'Get back into the office to boost economy'

More employees need to stop working from home, Sappi HR head tells leadership summit

Image: EVA PLEVIER

The sooner more people stopped working from home and went back to the office, the sooner the stagnant SA economy would start to recover.

This was the view of Sappi HR head Fergus Marupen who addressed the second and last day of the Nelson Mandela Bay Leadership Summit on Wednesday.

Marupen said people working from home bought sweat pants and T-shirts during the hard lockdown restrictions.

But with the rate of Covid-19 infections having significantly dropped, resulting in SA moving to level one — which paved the way for more businesses to reopen — Marupen said more people should go back to work.

If people go back to the office they start to move and when people move they help stimulate the economy. In our industry if people go back to the office they will spend money buying clothes, he said.

Marupen warned that despite the easing of restrictions, the depressed economy would take time to grow at a desirable rate.

The road to recovery is going to be long, hard and choppy because we already had challenges before Covid, but lockdown restrictions actually caused some permanent damage to the economy.

Unemployment will be higher in some sectors and you can see by way of an example, the travel industry has been decimated as a result of restrictions, he said.

He said compared to the UK and Germany, the programmes that the SA government implemented to help companies during the lockdown, such as the Ters, were limited.

The theme of the summit, a collaborative partnership between the Nelson Mandela University Business School and the MIKS Foundation, was “Leadership skills to navigate economic turbulence and disruption”.

On Tuesday, former public protector Professor Thuli Madonsela, stressed the importance of ethical leadership.

She also suggested that to deal with corruption, SA should consider having a truth and reconciliation commission where corrupt people could confess their dealings without fear of being punished, as they would get amnesty.

On Wednesday, globally acclaimed futurology researcher Prof Sohail Inayatullah stressed the need for a change in mindset, saying there needed to be more emphasis on planning for the future and moving with the times.

He warned that failure to do so would result in more companies going bankrupt.

The Pakistani-born Australian academic said it was important to see the future as a learning journey and as an asset.

Now what does that mean? Today we're in a situation where we provide evidence and data on future pandemics, but many leaders either get overwhelmed or panic or don't want the information.

Information doesn't change decision-making. This is the situation we're in information doesn't always lead to changing decision-making.

“Our brains are wired for the past. This becomes part of the big issue: how do we rewire our brains?

“When time gallops we can predict the next step we don't know quite what is going to happen, but we do know if you act decisively and include others if you can get 25% of the organisation — you can have an exponential influence that will have an impact.

In a world where time gallops, what happens?

Some people say let's just do it, climb the mountain.

This is corporate strategy without looking at the changing future. [You are] unable to see the shift you lose market share and you go bankrupt, he said.

He said the old assumption was that strong males would lead the future.

We're seeing the opposite. The strong males in Brazil, India, UK or the US have been disastrous, he said.

Inayatullah called on people to challenge their assumptions about the future.

He emphasised the importance of slowing down before we can speed up.

We've learnt that working from home works. Yes, there are issues, so this is the needed pause before speeding up.

What should we do differently? Should we still go to work?

Certainly, maybe once a week. What do we keep after Covid-19?

Cisco senior director and presidential fourth Industrial Revolution member, Charmaine Houvet spoke about the devastation caused to companies and people when they are hacked, using the example of communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams' WhatsApp allegedly being hacked.

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