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SOMESH ADUKIA: Paper versus Digital – The Future of Work


Digitization is revolutionizing the way businesses operate across the globe, and Africa is no exception. 

Over the past two years, remote and hybrid arrangements have become the norm in the workplace. We have seen the proliferation of new digital tools and platforms to support hybrid work, such as video conferencing, cloud-based software, and collaboration platforms like Teams and Zoom. IT teams have had to support this transition by providing technical support for these new digital tools and platforms, all the while ensuring cybersecurity and data protection, and managing remote access to company systems and applications.

The challenges of navigating digitization in a hybrid working world

Navigating digitization in a hybrid working model can be challenging for both businesses and IT teams. Research conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of Canon,  shows that there is a divide between businesses and employees when it comes to hybrid working. While businesses think they are largely digital, employees are experiencing a host of niggling issues. 

One of the most prevalent challenges facing employees working remotely is access to important documents, both digital and physical. This, combined with other related issues (such as difficulties with business processes, and having to visit the office to print, pick up or sign documents in person) suggests a wider problem – organizations have not yet completely rebuilt their business processes to function in a virtual environment. As a result, we’re seeing employees struggling to perform basic steps in everyday document-based workflows, like processing invoices or contract approval, when outside of the office. 

Moreover, equipping new workspaces has been a major challenge for IT teams.

According to 2021 research conducted by McKinsey, 65% of companies had increased spending on digital and technology during the global pandemic, despite significant cost cutting elsewhere in the business. This suggests that most companies are aware that they need to undertake digital transformation, fast. 

According to our report, 71% of IT departments say that solutions that would support their hybrid working are not compatible with their legacy infrastructure. Furthermore, 72% say their printers and scanners used in different locations were not designed to work together.

While companies may have the basics in place, most businesses have yet to rebuild their document-based processes for a new hybrid work. By creating a digital-first culture that empowers employees to work smarter, businesses can help ensure that their digital aspirations are aligned with the everyday work experiences of their workforce. 

On the African continent, the challenges that employees face with technology are more complex than regions elsewhere. Some of these challenges are:

  1. Limited internet connectivity in parts of Africa: In many parts of Africa, internet connectivity is limited or unreliable, which can make it difficult to maintain consistent connectivity between employees working remotely and those working in the office.
  2. Limited access to hardware: In some cases, employees may not have access to the necessary hardware, such as laptops or smartphones, to effectively work remotely. 
  3. Inadequate IT infrastructure: IT infrastructure in companies may not be equipped to handle the demands of hybrid work.
  4. Security concerns: Hybrid work can create new security risks for companies, particularly when employees are accessing company data and systems from remote locations.
  5. Lack of digital skills and expertise: Many countries face a shortage of skilled professionals in the tech sector, which can be a significant barrier to the adoption of digital solutions. 

It’s important for businesses to recognize the unique challenges faced by employees in Africa and work to create solutions that meet their needs. To overcome some of these issues, companies can invest in improving internet connectivity and providing access to digital tools and technology to support remote work. 

By addressing these challenges proactively, businesses and IT teams can help ensure a successful transition to a hybrid working model in Africa.

The transition to paperless operations

Despite the adoption of digital technologies in the workspace, businesses have still not moved to paperless operations. While digital solutions have made it less expensive and easier to store, retrieve and share information, paper documents still have a place in many business operations, especially in Africa. A great deal of business on the continent still gets done on paper in the workspace via scanners, printers, photocopy machines and faxes. Many small-to-medium sized business operate in a paper centric environment, using paper as part of their everyday workflow and transactions. 

One of the advantages of the blend of paper and digital in the hybrid workplace is its flexibility. The use of digital technologies allows for seamless collaboration across physical locations, while paper documents provide a sense of tangibility and familiarity that can be useful in certain contexts. 

To make the most of the blend of paper and digital in the hybrid workplace, businesses must identify which processes require paper documents and which processes can be digitized. This may involve investing in document management systems, scanners, and other technologies that can facilitate the transition to digital workflows while maintaining the use of paper documents in specific contexts. 

By identifying which processes require paper documents and which can be digitized, businesses can create a flexible and productive workflow that accommodates both in-person and remote work.

Somesh Adukia, Managing Director, Canon Central & North Africa

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