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THE VIRTUOUS WORLD

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My humble apologies – ncesini kakhulu bekunene – I meant the virtual world. But to the naked eye the two words are virtually the same.

Oops, there we go again. Let’s switch to the virtual office. On the negative side this new kid on the block has facilitated the pretence – often cheating the tender process – of the ‘briefcase supplier’. On the positive side, it has enabled the start-up company to rent an office from home, providing a physical office address and all the office services with mailing address and phone answering, without the travel and administration costs of a real office. Prompted by Public Enemy Number-One, COVID-19, it has spawned the world of online office work, where professional life is mainly in front of a screen; a bunch of notes on one side of the laptop and a plate of toast and jam on the other.  It’s a future norm that is being proposed (without the toast) by many people; and opposed by as many more.

As we start to put this idea in perspective, let’s kick off with an old expression – horses for courses, today’s version perhaps being one size doesn’t fit all. There may be a strong justification, in many countries, for keeping people in their homes, away from the traffic congestion; to make a motorway journey of 400km before nightfall you need to start at 1am, with vehicles pouring onto the same motorway at 3am. Those people travelling 90 minutes in each direction by car, bus or train should work from home if they possibly can, but clear it with the boss first. One American family recently moved house 350km to a lovely area, hoping the employer would approve the permanence of the new online office method it had adopted. I hope that family keeps its fingers crossed; even when working the keyboard.

Benefits

But you will never replace the pleasure and benefits of personal interaction in the workplace.  Regardless of job content, there are common benefits that would otherwise be lost. The pleasure of working together, greeting others in the corridor, enjoying the warmth of interaction, refreshed by the different environment. Even some playful banter; and meetings? There is no way virtual meetings, which have ‘zoomed’ into our lives, can replace an actual meeting, where many senses are drawn upon when sitting with others – what you see, what you hear and what you sense; and much more. But society is changing and technology is dictating. An office professional can work online; a manufacturer cannot; but watch out for the 3-D (three dimensional) printing, laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. You can now buy a 3-D printed gun that works, but I wouldn’t recommend that; just run, like I do. If you work in a retail outlet you don’t sit all day behind a screen. But, in these times of online supply and doorstep delivery, that world is changing too.

What a shame, you might say. Not only could a large proportion of the occupants of the congested urban areas get stuck at home, working in a virtual office world, but they may find themselves drawn addictively to other forms of present-day technological innovation. Such as an evening transfer to the couch, pressing buttons on the smartphone, surfing the Net or getting a pizza delivered to the house. The day will come when you touch another button that opens the garage door and sends the self-drive car down the road to collect the pizza instead. When we were hunter-gatherers we were in pretty good shape without all that stuff. You couldn’t get a heart transplant in those days but you could run a wild pig to ground. Modern technology is making global society heavier; and mostly in the wrong places. That’s another dimension of the virtual office. Too much sitting down, putting on weight to the extent of obesity and making your family worry that you won’t make 50.

Advice

That’s 50 metres on foot before you’re out of breath! May I offer an unsolicited piece of advice? If you have to work at home please spend some of your time with the laptop on a chest-high surface so you stand and shuffle as you operate it. Not necessarily all day but it is considered health-protecting, and offices are introducing that style elsewhere in the world. It’ll take you back to Dickensian times, standing at such a desk with the quill pen and the ledger. No, I wasn’t around at the time. We have seen virtual education in these COVID-19 times. A highly resourceful substitute for the real thing but not remotely comparable when considering what face-to-face schooling does to intensive knowledge acquisition, social interaction and intellectual and emotional growth. Much of what you see in the school applies to the office. And, believe it or not, the routine and journey to and from destination are also valuable components.

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