All posts by BII World KSA

Forget Paperless, Are You Ready for the Touchless Office?

  • Touchless tech can give members confidence in shared workspaces.
  • Facebook is pioneering AR workstations and virtual avatars.
  • Connectivity is key to enable touchless tech, but cost is a limiting factor.

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Remember the paperless office? For years, we were told advancing digitisation would banish our photocopiers and paper-reliant processes. While we have reduced our reliance on paper, it never happened.

Now, thanks to the impact of COVID-19, a new buzzword has hit the headlines. The touchless office. But is this just more pie-in-the-sky dreaming, invented by catchphrase junkies with nothing better to do than try to flog their luckless VR systems?

The touchless office isn’t a new phenomenon either. From QR codes to biometric access systems, workspaces have scratched the surface with these technologies for years. Now, as people get increasingly nervous about the spreading germs, touchless technologies could help workers regain the confidence they need to return to the office.

From this perspective, this shift to touchless tech makes sense. Germs can live on a surface for 48 hours and 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. Want to know something really disgusting? 1 in 6 people also admit they don’t wash their hands every time they go to the loo.

Any device that requires a human touch to operate it is now a potential infection point.

Touch-free tech

Some touchless technologies are relatively simple and readily available, allowing us to use a gesture to activate a device or carry out a task. Automatic doors, for example, use motion sensors to seamlessly open when someone walks towards them. Touchless soap dispensers and toilet flushers rely on a wave of your hand to activate.

But what about automatic blinds, air-con systems and AV displays? These all usually rely on remote controls, which are handled by the masses. Touchscreen hygiene is another important area, which is a longstanding issue and one we must address in the age of COVID-19.

This is where sound recognition technologies could help. Using voice-enabled commands, you could simply ask your office blinds to lower or increase the temperature of your office.

Building control apps are another potential way to reduce the number of touchpoints in your office, where you can control your office environment with the swipe of a smartphone. A handful of apps already exist to allow you to control workspace HVAC systems, elevators and lighting, photocopiers and vending machines through your smartphone.

Your smartphone could also help you practice social distancing. Made by the United Nations, the 1point5 app notifies users when someone enters their 1.5 metre radius. Some wearables are also being retro-fitted with social distancing management and monitoring technologies.

Real estate company Cushman & Wakeman has also designed the “Six Feet Office” concept to demo how existing offices can be transformed into socially distant workspaces. The space includes subtly marked-out zones to keep people separated at a safe distance and encourages workers to navigate the workspace in a clockwise direction.

Workplace access is another key area where touchless technologies can provide members and visitors with a digitally managed experience. Some access control systems allow individuals to navigate through checkpoints using a QR code or another mobile-based access key. Others are experimenting with biometrics – but privacy concerns must also be addressed before you implement this technology.

You’ll also need to link all these technologies. Richard Morris, director at proptech company technologywithin, said: “Connectivity is key, so in order to enable a truly contactless office you need a fast and reliable internet connection.”

“A number of operators are also looking at better utilising the data they capture from their centres and how this can be deployed to help minimise contact in the workspace. For example, data can help to determine the number of people in the building during the working day, where the heavy footfall is, and how space is being utilised.

“By properly capitalising on this data, not only can landlords and workspace operators ensure that they are getting the best use of their available space, they can make certain that the health and wellness of their clients is paramount to their operation.”

Enter the AR

Augmented reality (AR) is another route to the touchless office, removing keyboards and other workstation-based germ magnets from the office entirely. Facebook is reportedly experimenting with futuristic desk set-ups where virtual, customisable screens float in the air and Codec Avatars of employees enhance social interactions in the virtual realm.

A recent Tech@facebook blog post states: “We envision a dynamic virtual work environment anchored by genuine social presence. Next-generation devices would give people infinite workspaces with configurable virtual screens, whiteboards, and other visionary tools. You could work alone or collaborate in a persistent meeting room with remote coworkers like you were all sharing the same physical space, and with all of the nuance of in-person conversation.”

Yikes. Personally, I’ve missed in-person conversations and no amount of VR trickery is going to convince me otherwise.

If you are wondering what a real touchless office may look like, then you may want to look at the headquarters of the Bee’ah waste management company in Sharjah, UAE.

According to recent reports in The Guardian, the building has been designed around “contactless pathways” where employees don’t need to touch a surface as they walk around the space. Facial recognition technology automatically opens doors for occupants. Lifts, blinds, lighting, and ventilation call all be operated with a smartphone and you can even order a coffee using one.

But a 100% touchless office may not be feasible for some operators.

Morris added: “There are already some examples of fully contactless offices around the world. However, not all operators will want to go down this route, largely due to costs and the fact that, for many people, the appeal of workspaces is the opportunity for human interaction. It is more likely that there will be a mix of contact and contactless, with certain technology – especially tech that supports health and wellness – being adopted more quickly than others as the need arises.”

While the Bee-ah HQ is a fascinating prospect, the touchless office seems as far away as the prospect of the paperless office for most workspaces. After all, even with all the latest touchless gizmos rolled out across your workspace – humans are still creatures of habit and, particularly after the isolation of lockdown, we’re going to need some human interaction from our workspaces now, more than ever.

How Technology Can Help Create Healthy Buildings

  • According to the WHO, a healthy building is a space that supports our physical, psychological, and social health and wellbeing.
  • Healthy buildings are good for people and they are good for business, as they can help organizations reduce costs and improve company performance.
  • With the help of smart technology and design, healthy buildings can enable a safe return to the workplace.

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The big question many organizations face today is how can workers safely return to the office? While new guidelines and protocols are a key component of a safe return to the workplace, an element that is front and center in these strategies is a healthy building.

A recent webinar from MIT and EY discussed what healthy buildings are, the role they can play in combating coronavirus and other diseases, and some of the key design and technology features that can power these types of buildings.

The panel of speakers included Selina Short, EY Global Real Estate; Dr Andrea Chegut, Director MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab; Erik Umlauf, Managing Director JP Morgan Chase & Co; Michael Norton, Head of Real Estate Operations JP Morgan Chase & Co; and Elizabeth Brink, Principal at Gensler.

From the get-go, panelists stated that the coronavirus pandemic will have a tremendous impact on our buildings and the future of work.

To this end, panelists unpicked the features of healthy buildings and the role that automation can play in powering healthy buildings.

What are healthy buildings?

The World Health Organization defines healthy buildings as:

“A healthy building is a space that supports the physical, psychological, and social health and well-being of people.”

Research has found that healthy buildings offer a variety of benefits and can help alleviate several issues.

  • Indoor health: the average American spends upwards of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings.
  • Productivity: there is a correlation between lower ventilation rates and higher instances of short-term sick leave.
  • Chronic disease: by 2030, a projected 52 million people will die due to chronic diseases caused by poor lifestyle.
  • Air pollution gains: $25 to $150 billion estimate in annual savings and productivity gains from improved indoor environments.

In other words, healthy buildings not only improve the overall health and well-being of the end user, but they can also help organizations reduce costs and improve company performance. Healthy buildings are good for people and they are good for business.

9 key design features of healthy buildings

  1. Ergonomic furnishing
  2. Natural daylight
  3. Operable shading
  4. Natural views
  5. Green purchasing policies
  6. No asbestos
  7. Fitness rooms
  8. Indoor air quality
  9. No smoking  policy

How design can impact healthy buildings

Careful workplace design can help create healthy buildings in various ways.

Organizations will need to redesign their spaces with density in mind. They can set aside floor areas as experimental rooms where individuals can learn new behaviors; these rooms allow them to simulate interactions and test how people will respond to these changes.

Another important component of design moving forward will be how indoor environments can have access to outside air flow. According to panelists, fresh, clean air can help maintain healthier environments and it can help dilute the human-to-human passage of air-borne elements.

Last but not least, design will play a key role in the creation of a touchless workplace; this can be achieved by using smart materials and implementing new technologies.

6 key technologies that can help create and maintain healthy buildings

  1. Robots. Experts expect demand rises for robotics applications that can detect, sanitize, clean, and conduct deliveries in public spaces such as office buildings.
  2. IoT sensors. Building managers can implement IoT strategies to enhance sanitation and health-related monitoring procedures in public spaces. Some use cases include the use of sensors to perform infrared scans, pinpoint crisis locations, and send alerts.
  3. Big data. Just as there will be an increased demand for robotics, there will be a rise in demand for enhanced analytics that enable organizations to track and monitor high risk public incidents. Big data also provides companies with perfect opportunities to perform modeling studies that can help guide policymakers and building construction.
  4. AI and algorithms. In addition to enhancing detection and diagnosis of COVID-19, AI and deep learning can be used to further understand how users move through environments and iterate on more efficient layouts.
  5. Wearable trackables. Office-sponsored wearable trackables coupled with algorithms will allow daily symptom tracking like overall body temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate, which can help organizations better understand early warning signs of infections and identify potential virus carriers.
  6. Digital twin. A Digital twin can show us in real-time how users can securely and meaningfully interact with each other and, in doing so, create secure, scalable, and adoptable digital ecosystems.

Future of Work: How the Iot, Ai, and Robotics Can Help Keep Workplaces Clean and Safe

  • Cleaning and sanitization are now a top priority for organizations hoping to reopen their workplaces and help workers feel comfortable going back into the office.
  • Emerging technologies like the IoT, artificial intelligence, and robotics can help improve cleaning processes and procedures by making them much more efficient.
  • Using technology to clean and sanitize the workplace environment can help reduce and slower the spread of viruses, bacteria, and allergens.

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As governments lift lockdowns and companies prepare the workplace to welcome back workers, technology could prove to be a key ally in keeping workplaces cleaner and safer.

Cleaning and sanitization are now a top priority for organizations hoping to reopen their workplaces and help workers feel comfortable going back into the office.

Naturally, improving cleaning and sanitization processes will require time, effort, and money. Luckily, emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics can help make the process much easier, efficient, and less time-consuming for workers.

Over the past five years, humans have been increasingly working alongside new technology such as robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. The post-pandemic world will offer a new area of opportunity for such collaboration.

Having an interconnected cleaning and sanitization system will enable more efficient protocols and procedures, while saving resources (mainly time and money).

Below are some of the potential applications of technology to drive cleaning and sanitization, therefore creating a much  safer workplace environment for workers.

The IoT 

By enabling smart lighting, smart temperature changes, and smart access, among many other things, the IoT can help keep workplaces clean and safe by reducing the amount of touch points a person has during a regular working day.

Furthermore, sensors and tracking capabilities of the IoT, combined with artificial intelligence, can help organizations determine high traffic areas or times during the day  when certain areas (like bathrooms) are used the most. This data can be valuable so that organizations can make a more informed decision of how often certain areas should be cleaned and whether there’s a time of day cleaning should be increased.

In the example of the bathroom, a cleaner (human or robot) could be sent to clean and sanitize the bathroom after 50 people have used it or during a specific time frame.

Such data can also help organizations identify  days of the week when traffic decreases and therefore when cleaning procedures do not need to take place as often as usual.

Bear in mind that with the IoT, the more “things” that are connected, the better the  information and data available.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence can be a powerful tool for organizations as they seek to improve their cleaning and sanitization practices.

One area that artificial intelligence can be beneficial is in layout and space planning. As organizations adapt their workplaces to maintain physical distancing, artificial intelligence, combined with sensors and tracking capabilities, can help identify high and low traffic areas and help create a more efficient floor plan and desk distribution.

When combined with the IoT, artificial intelligence can be used to ensure that organizations keep a stock of cleaning supplies and it can inform management when a supply is about to run out, it can notify people when an area is ready to be used again (i.e. a meeting room that has been cleaned and disinfected), and it can notify people when an area has been contaminated, and it can notify a cleaner that an area needs to be cleaned.

Another potential use case is AI-handwashing, which could help detect insufficient or incorrect hand-washing practices.


Basically, robots could be doing the dirty work for organizations as robots tend to perform extremely well in repetitive tasks (such as cleaning).

Robots could be used to scrub or sweep floors, clean surfaces, disinfect common areas, clean touchpoints, clean bathrooms, and more while providing real-time data on performance and analytics.

One notable advantage of using robots to clean is that it reduces or eliminates human exposure to bacteria, viruses, and allergens.

Be Like Water: The Bruce Lee Approach to Building a Resilient Organization

Organizations that do not adapt, simply do not survive. It’s a norm that applies to humans and businesses alike. Reality is that more than 52% of companies listed on Fortune 500  have disappeared since 2000 due to their inability to adapt to the digital age.

Resilient organizations can pursue digital innovations with greater confidence and speed because of their proactive and adaptive approach to cybersecurity.

Cybercrime to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021

According to State of Cybercrime 2017 report, Cybercrime damage costs to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021 which will be more profitable than the global trade of all  illegal drugs combined.

Cyber criminals, always look for the weak entry points which typically involve exploiting new technologies and/or people. Because technology is changing faster than ever before and users are barely able to keep up, attackers have plenty of possibilities. More than ever, it’s important for organizations and internet users to rethink the way they approach security to counter new type of attacks.

The Bruce Lee adaptive approach to cybersecurity: Be like Water

Besides being well-known for his one-inch punch, Bruce Lee was also known for his outstanding philosophy and wisdom. Organizations and users can adapt Bruce Lee’s lessons, when approaching security.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Be like water my friend” Bruce Lee

Accordingly, I have developed the Bruce Lee approach of adaptive security and mapped it to the cybersecurity cycle: Predict, Protect, Detect and Respond.

1. Predict: “Be Self-aware, rather than a repetitious robot”, Bruce Lee

Don’t make false assumptions. The first part of a security strategy relies on uncovering your risks and uncovering your weak spots. Being self-aware is key to properly predict your opponent.

2. Protect: “Obey the principles without being bound by them” , Bruce Lee

The fundamentals of security must be implemented before success can be attained. One common mistake is to rely mainly on security appliances to cover all of your bases. Reality is that technology changes all the time. Therefore, risk management must be agile enough to overcome traditional boundaries and absorb new threats.

3. Detect: “ Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light” , Bruce Lee

Ignorance has no place in cybersecurity. Visibility is critical to reduce the time to detect an incident. Therefore, 24×7 real time monitoring is needed to detect threats, isolate incidents and contain them.

4. Respond: “A quick temper will make a food of you soon enough” , Bruce Lee

Investigate breaches, analyze them, mitigate the damage and LEARN. A good fighter learns about his enemy prior to reacting.

Building a resilient digital organization.

The Bruce Lee adaptive security approach will help organizations develop a fluid cybersecurity operation that will support their digital transformation. This approach needs to be supported by an organizational culture that will encourage people to work, make decisions with security in mind. After all, technologies and processes will change faster than ever to cope with our fast pace environment, the only remaining constant are the people.

It’s time for organizations to adopt the way of the dragon and “Be like Water”.

Thank you Bruce,


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Keep Moving to Improve your Wellbeing at Work

  • There is one basic yet attainable change that every employee can do to help promote better wellbeing: movement.
  • It’s very unhealthy to sit down for extended periods as it can  increase spine pressure and reduce enzymes responsible for burning fat.
  • To build movement into your work day, consider using a height adjustable desk or setting reminders on your phone or computer to take regular breaks.

As you read this, what is your posture like?

Are you balanced on a kitchen bar stool at home or sitting crooked at your office desk?

It’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits throughout the working day, such as slouching or not taking enough breaks. If you’re working from home, the temptation to work long hours only amplifies the problem, which can lead to fatigue, stress and potentially burnout.

But sometimes the source of the problem is mechanical in nature. If your office chair doesn’t provide the right support, or if your desk is too high or low, it can cause additional health problems such as neck and back pain.

A workplace that promotes wellbeing requires much more than just good chairs; there are 7 dimensions of workplace wellness that range from the physical to the emotional, and each dimension can be addressed in different ways in the workplace.

In the meantime, there is one basic yet attainable change that every employee can do to help promote better wellbeing: movement.

Movement and Mobility

For some time, the threat of ‘sitting is the new smoking’ has been the call to action for workplaces, and with the line between work and home life virtually nonexistent, it’s essential for people to create as much movement in their working day as possible.

“Moving is critical. Move around between calls, take breaks, or walk to work”

Adrian McClenagh, Humanscale (speaking at Future WorkTech Forum 2020)

“Remember to adjust your position as often as you can,” said Adrian McClenagh, Managing Consultant for workplace design and furniture manufacturer Humanscale, who spoke at the recent Future WorkTech Forum 2020.

“It’s very unhealthy to sit down for extended periods. It increases spine pressure and reduces enzymes responsible for burning fat.

“Moving is critical. Move around between calls, take breaks, or walk to work if you can.”

Suggested Reading: 4 Ways to Combat Back Pain as a Remote Worker

Adjustable height desks can help create movement throughout the day as workers can mix up their sitting and standing time.

If you have an adjustable height desk, McClenagh advises the following mix of sitting and standing:

“In every half hour period, sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 mins, and spend 2 minutes walking or stretching. Do at least 2 sit-stand transitions every hour.”

For homes or workplaces that don’t have adjustable height desks, you can still build movement into your day. Set reminders on your smartphone or use a free app, such as StretchlyStand Up!, or Stretching Exercises at Home.

Guide to a Healthier Home Workplace

For those times when you do have to sit in front of a screen, make sure your workstation is adjusted to the correct height and angle. Humanscale’s 11-point guide to a healthy workstation offers the following advice:

When Sitting:

1. Raise or lower the seat to ensure your thighs are parallel to the floor with your feet flat on the floor or a footrest.
2. Adjust seat pan depth to maintain two inches of clearance between the back of your knees and the front edge of the seat.
3. Adjust backrest height to comfortably fit the small of your back.
4. Adjust the recline tension, if necessary, to support varying degrees of recline throughout the day. Avoid the use of recline locks.
5. Lean back and relax in your chair to allow the backrest to support your upper body.

When Typing:

6. Use an articulating keyboard support and position it 1 to 1.5 inches above your thighs. Angle the keyboard away from your body to keep wrists straight while typing. Rest your palms—not your wrists—on a palm support.

Using a Mouse:

7. Position your mouse close to the keyboard or over the numeric keypad to minimize reaching. Avoid anchoring your wrist on the desk. Instead, glide the heel of your palm over the mousing surface and use your entire arm to mouse.

Head Position:

8. Position the monitor at least an arm’s length away with the top line of text at or slightly below eye level. Tilt the monitor away from you so your line of sight is perpendicular to the monitor.


9. Position a task light to the side opposite your writing hand. Shine it on paper documents but away from computer monitors to reduce glare.


10. Align the monitor and spacebar with the midline of your body and arrange frequently used work tools within easy reach. Prop reference documents between your body and the monitor with an in-line document holder.


11. Take two or three 30- to 60-second breaks each hour to allow your body to recover from periods of repetitive stress.

Trade without Travel

It’s Trade Jim, but not as we know it!

The escalation of COVID-19 over the past weeks has had a profound impact upon every element of society. The word which has been quoted most in conversations I’ve had with colleagues, clients, friends and
family in recent days, is surreal – an overwhelming sense that those things that we once held as normal may never quite be the same again.

The decade post the global financial crisis has been a buoyant one for global trade, with trade growth consistently surpassing overall GDP growth in the 2010-2018 period. Over this time, global trade benefited
from a number of accelerators – the growth of emerging markets driving not just their own export volumes, but providing new markets for others to serve their growing industrial and consumer bases; the
on-set of the information age which made it easier for exporters to identify markets for their goods, as well as increasing global connectivity brought about by the growth in capacity and routes within the global
travel transport sector.

The last couple of years had presented a reality check; a slowing in global growth, a ramping-up of trade disputes, and a populist attach on the benefits of globalism.

And then COVID-19 arrived.

We are beginning to see changes in behaviour that we believe may be long-lasting, and political and policy changes taking shape that we predict will fundamentally re-shape international trade in the post COVID-
19 world.

Below are initial OCO’s predictions. We’ll doubtless evolve and refine these as we move through this period. We don’t expect things to be the same again.

Love thy neighbour
For several centuries, international trade was influenced by two predominant factors: cultural association and proximity between trading partners. Globalisation of the last quarter century changed that, and
supply chains have increasingly lengthened in a relentless drive to reduce costs.

Post COVID-19, we predict companies will actively seek to shorten supply chains to manage risk, and to enable them to reinstate elements of both flexibility and control (e.g. intellectual property) that have
been sacrificed. Whilst globalisation will remain, we expect to see greater regionalisation of supply chains.

Drown out the crowd

Fuelled by lower costs of international travel, visitor experiences more akin to rock concerts, and relentless marketing targeting to our innate FOMO (fear of missing out), the global trade show circuit has
become must-attend events.

Despite the hype, our client’s experiences are invariably mixed about trade shows. Too many times, clients have commented that desired meetings didn’t take place, the volume of deals weren’t as expected and
the total cost in time and expenses was not worth it. As the trade show industry is shuttered for the foreseeable future, we expect it to play a smaller role post COVID-19.

Trade goes Tinder

There is a significant opportunity to leverage and interpret data, connect buyers and sellers digitally to create a global marketplace that would be substantially more efficient and drive better outcomes for
trading partners. We estimate that such a system could improve margins for companies in the post COVID-19 world.

You got a friend

In the new world, we predict collaborations will increase. This will likely take multiple forms. The current emphasis on ventilator production demonstrates that companies can support each other and create value
through partnerships, IP and technology transfer as much as the physical export of product. We also predict that point-to-point collaborations between regions or sector clusters will increase as exporters
embrace shortened supply chains and a more targeted. In fact, OCO are already seeing examples of these collaborations emerging between clients in all parts of the globe.
Over the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing insights from across our global markets as developments progress, on our latest page and on social.

The Future Of International Trade Is Far From Terminal

It would be easy and almost justified to give up on international trade with the dark clouds of Brexit hovering above and the distant thunder of Trump’s tariffs reverberating ever louder day by day. With all
the uncertainty, it’s not without merit to ask if the return is worth the risk. Well, fortunately, I have been lucky to have some recent experiences that reinforce why global trade is good for the soul as well as for
The benefits of market diversification, currency hedging, economies of scale and others are well documented, but the human element of personal enrichment is mostly overlooked. I hope by sharing
some of my recent experiences, it will shine some rays of light through the grey skies and bring back some meaning to the madness.

36 hours in Tunis airport transit lounge. A kindly reminder to renew my seldom used Irish passport! Suited and booted but confined to a transit lounge with metal benches for a bed and some fairly limited food options, it wasn’t the evening I had planned for! Yet from adversity came light. On hearing my situation, one of my clients in Tunis who had just returned from Tokyo that day, promptly made up some sandwiches and made his way to the airport and got security to hand deliver them along with his coat, to serve as my blanket for the evening. A Lifesaver! I can’t imagine anyone doing the same at Heathrow.

In the same week, we secured a listing for a wonderful entrepreneur based in Tunis; Cotswold Fayre, a leading UK food distributor for independent retail stores. Having never exported before and selling primarily through her delightful shop, The CEO was naturally nervous about making this leap. We supported her through the registration process and the logistical challenges and in the end, she created the most elegant packaging for her delightful pates de fruits, coming to a shop near you this Christmas. Our support meant a lot to her, but really, we were the beneficiaries of seeing an entrepreneur grow in confidence and realise her potential.

In January, we started working with a small Irish business that is bringing digital transformation to how care is delivered to people with learning disabilities, helping them achieve independence and get into paid
work. A rather shocking statistic of only 1 in 4 school leavers with learning disabilities go onto further education and only 17% of people of working age are in paid employment. This must change. Our client’s
mission is to do just that and empower independence through technology. Clients like this don’t come along often enough and my team are personally invested in its success and delighted to be spreading the
word to companies, schools and colleges around the UK and soon into the US.

After just a couple of weeks of outreach, we secured our first sale. Call it good timing or good fortune, but it gave my team great satisfaction and showed just how powerful this solution can be in scaling
support for people with learning disabilities. Entrepreneurs on a mission, like CEO Lisa Marie, are inspiring. Started out of an emotional personal experience and driven by a very real global need, its life
affirming that ordinary people have the courage and conviction to do extraordinary things. And we are lucky to be part of the journey.

So, outside of Brexit, here are plenty of great things going on around the world and great people doing extraordinary things. Get out there and make an impact on the world, you will be rewarded.

Four Steps to Success for Investment Promotion Agencies in a Post COVID-19 World

This time last year, I was standing in front of my European colleagues in the conference room of a hotel in Strasbourg where we were hosting our annual corporate retreat. I was presenting insights and tips for
targeting investors from a North American perspective.

On one slide, I included quotes from two U.S. presidents, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. It was my mildly humorous attempt to illustrate the clash of cultures that I sometimes find between public sector
investment promotion agencies (IPAs), and private companies.

The quote from Kennedy was, “Ask not what your country can do for you – but what you can do for your country”. I explained to my colleagues that when talking to prospective investors, we should always be
thinking “Ask not what your company can do for your region, but what your region can do for your company”. The point I was trying to emphasize is that, over the course of talks with a company about
potentially setting up in your region, no matter how exciting the prospect of landing a headline-grabbing investment can be, you should be continuously articulating what your region can do for the company. How well you pay attention to a company’s needs during this process can make or break a transaction.

The second quote was from Ronald Reagan, who said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’”. The point I was making here was that the public and private sectors often operate with opposing priorities, budgets and timelines, which at times can produce reluctance from the private sector to collaborate with government entities.

Who could have predicted that one year after nonchalantly referencing these timeless quotes, we would see the Defense Against Production Act – a wartime statute – being implemented, with car companies like GM and Tesla shifting their production lines to make medical devices to help in the country’s response to a global pandemic?

Who could have predicted that, one year later, struggling industries around the world would be looking to governments for all the help they can get?

At some point in the future, we will be able to resume travel, return to restaurants, frequent sporting events and, of course, return to our offices. But what does a return to normal look like in the post-COVID-19 world? What does “business as usual” look like for investment attraction after the coronavirus?

In the short-term, companies are doing what they can to stabilize their operations, protect their workforce and retain customers. The travel and hospitality industries have been hit particularly hard as efforts to
stop the spread of the coronavirus have grounded 95% of flights.

Businesses from all sides of the economy are now having to plan for a different future. Investment promotion agencies should be no different.

With FDI likely to drop between 30% to 70% in 2020, what actions can IPAs take to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on global commerce? Several come to mind:

  • Re-route tradeshow and travel budgets: UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, estimates that more than 500 tradeshows have been cancelled globally. If, as many health experts believe, a vaccine is still 18 months away at the earliest, expect bans on large gatherings of people to continue well into 2021. Consider re-routing tradeshow budgets to other lead generation activities. When the public health crisis eventually eases, in-market visits with a scheduled itinerary of appointments with executives may be a more appropriate way to make the personal connections so vital to business recruitment.
  • Pitch to companies less vulnerable to economic shock: S&P 500 companies now have a smaller cash buffer to support their borrowing than they did a decade ago. Companies who were already in a weakened cash position before the coronavirus are unprepared for the current lockdown and economic paralysis. Companies who have higher stockpiles of liquid assets are going to have more cash to invest.
  • The sharing economy has been replaced by the isolation economy: The last thing anyone wants to do right now is share. While Uber, Airbnb and WeWork were the winners of the sharing economy, their business models make it difficult to adapt to our mandatory lifestyle shifts. On the other hand, the Isolation Economy is based on the principle that people need not travel to complete everyday activities. As everything from a visit to the doctor, a college lecture and a business meeting moves online, companies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Amazon are some of the clear early business winners in the pandemic. Focusing business development efforts towards companies that are related to delivery, home productivity, home entertainment, telemedicine, remote services, technology providers, 5G companies, security companies, or any other business that provides value to an increasingly static consumer, is encouraged.

To help you do this, OCO has created a Company Resilience Register, identifying groups of Agile Companies who have been able to switch their business models due to the crisis, and are likely to have the means to invest in 2020.

  • Accelerate digitization: If your staff need to work from home for the foreseeable, how prepared are you? Can you have virtual meetings with prospective investors? Can you share screens, or documents for collaboration? At OCO we have developed a number of solutions to help our clients conduct virtual matchmaking meetings and missions during this time.
  • Reinforce aftercare support for existing investors: Put more resources into helping existing companies expand in your market. Focus more on domestic investment attraction of US or international companies that are already in North America.

States and cities that implement smart and sustainable investment attraction strategies will see returns in growth, resilience, and competitiveness. Investment promotion agencies can use this period of social introspection to reflect on the way they interact, collaborate, create value, manage time and manage relationships with prospective investors. Those who can get ahead of the curve will emerge from COVID-19 be better-equipped to deal with what comes next. OCO stands ready to help.

Trade Without Travel

What a difference a month makes! Back in early March, the majority of us were still in our 9-5(ish) routine – sitting in traffic or shoving onto a packed subway car, to get to the office and greet our colleagues a
good morning. As the confirmed Coronavirus cases has climbed to over two million globally, empty streets and struggling businesses have decelerated the economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted much of our lives – from home schooling through to online grocery ordering and more baby boomers Snapchatting and TikToking than ever. It has also had serious impacts on international trade and global expansion. The World Trade Organization expects international trade to fall between 13% – 32% in 2020; global supply chains are struggling to find short-term solutions during this crisis, and short-term global expansion plans are being placed on hold.

However, the perpetual negative impacts from COVID-19 have ensured that most of us appreciate the technology in our lives. For those of us fortunate enough to work from home, our daily routine has changed from an overcrowded rush-hour commute to looking presentable enough for videoconferences and not being too embarrassed by the random passing by of a child or spouse in the background. Companies around the world have been leveraging Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, etc. to stay connected with colleagues during these socially distant times.

Here at OCO Global we are embracing the new normal of “Trade without Travel” and adopting virtual efficiencyto further expand digital transformation strategy for our clients across the world. For example, we are rolling out the concept of Virtual Trade Missions to many of our Economic Development Clients, enabling trade missions to take place at a fraction of the cost, in any country, at any time and with any buyer.

Virtual Missions still accomplish the same objectives of identifying international partners and customers and holding (virtual) in-person meetings. As 5G strengthens globally and we increase our trust in technology, digital innovation will impact the greater International Trade & Investment industry.

One of our UK clients, Boxmodel, has grown significantly in the US. Boxmodel are specialist software architects that deliver bespoke business solutions across the UK and beyond. Given the need for companies to undergo digital transformations in this new world, they are witnessing how organizations can gain a digital competitive advantage amidst this crisis.

Boxmodel CEO Alan Easton stated, “No business is going to be immune [to COVID] … in three months’ time, people will look back and see where they were faulty and not technologically driven. Organizations
should take this opportunity to review where there is a downfall in their business during this crisis and strategize how technology can be incorporated to improve the future business model”.

As we continue to appreciate the limited technology that is keeping our daily lives as normal as possible during the Coronavirus crisis, companies should use this time to plan digital innovation strategies for the future. For example: mitigating risk in the supply chain with 3D printing, using AI to improve customer  experience for an international customer base, or even decreasing costs through Virtual Reality training. As Easton states, “having a digital offer enhances the overall offer”.

Trade without travel – reality or rhetoric?

COVID-19 has impacted how companies in every country serve their clients in markets worldwide. Government sponsored trade missions and private sector trade shows have been cancelled. 52%of exhibit managers have implemented virtual events. Corporate exhibit managers project more virtual/hybrid events, lower trade show attendance, fewer large/national events, and more small/regional events

International travel is down 90% and will not return to normal until 2023. Even if flights exist, quarantines in numerous countries for arriving passengers render international travel impractical. Yet, businesses must continue face-to-face conversations with international partners and customers.

When a vaccine is available and international travel resumes, business travelers will still be wary of taking unnecessary health risks. By that time, business executives around the world will have become
comfortable with conducting international business virtually as an efficient, effective means of business communication.

In short, changes in how businesses communicate internationally are here to stay.

In recent months, I have presented solutions for doing international business virtually to over a dozen U.S. state trade agencies that provide international business support to companies. Common questions being asked are: What virtual solutions exist? What is virtual matchmaking? How is virtual business conducted? And what are the benefits to companies that engage in international business virtually?

OCO’s experience over the past six months working with both companies and export agencies has confirmed that conducting international business virtually can be more efficient and more effective.

More efficient in that exporters can achieve the same level of vetting of potential partners/representatives via virtual tools as with traditional in-person, in-country meetings, and with less
costs and time constraints of a traditional international business travel.

More effective in that virtual business, done properly, results in more engagement by decisions makers.

The benefits for companies to conduct international business virtually include:

  • More connections with more clients: In lieu of spending $5,000 for a weeklong trip, or $50,000 to attend an international trade show, an exporter can conduct regular visual check-ins with multiple clients.
  • Expanded market coverage. In lieu of confining business to 2-3 countries due to market assessment costs, exporters can explore new markets cost-effectively.
  • Higher value discussions emerging as norm. Deep discussions are no longer constrained to in- person meetings.
  • Differentiator with competitors. Exporters that are adept at doing international business virtually distinguish themselves from their competitors.

OCO has prepared reports on best practices for conducting international business virtually, including digital platform comparisons, export licensing requirements, emerging cultural norms and more. Contact me at the link below to learn more.

The impact of working from home on collaboration – WeWork

COVID-19 has forced a large portion of the global workforce, including 42 per cent of the US workforce, to work from home. Many studies have concluded that employees are making it through this period without losing productivity or collaboration. However, those studies are not assessing ‘collaboration’ in detail. A deeper look at the nuances of collaboration – everything from informal watercooler chats to structured board meetings – highlights that employees are in fact struggling in many ways while working from home.

In a detailed study, WeWork, in partnership with brightspot strategy, a research and engagement company, conducted a blind survey representative of professional office employees across the US, Canada, Mexico and the UK. The survey defined 10 various employee working styles (or ‘workstyles’) and assessed the impact of working from home on each type. Read more about the different workstyles. The workstyles varied based on how much one collaborates; with whom one collaborates; and how one socialises at work.

Survey methodology

The survey was launched and completed in July 2020. It asked professional office employees questions about their experiences working from the office (before the COVID-19 lockdown) as well as from home (during COVID-19). More than 600 responses were collected across six regions: the Eastern, Central and Western U.S.; Toronto and Montreal, Canada; Mexico City, Mexico; and London, England.

The survey identified collaboration in three ways: the ability to meet and brainstorm; the ability to maintain social relationships; and the ability to have unplanned interactions.

Respondents were asked to rate their ability to have different collaborative interactions, and their outcomes, on a scale from 1 to 5, both while in the office and while working from home. The difference between the ratings of working in the office and working from home was calculated to understand the per cent drop in performance.

Key findings

  • The ability to meet and brainstorm has dropped an average of 11 per cent for all workstyles since they began working from home. For employees whose roles rely on collaboration, the drop is even larger, ranging from 13-15 per cent.
  • The ability to maintain social relationships has declined an average of 17 per cent for all workstyles since working from home. For employees who have close ties to their colleagues as well as those who struggle to socialise in the office, the drop is even larger, ranging from 20–26 per cent.
  • The ability to have unplanned interactions has dropped the most, at 25 per cent on average, for all workstyles since working from home. For employees who collaborate in close-knit team environments, the decline is even larger, as high as 40 per cent.
  • The vast majority (90 per cent) of people want to return to the office at least one day a week. Twenty per cent of that group wants to return five days a week.

Click here to read the full report with more details about the 10 workstyle profiles and results by workstyle, region and industry.

In the workplace, innovation, creativity and organisational health hinges on successful collaboration. A loss of these outcomes will hinder sustained business performance, employee engagement and organisational health in the long run.

‘The global work-from-home movement… could actually generate a worldwide productivity slump and threaten economic growth for many years,’ says Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom. He highlights the correlation between in-person collaboration and innovation, and is concerned how “the new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth’.

Remote work also hinders long-term organisation culture. This is most clearly seen when looking at new employees. Remote tools can facilitate informational onboarding sessions but fail to support nuanced engagements in which new employees can apply their signature strengths or express their genuine selves. New employees may also feel removed from the company culture. Many employees – new and old – are experiencing social isolation. Without the ability to create or maintain social relationships, company culture and long-term organisational health suffer.

In addition, one of the biggest impacts of working from home has been the lack of unplanned interactions. This negatively impacts creativity, innovation and the overall organisational social fabric. Spontaneous encounters spark ideation and strengthen organisations. These interactions are often held during break periods, before or after meetings, in the hallway or at communal amenity points throughout the office. This type of collaboration during unplanned interaction stimulates creativity, which leads to innovation. Daily interactions that move between work-focused and social-focused conversations contribute to overall group cohesion. Without such spontaneous encounters, many of these benefits are lost.

Understanding the powerful long-term negative impacts of reduced innovation, organisational culture and creativity, our survey was structured to assess the ways in which collaboration impacted these outcomes.

Which employees struggle the most working from home?

Among all 10 workstyles we defined, the ones who have had a difficult time collaborating while working from home are: Collaboratives (people who spend more than 65 per cent of their time working with others), Internals (those who spend more than 62 per cent of their time working with other internal employees, as opposed to vendors or external clients), and Tribes (people who socialise with their team but are less likely to prioritise expanding those connections across an organisation).

These three workstyles have struggled to maintain social relationships, build trust, collaborate and remain connected with colleagues while working from home. What’s more, these workstyles account for 14–46 per cent of the professional office employee population. Internals make up 46 per cent of the work-from-home workforce – approximately 25 million employees in the US, 5 million in Mexico City, 3.1 million in Canada, and 1.24 million employees in London – and are the group most impacted by working from home, among all workstyle types we surveyed.

Collaboratives are struggling to do the work

Collaboratives are able to maintain social relationships while working from home but are less able to effectively collaborate with colleagues on work projects. When interacting with colleagues, they struggle to make decisions quickly; solve problems creatively and generate new ideas; obtain training, provide mentorship and build trust; and connect to company news and culture. In these areas, Collaboratives reported the biggest drop in performance (ranging from 12–18 per cent) compared with those who work less with others.

Working from home may further hinder meetings and interactions among Collaboratives, an essential factor in quality work performance. One respondent to our survey noted this struggle, saying that without being physically in the office, their team can no longer stay late together to finish a project on a deadline.

Internals have fewer and less high-quality interactions 

Internals have had fewer interactions while working from home. Their ability to facilitate interactions dropped 28 per cent, and the quality of those interactions dropped 15 per cent. With a 34 per cent drop in the ability to have interactions during breaks, one survey respondent noted that these ‘break period’ interactions aren’t possible while working from home as there is ‘no popping up at somebody’s desk or informally socialising by the coffee machine’.

Tribes suffer socially working from home

Tribes have seen big drops across many social factors since working from home, with their ability to facilitate interactions (planned or unplanned) declining 34 per cent. In the interactions they do have, they are struggling to maintain social relationships, obtain mentorship and build trust (dropping 23–26 per cent). Tribes are closely connected to those with whom they work frequently, and this shift to working from home has impacted their ability to maintain these relationships. One survey respondent emphasised that their productivity and success is tied to their team’s history and relationships, saying, ‘We have a team that’s worked together for a long time… That is why all of our projects are successful’.

Reigniting collaboration in the office setting

A large portion of the workforce has been working from home and missing out on the benefits of in-person collaboration. Innovation relies on the ability to meet and collaborate productively, organisational health relies on healthy social relationships and creativity relies on unplanned interactions. Survey responses across all 10 workstyles, and most acutely for Collaboratives, Internals and Tribes, demonstrates that in the long run, we will begin to see the impacts of working from home on innovation, organisational health and creativity.

As the amount of planned and especially unplanned meetings decreases, interaction quality also decreases – with direct, negative consequences for team cohesion and work output. Performance and productivity loss can and have been measured in studies. Yet creativity loss is harder to identify. Creativity loss becomes apparent through the long-term impact in organisationally healthy behaviour such as innovation and development.

The ability to meet and collaborate, maintain social relationships and have unplanned interactions may continue to suffer as employees continue working from home. This can lead to negative impacts on sustained business performance, employee engagement and organisational health in the long run. A shared workspace provides the environment for quality interactions, access to the people and resources needed to be productive, and opportunities for chance encounters to build social ties.

Ninety per cent of survey respondents want to return to the office at least one day a week; 20 per cent of that group want to return five days a week. When asked what would keep them from returning to the office, one respondent said, ‘Nothing at all. I am eager to return to my office as soon as possible’. A return to a shared workspace, designed with safety in mind, can support all workstyles in increasing the quantity and quality of their interactions and collaboration.

Interview with Vimal Kumar

What has been your personal takeaway from the experience of the COVID19 crisis in terms of its effect on business operations and re-strategizing the new way forward?

The ability to quickly adapt in an uncertain environment is the first thing that comes to mind. The onset of the pandemic has forced us to be more agile, enable productivity from segregated workplaces and is accelerating our digital transformation. It was important in that we were already on a path to building the new Absa DX, as being in lockdown pressure tested the digital strategies that we had implemented.

According to you what are the emerging technologies or innovations that you think will become crucial in the financial sector, keeping in mind the current global situation?

Digital is transforming the way we in which banks operate.  Artificial Intelligence; Big Data and Predictive analytics; Collaborating with Fintechs; Digital account opening, cloud computing, distributed ledger technology and onboarding; and onset of challenger banks; – these are just some of the new technologies that are coming our way, especially given the pandemic and how it has restricted face to face contact.

How ready is the region in adapting to the change in operations and how are government bodies assisting in the implementation of the changes?

Regulators have been very receptive to the changes that banks have been proposing to combat the effects of the pandemic. Reduced branch banking hours; implementation of payment holiday options; low touch/low contact payment models and working from home models have been established across our business. From a bank’s perspective, we have been ready with accelerating our Digital strategies and changing the ways in which we operate.

AI and Robotics, Blockchain, Data Science, Digital Engagement and CRM, Financial Inclusions – Which area has noted most promising adaptation in terms of innovation and digital integration? Why?
There isn’t really just one of these that has dominated the scene. In fact they all work well if they are used in collaboration. I would not want to rank order then as they are no firmly embedded in our go to strategy especially during these uncertain and challenging times.

How would you think attendees will benefit by attending Africa Bank 4.0 Summit?

I think that attendees would benefit from listening to how banks have reacted to the pandemic. It helps when you get insight from someone that you would normally not have access to.

Interview with Brighton Kithendu

What has been your personal takeaway from the experience of the COVID19 crisis in terms of its effect on business operations and re-strategizing the new way forward?

  • In times of extreme uncertainty, planning is limited and reacting is insufficient. Businesses that survive crisis are those that are structured in a very agile and nimble way with an adaptive culture.
  • Businesses ought to cultivate an organisation-wide innovation culture and intrapreneurship spirit where everyone is considered as an innovation champion and capacitated to look at problems and processes through the lenses of how they can be improved.
  • A sustainable business strategy is balanced by enterprise agility and cushioned by effective business continuity management
  • Cultivate and budget for innovative experimentations with quick feedback loops and agile iterations- Build>measure> learn*repeat
  • Digital Transformation for both back office operations that allow business to operate remotely but also digital channels that allow customers to transact on the go.

According to you what are the emerging technologies or innovations that you think will become crucial in the financial sector, keeping in mind the current global situation?

  • Open banking and democratisation of financial sector data
  • Co-creation and open innovation
  • Customer-centricity and enhanced customer experience (UX, CX, Design Thinking)
  • Locking customers by giving solutions to touchpoints across their financial lifestyle
  • Data-driven insights and decisions with enabled

How ready is the region in adapting to the change in operations and how are government bodies assisting in the implementation of the changes?

  • With African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) already in place since 2019, the market is opened up for more collaborative opportunities that would allow open banking, co-creation and shared regulatory policy frameworks.
  • Existence of Regulatory sandboxes like CMA in Kenya allows innovations in fintech that interplay with evolution of supporting policy framework
  • US-Kenya FTA being negotiated
  • With significant growth of startups and fintechs in the region, two African countries; Tunisia and Senegal have already enacted Startup Acts to provide guidance on how startup business would operate.

AI and Robotics, Blockchain, Data Science, Digital Engagement and CRM, Financial Inclusions – Which area has noted most promising adaptation in terms of innovation and digital integration? Why?

  • Facial Recognition technology due to the need to enhance e-KYC and prevent fraud risk.
  • Data Science, AI and Deep learning due to the growing need to unearth customer behaviours to provide enhanced customer experience and products those customers actually want.
  • Blockchain looks promising especially with globalisation and cybercrime, opening up the need for smart contracts, non-repudiation for digital transaction among others.

How would you think attendees will benefit by attending Africa Bank 4.0 Summit?

  • This will be an opportunity to share learnings from different organisations on how the businesses can re-strategize during a crisis and innovate to remain sustainable.
  • Covid-19 experience is unprecedented to African industries and this will bring together different players in BSFI to explore collaborative opportunities for co-creation including open banking.
  • Networking.

Kenya Whets Her Appetite For Chatbots To Enhance CX

Kenya has recently shown a real interest in chatbot technology evidenced by the fact that most organisations increasingly see it as a fast and effective way of enhancing the Customer Experience (CX) and Customer Engagement – driving efficiencies across their business.

This is according to Noah Amoke, Sales Executive for Kenya and Uganda at Infobip Africa, who says that the appetite for chatbots among enterprises in Kenya is largely driven by the realisation that they need to engage with customers on the platforms and channels of their choice, in a timeframe that today’s connected customers have come to expect

“This means that companies are opening more channels to communicate with their customers, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, web chat or email, and they want to offer a 24/7 consistent and standardised experience across all these channels. This can be done via a chatbot,” says Amoke.

Amoke notes that customisable chatbots, that support NLP, is a huge requirement in a multilingual country such as Kenya, where different dialects and languages are spoken, depending on the region.

“The increasing maturity of chatbot technology is also a driving factor for adoption. The current chatbots that are on the market have some limitations, especially in terms of understanding natural language. However, as more sophisticated chatbots become available, that offer with Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, we expect to see much higher uptake.”

Connected Kenya

As Kenya is leading the continent in terms of smartphone penetration and Internet usage, the phone is key to most transactions and activities in the country. Kenya has a 91% penetration of mobile subscriptions, compared to Africa’s 80%.

It is not surprising then that the country’s enterprises need to provide a mobile-first platform that allows their customers to communicate with them via chat apps, that are available 24/7, which greatly enhances customer service.

“However, it’s not just about enhancing customer services. The appetite for chatbot solutions also stems from the fact that they can lower the operating costs of companies and provide efficiencies that call centre agents cannot,” says Amoke.

He points out that chatbots can deal with multiple queries at a time, and call centres that deploy chatbots need less physical infrastructure, such as office space, meaning that they need to employ fewer agents and can spend less on salaries hence lowers the cost of operations.

“It’s also about flexibility. A chatbot can be deployed over multiple communication channels, be it WhatsApp, SMS, Facebook Messenger, web chat or email, and the quality and consistency of the response – the entire experience – remains unchanged across the various channels,” says Amoke.

Financial and telecoms uptake

George Muhia, Pre-sales Engineer at Infobip Africa, says uptake of chatbot technology has been particularly strong among organisations in the financial services and telecoms sectors in Kenya, but that other industries, such as retail, healthcare, and education have also shown a healthy interest.

“Chatbots can be deployed across any industry where a company wants to offer comprehensive customer support. Modern consumers want to ‘buy’ into experiences. Chatbots can assist organisations to deliver personalised experiences by making conversations relevant, interactive, and engaging,” he says.

Muhia explains that companies that are seeking to deploy a chatbot solution should look for an enterprise vendor that offers a customisable chatbot platform, offers good customer support and provides a solution that is innovative, with intelligent elements such as NLP.

“The key is that the solution is customisable, offers a programmable platform that can scale as the organisation requires, and can be fitted across any vertical. These days, chatbot solutions tend to be very robust and easy to use. Anyone can create a chatbot, without necessarily having IT or technical expertise, but it is best to team up with an experienced partner that can provide a flexible and scalable solution,” he concludes.