Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School Leaders for tomorrow
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Back to Index 23 April 2020



By Dr. Randall Jonas, NMU Business School Director



The global proliferation of COVID-19 shifted the focus almost entirely on the public health and economic impact of the pandemic. Yet, its impact on work, society and education is no less profound. Lockdown measures aimed at “flattening the curve” have wide spread effects. The slowdown in the world’s rhythm is almost unthinkable and a world in quarantine is almost apocalyptic.

Labour markets are facing a drubbing as employment levels are in sharp decline. Due to the uncertainty and fast-moving events, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates a total of 195 million job losses due to the global meltdown in the coming months. This includes the fulltime job equivalent consisting of technical unemployment, partial unemployment and job retention schemes.

The pandemic is an unprecedented crisis leaving the world with many unfamiliar unknowns. The post-COVID-19 world is thus likely to be a world of multiple scenarios. The pandemic has also catapulted our world into a plethora of digital solutions, a rapid embrace of 4IR if you like. From remote working to virtual meetings, racing and sport.

The world as we know it has changed profoundly and the human condition is tested with social distancing, an unthinkable necessity. Man is, after all, a social being and thus far it meant person to person interaction, a handshake, a hug, kiss or meetings and gatherings in groups…togetherness...intimacy are lost. The global lockdown has put an end to it and people are embracing several technologies to stay connected and preserve the human story.

The lockdown in many countries has also led to a cessation of non-essential services and education was among the first to go into early recess. How then can educational institutions, especially business schools, continue to offer instruction? Seemingly, going online is the best option to salvage learning and teaching.

Even though online courses were once well outside the mainstream, business schools are now going online urgently. The success is, however subject to technical support and infrastructure, staff capability and skills, student access to data and IT infrastructure.

In addition, making this transition is not easy as business schools face many headwinds: economic decline, reduced funding and rising costs, complexity, competition and socio- political factors. However, the positive development is that online learning increases access and teaching remains an indispensable part of our industry.

Companies and organisations are forced to institute remote working in a no-touch world. Working from home digitally has significant implications for the nature of work. The way we work and how work is organised, is changing at an accelerated pace. To be sure, this marks a major shift for digital transformation of the workplace with major implications for organisational behaviour with focus on topics such as managerial control, productivity, motivation, perceptions, power, conflict and communication. It is near impossible to assume it will be business as usual after the crisis.

How should business schools respond? The important thing is to create value for our students through responsible action. Since face-to-face teaching is presently not possible, we need to explore alternative modes of delivery and take measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the lockdown on the learning and teaching activities in the current academic year.

The NMUBS adopted a Completion for Success Strategy (CSS), which follows staggered pathways for learners/students. Virtual learning and teaching is here to stay and leveraging available technologies is inevitable. We are committed to creating an agile business education experience to all our students.

We are also mindful that working from home is likely to reduce motivation. There is a body of academic research (McGregor & Doshi, 2020) on remote productivity indicating a decline. Emotional pressure and economic pressure are two key negative factors, especially under the hard lockdown in South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Information overload, fears and uncertainty also contribute to a lack of motivation. Furthermore, work inertia is also likely to increase. Notwithstanding this, working from home also presents opportunity for creativity, less commuting and more flexibility. It is up to us to make the most of the situation. When all of this is over, we will still work. For a purpose.

Working from home diminishes the dynamics of people working in face-to-face settings in the workplace. A positive factor for increased work performance is play, which can boost performance if there is collective problem-solving. Due to isolation and distancing from the work-setting, purpose can also decline. Lastly, in the absence of collaboration among colleagues, potential may also decline. Leveraging available, smart technologies may prove helpful in overcoming some of these barriers.

The COVID-19 global pandemic also offers a rare opportunity for leaders to rise to the challenge to help teams navigate these turbulent and unpredictable times. Leading in adverse times will require sustainability thinking, complexity management, collaboration and engagement mind-set, empathy, contextual intelligence, empirical mind-set, conscience and environmental consciousness.

As you stay at home to observe the lockdown, may it also be a time for reflection and a reset.