OPINION: Who would have thought that one global crisis would forever change the way humans worked?
By Kagwe Kibugu
Ever since COVID-19 ushered people into their respective homes and away from offices, work has rapidly shifted from desks and cubicles to living room stools and bedside tables.
The sudden change of business practice has led us to revisit the way we work and rethink the importance of an office space or an office block. Organizations that had previously been slow to introduce flexible working hours or who had never considered employees working remotely, are now finding out that yes, work can be done and done efficiently out of the office.
Unfortunately, we are essentially witnessing a health crisis that has turned into a financial crisis. The uncertainty about the size and shape of the decline in GDP and employment undermines what remains of business confidence.
In the midst of the economy “reopening”, businesses are being forced to revisit and discuss essential costs in order to scale down and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 to ensure business continuity.
Hence, leaders must reassess their entire business ecosystem and plan for contingent actions in order to return their businesses to effective production.
Therefore, one of the essential discussion points should be how important an office space is in relation to the productivity of its employees, and how necessary an office is for personnel to conduct business.
The Industrial Revolution gave birth to the idea of offices and it is where offices became a central part of life. The idea that workers from various industries had to come in everyday, clock in and out of work ( habitually) while being monitored, began far before many were born.
Fast track that to the present time, and we have seen the same concept applied albeit with modern technology. Thus, it is crucial that in order to remain relevant, leaders must take on the challenge and fully grasp how working from home can benefit both the employer and the employee.
For organizations, remote working can be extremely hard to track, trust and successfully implement. However, while there may still be stigma attached to it, remote working can present numerous benefits to an organization:
Low Cost of Operation
Naturally, remote working significantly reduces administrative costs. Some of these costs may be furniture, security, electricity, paperwork, and office supplies.
Reduces Stress of Commuting
Employees will no longer hide the stresses of waking up far before sun rise and commuting long distances to and from work. Instead, employees will be able to channel their time to other productive events like exercising, extra sleep or more family time. All these positive efforts directly translate to a healthier mindset and more productive hours of focused work.
Adapting to the Digital Generation
In a world that is progressively becoming more digital by the day, work can now arguably be conducted on a laptop or a mobile device. With reliable internet connection and applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Whatsapp, technology has made business conducive to different environments at anytime of the day, or night.
While this point may raise eyebrows, studies have shown that one of the ways productivity is enhanced is by allowing remote working. It is no secret that being confined to a particular spot for long periods of time has been known to stagnate thinking, promote sleep and mediocre work.
One of the key drivers for change towards greater productivity is the safeguarding and the bolstering of employee morale in order to ensure greater customer satisfaction, as a consequence of quality employee output.
The truth is, offices are an overburdening cost. They can be both expensive and inefficient. Globally, companies spend millions a year accommodating staff and ensuring that employees are utilising the office.
Given the unpredictability of the period that COVID-19 is with us for, social distancing and the importance of minimal staff in a room at once will lead to offices being expensive artefacts occupying idle spaces. As a result, large organizations are starting to notice the need for change.
For instance, Twitter recently notified employees that they will be able to continue working from home as long as they see fit. The CEO recently noted that Twitter was an early adopter of a work-from-home model, and will continue to implement the new strategy for the foreseeable future. Twitter, along with tech giants Facebook, are one of the many tech companies that are leading the way and showing that as long as productivity is sustainable, employees no longer have to come to work.
Locally, various institutions have given employees the leeway to work from home over the Covid period as a mechanism to avoid and contain the contagion. As this approach temporarily remains in place due to safety precautions, whether it can be blended into business practice and eventually become a staple in the working culture remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, is the Kenyan workforce ready to handle the prospect of this potential change?
No. Most of those who worked from home pre-covid enjoyed a quiet privilege and with currently more than 41 countries still imposing curfews and stay-at-home guidelines ( Kenya included), it is estimated that under 10% of the current jobs would be able to be successfully executed at home.
In a largely informal economy with an unfortunately high literacy rate, the majority of these sort of jobs would have been or are currently designated to senior managers, techy back office staff and mostly foreign based startups looking for inroads into the local market.
Furthermore, it would be difficult to transition to a full time work from home society while trust between employer and employee is not considered to be particularly great. While this may be the future of working, there is a slight need for better employer and employee relations for this shift to thrive.
As the government continues to install and prospect the need for greater electrification of the country, the concept of remote working may be hampered by the resources that are required. For example, Kenya will have to move towards more reliable electricity supply, focus on stabilizing the strength of internet connectivity countrywide, and develop more data contingency policies to protect the flow of information at all times.
While we may not be there as a country yet, the future requests and will demand that the companies of today start thinking about their operations of tomorrow. The future will be mobile and digital, and now is the time to start pivoting.
Crises can drive change.
The writer, Kagwe Kibugu, is a Senior Relationship Manager, Equity Bank Limited
DISCLAIMER : The opinions shared in this article are my own and do not represent those that are expressed by my employer.
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