The Future Of Work In Africa; Remote Work In The 21st-century Corporate World

remote work - future of work in Africa

The rapid rise of the digital era and the internet has undoubtedly affected working culture globally. The style and manner of transacting business has significantly changed in the 21st century. Changes are happening so fast and anyone who fails to re-adjust and catch up with the innovations will be left behind. Day in, day out corporate entities are re-strategizing to come up with the most innovative ideas and means of carrying out their business objectives. Today, companies’ employees hold meetings online via conference calls and video calls. Thanks to ICT innovations. This brings us to the subject, remote work.

What really does remote work mean?

The Cambridge dictionary defines remote work as a situation in which an employee works mainly from home and communicates to the company through emails and telephone. This definition is no longer sufficient to fully capture the meaning of remote work since it limits the means to only emails and telephones. Remote work or telecommuting simply means the practice of working anywhere other than the office. In the 21st reality, this can be achieved through many means. Not just through phone calls and emails. 

Lister estimated that by the year 2025, about 70 per cent of employees will work remotely at least five times in a month.  Let us evaluate the merits and demerits of remote work. It will help one appreciate the work scheme better.

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Attract the Best Brains with remote work

One of the advantages of remote work is that it attracts the best brains to a job offer. Stephanie Kasriel, the CEO of Upwork stated that “companies that refuse to support a remote workforce risk losing their best people and turning away top talents. Let us look at it this way, with a remote working policy, you able to hire the best brains without considering geographic limitations and the heavy financial burden that comes with hiring professionals from far locations, for instance, foreigners. With a remote work policy, you do not have to hire just the available persons to fill in vital positions in your organizations. You can go for that specialized professional of your choice without worrying so much about large travelling allowances. 

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remote work - future of work in Africa
A young African man working from home. Photo: Shutterstock

Reduction of Costs

One huge benefit of working remotely is that it saves corporate entities a lot of costs. It minimises the amount of office space needed, as well as reducing the cost of work tools and equipment such as computers and desks. Remote work can reduce the overall cost of running an office in terms of electricity and water bills. Conversely, working from home also saves employees a lot of expenses. An employee who operates from home saves money they would have spent on transportation, meals, parking spaces, childcare etc. it is indeed a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee. 

Environmental Impact of remote work

Working remotely impacts positively on our environment. Look at it this way, when you have fewer vehicles plying the roads, greenhouse gas emissions will reduce drastically. Air pollution will reduce. Take Lagos for instance, if half of the vehicles get off the roads, the state will become much cleaner and safer for residents. For dense cities where traffic congestion, it is a nightmare for commuters. Adopting a remote work policy will ease traffic issues as many people will prefer working from home instead of spending hours in traffic. 

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The benefits of remote work cannot be overemphasized. However, there are a few challenges that need to be addressed to get the best out of remote work. 

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Communication Difficulties

Working remotely means an employee does his work at home, away from his team, boss and colleagues. Communication with these people forms a major part of the work. Remote workers communicate with employers and colleagues on the phone and through mail most times but are these means of communication sufficient? Body language, tone and expressions matter in giving and comprehending instructions as well as passing information. What then is the way around this challenge? Companies are encouraged to make use of cloud-based technology in circumventing this challenge. Tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts can be of great assistance. Employers are also advised to establish regular communication with their employees working remotely as a way to tackle the communication challenge. 

remote work - future of work in Africa
African lady working and smiling from home

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Security Risk

It is feared that a remote work policy increases a company’s susceptibility to hacks and disclosure of confidential data and information. A survey carried out by Apricorn in 2018 discovered that a third of organizations claim to have experienced data loss or breach as a result of mobile working. One way to circumvent this challenge is to ensure that employees keep all confidential documents and materials in a single secure cloud location instead of it being stored in employees’ personal computers. 

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Assessing Employers Performers

One of the criticisms remote work has received is centred on the issue of employees’ assessment. If people are allowed to work from their comfort zones, how then do employers make sure that their remote working staff remain productive, devoted and attentive to their duties? One way to ensure this is to set daily, weekly or monthly targets as the case may be, for the employees. Also, when hiring, employers should look out for qualities like self-discipline and independence in their potential employees

The benefits of remote work cannot be overemphasized, outweighing the challenges associated with it.  Business organizations, the workforce, as well as the society, stand to gain from this 21st-century innovation. Sadly, the scheme does not enjoy the same level of acceptance in Africa as it does in Europe and America. CEOs, boards of directors, shareholders and other stakeholders of corporate entities in Africa should reexamine their corporate governance rules and policies with the aim of making adjustments to accommodate remote work.

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