5 Ways to navigate tech during SA’s on-going energy crisis | The Planner

Byline: Gavin Burgess is a Systems Analyst with a special interest in the way humans interact with technology. He is the Managing Director of Technology Partners, a leading ICT services provider in South Africa.

There is a plethora of information available on various solutions available to homes and businesses to combat loadshedding. Instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of what solutions you need, here are five practical steps business owners should follow to weather the SA electrical storm:

1. Prepare for the long-term

With Eskom’s recent announcement that loadshedding to at least Stage 2 will endure for the next 24 months, businesses will need to embrace this challenge and prepare for the long-term. If history has taught us anything, the move to Stage 2 at a minimum will easily be exacerbated by factors over which we will have little control. Energy requirements increase during the winter months; the already failing power grid will continue to add pressure resulting in breakdowns at power stations; and traffic lights out at intersections will impact employee commutes to work as well as supply chain deliveries. Stage 2 can quickly become Stage 6 or 8, and the only way out is to plan ahead.

Determine what resources your business will need to survive, and then make investing in these resources a priority. Wherever possible, don’t take a band-aid approach for the cheapest way out – doing so will only lead to significant cost of upgrades, repairs, and maintenance in the future.


2. Don’t blur the (power)lines

Mobile phone with no battery powerWhile the majority of the technology in your business requires electricity to work, electricity and technology are not synonymous. If you don’t already know the difference between a UPS and an inverter, or if you don’t already understand how much backup power can be expected from equipment choices like these, speak to your technology consultant about what will best suit your business.

It’s also critical to understand that technology consultants are not electricians, and you will need to engage the services of an electrician if necessary. DIY fixes can also be problematic, such as assuming that laser printers can run on inverters (in most cases, they can’t), or assuming that generators are safe for use with computers (without the necessary measures, your insurance may not pay if a generator surges your computers or network devices). Whatever measures you are thinking about taking, check with your technology consultant as well as your electrician to be sure that the solutions you opt for are safe and sustainable.

“DIY fixes can also be problematic, such as assuming that laser printers can run on inverters (in most cases, they can’t), or assuming that generators are safe for use with computers (without the necessary measures, your insurance may not pay if a generator surges your computers or network devices).”

3. Focus on your own energy

While we cannot control the energy crisis, we can control where we place our own energy. Consider re-shuffling your workday to accommodate for loadshedding before the situation takes control of your life. This may mean working flexitime to incorporate personal time; negotiating meeting times outside of ordinary business hours with clients and suppliers; or moving to a shift-work scenario with your human resources.

Person asleep at desk

Because we are all affected, clients and suppliers will be open to suggestions for meetings that are at mutually convenient times. There are some great tools available to find time such as Microsoft Findtime, Doodle, or even the new WhatsApp poll feature to figure out what works best for all participants. Internally, consider using the Outlook Scheduling Assistant to help you coordinate your team.

Some companies have decided that hybrid working is here to stay, and others have insisted that their people return to the office. This is a bitter-sweet time for the use of technology because business owners need to decide between the wellbeing of their workforce and the long-term sustainability of their companies. In the South African context, employees who work from home require not only internet connectivity, but backup power too. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that the amenities ordinarily provided to staff in an office may not be a luxury that everyone has at home.


4. Continue to embrace remote meetings

Whether it is Zoom, Teams, or anything in-between, remote meetings are something we all needed to embrace during the pandemic. Now that we have all figured out how to make sure when we are not “on mute”, and learned how to share our screens to collaborate, and (hopefully) recovered from webinar fatigue, we are well equipped for this. Meeting remotely will never replace the necessity for face to face communication because human beings we are still hard-wired for connection. However, to tide us over during the energy crisis, remote meetings remain a good solution.

Remote meetings often run over time for two reasons: firstly, there is no commute to an online meeting and therefore everyone arrives with the illusion that there is more time available to everyone, and secondly, participants feel an obligation to unnecessarily state the obvious – this phenomenon is a new type of performance anxiety that we have not seen before in a traditional boardroom setting. Stick to meeting agendas and be respectful of every participant’s time. Meeting remotely helps keep your carbon footprint in check too, and you can literally meet with anyone anywhere in the world.

Online meeting


5. Watch out for burn-out

The pandemic taxed us in many ways. We had to cope with the stress of an imploding economy, anxiety over the future of business, and for many people, saddening and outright loss. Somehow, it became acceptable to work around the clock – especially if you spent a protracted amount of time working from home. The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases recognises Burn-out, and for good reason. If you haven’t already, consider taking stock of where you are as a person in the aftermath of the pandemic and make any long-overdue adjustments to your goals. If you work from home, choose your office hours and stick to them. For many business owners, work/life balance will never make sense because for them, work = life. If that’s you, check in with yourself regularly to make sure that you are getting enough rest and carving out enough time for whatever nourishes you. As much as you need to recharge your devices, you also need to recharge your soul.

“As much as you need to recharge your devices, you also need to recharge your soul.”


Bonus tip

The rate of cyber security incidents is on a rapid incline globally. Downtime as a result of electrical outages not only has the potential to damage your physical network infrastructure, but also provides a window of opportunity for cyber attackers to exploit vulnerabilities while equipment is starting up. Speak with your technology consultant about what cyber security measures you have in place, including what contingencies are available if your business suffers any downtime. Additionally, be sure to implement any necessary measures to protect your business if you have employees on a hybrid or remote working arrangement.


Cover image: Shuttertock.

Article images: Alexander Andrews (flat phone battery), Nubelson Fernandes (asleep at desk) and Sigmund (online meeting) all from Unsplash. Cyber security image from Shutterstock.

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