More employees are embracing remote jobs in Nigeria, but employers are yet to catch up with the trend

The Issue

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses transitioned to remote working at an unprecedented rate. Major companies such as Uber, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Square, Facebook and more all implemented varying degrees of work-from-home policies, including guidelines to help slow the spread of the respiratory illness caused by the virus. Prior to the pandemic, data collected from 2019 found that 68% of workers around the world worked remotely at least once a month. About 57% of companies globally did not even have a remote working policy in place, which likely resulted in technology hurdles, confusion and productivity loss.

What is remote work? It simply refers to a professional environment in which employees can work from their homes or any other location outside their company’s physical office. It often involves creating a workspace at home and can extend beyond the confines of the living space. For instance, ‘digital nomads’ — people who are location-independent and use technology to perform their jobs, have always leveraged remote options and can be found visibly busy in cafes, hotels, beach clubs, coffee shops, or even airport lounges.

But when the pandemic first hit, upending work for everyone, most companies  had to send nearly all their employees home in March of 2020. As the rate of infections increased with no end in sight, more and more organisations turned to remote work as a necessary step to continue their day-to-day operations. The new reality was an uncharted territory for organisations and people managers accustomed to having their staff onsite, raising questions such as, “How do I know my workers are actually working?”, “Do my employees have the tools they need to do their jobs remotely?” and “What impact does remote work have on the employees’ productivity?”

In many forward-thinking companies globally, this mindset has been playing out as the number of coronavirus cases increased and more employers commit to the social-distancing practices. “Here at Microsoft in the Puget Sound, we’re encouraging our teams to work from home as much as possible, as are many organizations,” said Jared Spataro, a Microsoft vice president. With remote jobs, one of the valuable technologies is video conferencing, with live video feeds supporting out-of-office workers to interact with one another in real time and in any location through an internet connection, which is the next best thing to a physical meeting. Collaboration tools such as Slack and Zoom helped bridge the technology gap, and enabled more people to work remotely and interact.

Nevertheless, the potential for remote work can vary across countries, depending on the major sectors, occupation, and activity mix. For the economy in the United Kingdom, financial services and businesses form a large percentage, and have the highest potential for remote work. Its workforce could theoretically work remotely one-third of the time without a loss of productivity, or almost half the time but with diminished productivity. The study, which examined over 800 jobs in nine countries across different continents, highlighted management, business services, and information technology as the sectors with the highest potentials, all with more than half of employee time spent on activities that could effectively be done remotely. But these sectors are also characterised by a high share of workers with university/college degrees or higher.

The Question

As an emerging economy, Nigeria presents an interesting, maybe complicated, opportunity for remote jobs. With challenges in network coverage, electricity, low bandwidth, including a decline in affordability. Largely, employment is skewed toward occupations that require physical and manual activities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. As a result, the potential for time spent on remote work drops to 12 to 26%. Interestingly, a previous study reveals that Africa – and Australia – have the most hybrid or fully remote companies with 59% and 60% respectively. African professionals, with many selected from Nigeria for the study, are the most likely to work remotely for increased productivity/better focus. Men are also more likely to work remotely to save money.

How employees think about working remotely, hybrid and fully remote companies, will affect the future of many African businesses. However, a lot of business owners have resisted the work trend for various reasons, citing the fear of a decline in productivity, while others haven’t invested in teleconferencing and telework tech to support remote workers. But as states continue to relax their social distancing guidelines and reopen businesses, it is obvious that some forms of remote work are likely to persist long after COVID-19 is fully under control. What is the place of employers in preparing the workforce for the new trend, and how prepared are the employees? Is remote work, and similarly remote jobs, still important to ensure business productivity and achieve corporate goals?


For the small percentage who thought remote work was unnecessary, some comments include: “Laziness and distractions at home make it more difficult than working at the office”; “It makes people too comfortable”; “Remote (work) is a good idea but it can violate some company policies which centers on teamwork and collaboration”; “It may affect the relationship such employee has with families and friends therefore it is not fair on the close relative and friends of the employee”.

What The Streets Are Saying

Among our national focus group,  55% explained that they have TikTok accounts while 45% claim otherwise. Among those who do, 89% claim to use the app at least 1 – 3 times daily. 5.5% use the app 4 – 5 times daily; 2.8% claim to use it 6 – 10 times daily, while another 2.8% use it more than 10 times each day.

Among the respondents in the focus group, who are all aged between 18 -45 years, 70% are employees while 30% are entrepreneurs and small business owners. 75% confirmed that they have had to work remotely since the pandemic began while 25% explained that they have had to work from their offices.

Asked to rate their work-from-home experiences on a scale of 1 – 10, 88.2% ranked their experiences above average. 60% also indicated that Nigerian companies should implement an effective remote work policy, 35% were uncertain while 5% said it was not necessary.

For those who advocated for remote work policy, a few comments are indicated here: “It helps to provide freedom away from work place and also gives room for self-development”; “In a few years, everything is going to be almost digital, but those that will be ahead then are those that have accepted it now”; “Yes, there will be issues and all. But that’s the great thing about it – the issues. Only those that start now will find the solution early and become a master of it, they will be the ones everyone else will be looking up to in the next few years”; “It provides flexibility for the company and the employees and could save cost”; “It helps provide a calm environment for the worker, where they are accustomed to. This will increase  productivity. Although, I don’t think it could apply to all positions in the company”.

For the small percentage who thought remote work was unnecessary, some comments include: “Laziness and distractions at home make it more difficult than working at the office”; “It makes people too comfortable”; “Remote (work) is a good idea but it can violate some company policies which centers on teamwork and collaboration”; “It may affect the relationship such employee has with families and friends therefore it is not fair on the close relative and friends of the employee”.

A 2020 survey on remote work by Buffer Inc. indicates that 75% of remote workers said their companies do not cover internet costs, and 71% said their employers do not pay for co-working spaces for their employees. In 2019, the stats were slightly worse – 78% of companies did not cover internet costs and 76% did not pay for co-working spaces. Evidently, the desire and expectation of working remotely increases significantly every year among the workforce, companies are only slowly adopting remote-friendly policies.

“As a professional who has used both opportunities, it is clear that the concept of ‘9 – 5’ has become unnecessary,” said Olamide Jasanya, Team Lead, Corporate Communications & CSR, Heirs Insurance. “For me, because I had been given the freedom to do more, it became a responsibility to deliver on my job and my personal life. Employers might complain about the challenges: ‘People will take it for granted or might even deliver on the job’. But that still happens with what we call ‘9 – 5’. Because if it was perfect, nobody would have to get sacked”.

Arguably, the most compelling argument for fully remote employees and business are the lowered operational costs. Forbes points out that American Express saved $15 million in real estate costs by implementing a flexible work program where employees could indicate whether they preferred to be “hub” (office-based), “club” (occasionally office-based), “home” (work from home) or “roam” (traveling) employees. Other benefits include diversity and access to a wider talent pool, especially where work opportunities based out of large, expensive cities like Lagos and Abuja can be a barrier to entry for many who may be qualified and talented but unable to relocate due financial issues or logistics. On the other hand, fully remote workers can sometimes struggle with loneliness and burnout, so teams have to be more intentional in cultivating a strong workplace culture.

“The benefits of remote work has become clear to many young professionals that live and work in urban areas, and that the physical, mental and financial costs of work and the commute that it often requires is negotiable,” said Dami Adebayo, a researcher and writer. “Remote working has shown that productivity is not linked to a physical workplace and that digital tools have enabled collaborative work in an almost seamless manner. The challenge now lies in convincing conservative industries and their gatekeepers that remote working is not only sustainable but contributes to a greater bottomline”.

For an improved remote work culture, implementation requires investment in digital infrastructure, structural transformation of cities, food services, commercial real estate, and retail. For most companies, having employees work outside the office will require reinventing many processes and policies. Will employees be allowed to return and work at the office full time or will they continue to work fully remotely? Will it be a combination of both? No matter what employers decide, it is essential that businesses have remote work policy guidelines, just in case.

Insights on What The Streets Are Saying are drawn from data collected through in-depth interviews and surveys with our 500-member consumer panel spread across the country, including 100 culture insiders, who are all leading thinkers and doers across media and marketing.

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