The 4IR provides a transformative advantage to cultivate a new working ecosystem that is not only more productive but also more enjoyable for individuals. By embracing agility, fostering a collaborative mindset and investing in much-needed 4IR skills, organisations can harness the potential of the 4IR to enhance their workforce’s competitiveness and digital adaptability and drive sustainable development and economic prosperity. 

Aasiyah Adams is the founder of Abaguquli4IR, a company committed to providing critical digital and technology skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Prior to founding Abuguquli4IR, Aasiyah held roles in human resources and training and development, and speaks regularly on 4IR and digital transformation. She is a Transformation Specialist, a member of the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) and an MICT SETA Community Expert Practitioner. She has also served on the 4IR Committee for South Africa with MICT SETA. Amongst her numerous awards and honours, she received the Womandla Women in Stem Award, was named MTN Top 10 Women in Digital Business and a Netherlands Embassy Top Women in AI, and was a regional finalist in the Global Startup Africa Awards 2023.

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