Changing the Structure of “Work”: A Covid-19 Approach

Changing the Structure of “Work”: A Covid-19 Approach

In 2017, I got a job as a Content Writer. I remember attending the interview all suited up and carrying my leather briefcase; but on getting to the company; I saw a bunch of young people in T-shirts and Jeans on their laptops, eating and gisting. I felt uneasy the whole time I was there, as I looked different. The Hiring Manager and CEO walked up to us (other interviewees and myself) and explained the nature of the job. “You wouldn’t need to be physically at work for anything, just make sure your computer is connected to the internet. You would get paid for each content you write”.

I didn’t even have a laptop then, but I was provided with one the following day?. I started working from home. Each night before I went to bed, I set up tasks to deliver the following day, and worked assiduously towards completing and delivering them to the clients. I communicated with the clients over the phone, and reached out to my supervisors whenever challenges arose, all these happened with no form of physical contact. Once I got bored of working from home, I got out into my favourite Café or Ofada spot, both at Maryland Mall. I quickly realized that ‘work’ is not a place or physical building as I have always thought.

Fast-forward to February 2018, I got a job as a Finance Analyst with a financial services firm. I resumed and had to acclimatize to wearing corporate suits, ties and shoes, going to ‘work’ every day, sitting in front of my desktop computer and using spreadsheets to communicate the organization’s performance to management for decision-making. Honestly, it was difficult adapting to this new environment, but I put my professional career before anything else.

A Disease was born

In December 2019, the first case of novel Coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, and spread throughout most nations of the world, including Nigeria. The Federal Government of Nigeria initially declared a two-week curfew, following the global social-distancing measure, and further extended it as the number of cases increased.

The COVID-19 pandemic (as christened by the W.H.O) poses to be a serious threat to organizations, economies and people. This is a time of crisis as Gartner’s recent Business Continuity Survey shows just 12 percent of organizations are highly prepared for the impact of coronavirus.

Business owners, regardless of the lock-down, want to service their clients, ensure business continuity, and retain talents. Smart CEOs quickly made changes to their Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) just in a matter of hours.

Remote Working is not all rosy too

Most organizations did not predict a pandemic that was going to halt business activities and the global physical movement of persons and goods. Quick decisions were made by the Top Management to change the business process leading to the rapid digital transformation of the workplace.

Working remotely…first, everyone was happy?, but then after a couple of days, we all got bored?…argghhh!!!

The major challenges of remote working in Sub-Saharan Africa are Technology and Power. At the very least, a Tech Infrastructure — a computer, fast internet -, and constant electricity- is needed to set up a remote work environment. In Nigeria, where we all look up to God for basic amenities, plant our internet modems in a static position in our rooms because that is the only place where the network is available, and then pray fervently to get power; these challenges are ubiquitous and almost inevitable in this side of the world.

The challenges above affect both the employees and employers productivity. For employers who want the business to continue, a significant relief fund has to be provided to employees to cover for the outrageous amount spent on internet data and fuel. In addition to this, collaboration and productivity tools — Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, among others — should be available to employees.

Minor challenges include employees’ indiscipline and lack of continuous commitment while working from home. The world today is filled with distractions- movies, music, social media, etc., and one way of avoiding distractions is to stay disciplined. I would not advise employees to shut their phones out as colleagues might try to reach out; however, putting in certain measures to help stay focused is key.

Remote-Working – Benefits

One of the benefits of remote working is not commuting to work. I remember working at Yaba while living at Iyanapaja. I would leave home at 4.45 am every day to arrive at work past 7 am. I would also leave work at 6 pm to get home a few minutes before 9 pm. That denotes roughly 5 hours spent commuting on the road. I still have colleagues going through this process daily. 5 hours spent commuting per day amounts to 54 days annually. That is aside the mental stress employees go through, the amount spent on fuel and maintenance of their vehicles. Working remotely, obviously, eliminates all these.

In addition, operational and staff costs reduce, and employee productivity increases.

Decentralization but Harmonization

COVID-19 is a phase, and will surely pass. The most resilient CEOs would prove themselves by adjusting their business processes following changes in the business environment.

CEOs, especially those in the financial services sector, should continuously update their BCPs and change their mode of operations.

Companies with no buildings but with strongly collaborated teams would thrive, as bigger buildings and numerous staff does not depict a strong workforce. CEOs should understand that “huge buildings do not portray a strong workforce; collaboration does”. A new thought approach of decentralizing, but harmonizing the workforce should be implemented. Better collaboration tools should be developed, and productivity will continually increase.

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