How remote work stopped being the future

The coronavirus pandemic, amongst other factors, has caused drastic changes to popular work culture in Nigeria. The civil service structure of organisations, in which workers are at the office for 8 hours or more, Mondays to Fridays, suddenly became obsolete as the pandemic made proximity a threat. The response to this was, at first, the shutdown of offices, then the gradual reopening of organisations that could not afford to remain closed with new structures in place, like remote work. 

Before this period, remote work was a highly-criticised concept. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo ex-CEO said, “People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”1 Working from home is usually met with disdain because it suggests the idea of working away from supervision, breeding a lack of incentive, and these views are mirrored in Nigerian workspaces. 

The development of technology and commodification of the internet created some lapses to these views. Jobs like software development, design, content writing and digital marketing flooded the job market. By 2014, millennials, fresh out of university, started to criticise in-office culture. Commuting difficulties, entrepreneurship, freelancing were some reasons why working at an office became a mundane endeavour. With minimal guidance and strict deadlines, employees could meet their KPIs. Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work and by 2017, the percentage of LinkedIn members who said that flexible work arrangements were important when considering a job increased from 25% to 31%.

But this process cannot work for traditional companies with structures, procedures, several departments and staff. How would the sales team function? How would supervisors and managers keep their teams in check? Andela, a software engineering and outsourcing organisation with headquarters in the US, became popular amongst tech millennials in Nigeria because of a new culture it implemented. At a subsidised rate, staff could live in boarding apartments (campuses) with unlimited internet access. Removing transportation, housing and internet access constraints that traditional work structures face at a go.

RED | For Africa, a storytelling consulting company headquartered in Lagos, is also using a combination of technology and social engineering to adapt to the remote work age. Ayomikun Bamgboye, RED | For Africa’s lead consultant on digital strategy and sales, thinks digital transformation has become the antidote for the Coronavirus disruption. “But apart from switching to remote work and leveraging digital tools, effective digital transformation requires creating a completely new business model and work procedures, maximizing the use of modern information technology, and adjusting to organisational culture and behaviour,” he says. 

Bamgboye says RED | For Africa quickly reacted to the disruption caused by the pandemic with a complete implementation of a digital workforce strategy which included quick transition into a full-remote work environment without complexity or loss of value. “Digital transformation requires that companies place the customer at the centre of all corporate decisions and capitalizing on existing knowledge to change the essence of the organisation —  its culture, management strategy, technology mix, and operational setup,” he says. 

The world evolves when structures and habits are questioned and improved on. All around the world, organisations have come up with ways to remain afloat without risking the health of their staff in the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Arizona prevented a Coronavirus spread by testing wastewater from dorms once they were opened. In Nigeria, the obvious solution was remote work, and tech innovations were critical to the sustenance of institutions that imbued it. As physical meetings were impossible, video conference platforms like Zoom and Google Meet – cloud platforms for video, voice, content sharing, and chat across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems – filled the communication gap.4

For an organisation like the Department of Petroleum Resources, switching to remote work was not problematic, says Edosa, an employee. “The company already had all systems to implement remote work in place; the only issue was with the integration of third parties who didn’t possess our ICT infrastructure and competence.” The organisation uses virtual meetings, paperless correspondence and online work collaborations to keep activities running. In the future they plan to maximise the benefits of ICT as it has exposed the brand as more progressive than previously imagined. 

To keep the energy at CcHUB, an innovation/tech hub, they are investing in monthly virtual engagement activities, says Busayo Oladejo, a product manager at the hub. “There is little and sometimes no visibility on the work that different departments are doing, so a monthly town hall meeting to catch up and the documentation of all projects keeps everyone up-to-date.” 

McKinsey & Company is a management consulting firm that encourages their staff to work from home. Meetings are done via Zoom, informal team-bonding sessions are conducted via video calls and everyone has laptops and data connection so it is easy to implement. 

In the banking sector, operating remotely is more technical. Setting up remote connectivity for all non-essential staff: security tokens, VPNs, data allowances etc, are some of the tools in place for employees classified lower than 1 are not allowed into bank premises unless with HR approval and there is the rotation of remote work for essential staff and roles, says Victor, a data scientist at a bank in Lagos. Staff also use Digital Fitness, for continuous self-improvement as regards digital engagements and to keep abreast with tech trends and work.

Across most organisations, there are constraints to remote work implementation. Some departments that cannot afford to work remotely. At the Department of Petroleum, senior executives and technical staff and engineers have to resume in-office. A constant issue for employees is boundaries between work and personal life. Work hours seem to go longer. While remote work has blurred some of the boundaries between work and personal lives, they say they’re happier and often more productive than they’d been at traditional offices. While 71% of remote workers said that they are happy in their job, only 55% of on-site workers said that they are happy in their job.

There are advantages to the implementation of remote work that will solidify its place in work culture. It is environmentally friendly, increases productivity and is cost-effective. And companies are deciding to keep these new found structures until the end of 2020. In coming years, organisations like the Department of Petroleum will have developed ways to better implement ICT structures. Policies have to be created to protect the business and the employees from the shortcomings of remote work. By 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days in a month.

As technology sets the new rules for work and business operations, shifting demographics patterns is a factor that will impact the future of work.8 The Gen Z demographic (individuals born after 1995) has a lot in common with millennials, but they have new needs. In the short period they’ve been in the workforce, they are 3X more likely to change jobs that do not align with their values, and for them, flexibility is core.9,10Flexibility, in this case, refers to fluid office hours and workspaces. “The ability for employees to work remotely or shift their hours, used to be a distinctive perk. Today, it’s increasingly an expectation. You might not get special attention for offering flexibility, but you will probably stand out for not having it (and not in a good in a way).”


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