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Nonku Ntshona talks all things 'lockdown'.

South Africa is currently in its sixth week of nationwide lockdown, having moved from alert level 5 to alert level 4 and currently we are at advanced alert level 3.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy and as we ease slowly into bringing back some form of normality in South Africa, business and industry nationwide are struggling to come to grips with the 'new normal'. Our CEO, Nonku Ntshona gives her views on how lockdown has affected her as a business owner in South Africa as well as the quantity surveying, property and construction industry as a whole.

Q: How are you coping working remotely?

A: Working remotely has not been easy especially juggling work, school work and also monitoring kids with home schooling, homework as well as household chores. It has been particularly difficult getting into a routine such as being punctual and on time with all online meetings/webinars and online class etc. I battled to go back to exercise now that I had to exercise from home. I’ve been battling to eat clean and healthy but as of this week I started recording what I eat so that I am not overeating or eating the wrong foods. However, this has given me an opportunity to learn more about remote working and I have discovered better platforms such as Microsoft Teams vs Zoom vs Skype and I am happy that the entire NNAQS team has finally got the hang of it as going forward we will all be going digital.

On a personal front, this lockdown has taught me to be patient, more disciplined and plan my day to the T! It has also taught me better time management. I have also been fortunate that my kids are home and I get to spend quality time with them and just listening to their opinions and their very strong views has been a huge blessing for me. If life was normal, they would be in boarding school and I would be busy at work and travelling to Spain for school. It has also given me an opportunity to reflect and review my life and where I want to be in a year as well what I want to achieve in the next 12 months.

Q: How has the nationwide lockdown affected your productivity and accountability?

A: My productivity has definitely increased as there are no interruptions from calls in the office and extra internal meetings. There are no site meetings and travelling to and from site which at times can take up your entire day and when you get back to the office, it’s time to go home and you have not accomplished much. I have also learnt to manage my time so I can be more productive especially when it comes to being home with 3 other people, as they need to eat and so you need to have a balance. I’ve had an opportunity to also work on my school assignments uninterrupted.

Q: Has it affected your goals?

A: This lockdown has definitely affected my goals not just career wise but also my studies. I was meant to finish my MBA at the end of May this year and graduate early June, but because of not being able to travel, two modules have been put on hold and we have to finish one module online. We are still uncertain as to when exactly we will be able to finish this course as my plans were that once I am finished in June as of 1st July I was going back to work full time and would have had more time to connect with clients and engage with potential clients as well as get involved on working on projects.

Q: In your opinion, how has it affected the construction industry?

A: There are various theories of how the industry is affected. We have been fortunate that we are able to work from home and this has given us an opportunity to get things done such as, complete bills of quantities for projects that will be going out to tender as soon as lockdown is over but this said, a lot of anxiety of the uncertainty as some clients have already started communicating delays as well as cancellations. Construction is on hold and so we are unable to invoice on work in progress on various projects and I guess this is the same with many consultants as well as contractors. I see the industry definitely shrinking in size and re-looking at sectors that will generate more income for example the office sector will suffer because many companies have become accustomed to working remotely so they will reduce office space. Shopping centres will also not operate the same way. Retailers will revert to online shopping and so the shopping experience will pose a huge risk to customers alike. This all. has a ripple effect.

However, I see opportunities in the education sector - there is a backlog with schools being built and renovated and some Gauteng schools have been burnt down. I also see opportunities in the health sector as well due to a need for facilities that can accommodate Covid-19 patients as well as quarantine sites. The tourism, hotel and leisure sector will shrink too as not too many people will be moving around so hotels will therefore not be busy - I foresee some hotel management companies also consolidating to cut down costs.

Q: What are your thoughts for the future of this industry? How has lockdown changed the way forward?

A: Going forward I see a different industry with less human contact and more remote planning. Also how certain facilities are designed, right now architects and engineers need to take into consideration a national disaster. As it stands office space and offices are not occupied and the industry is proposing that landlords consider giving discounts for April and May. This will definitely lead to further need for tenants to cancel leases or reduce size of the space they are renting in order to cut down costs, there would be a view of rotating staff in the office having 50% of staff working at one time. Also abiding to social distancing others may need to increase space which I doubt is viable in an economy that is already shrinking.

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