By Mayowa Jolayemi

Over the past few years, analysts and futurists have sufficiently predicted a future of work which is expected to be gradual and play out in phases as we progressively move from the conventional system at play to the predicted future. Unfortunately, this process is now fast-forwarded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made governments across the world to enforce stay-at home orders to help contain the spread of the deadly disease.

Although the future is here, it has just not been evenly distributed. While some nations are sufficiently able to comfortably adjust to these disruptions, which ranged from remote working, cloud based operations, increased automation and so on, many are not so fortunate. Some sectors were expected to experience minimum modification to their operations while some were to be much disrupted. A recent OECD study reported that nearly 14% of jobs in OECD countries are likely to be automated, while another 32% are at high risk of being partially automated. This shows that nearly 1 in 2 people would likely be affected in some way. 

As foretold by analysts, technological developments were expected to be responsible for this gradual drive to remote working conditions. However, not as expected, an outbreak of a disease that has become a global pandemic, have triggered the advent of the much-predicted “Future of Work,” which includes remote working. 

THE IDEAL REMOTE WORKPLACE 

With governments strictly enforcing the stay at home policy in some places, and a gradual easing in some other places, businesses across the globe have had to rapidly adapt and reposition their workforce to work remotely. Many organizations have developed new and innovative ways to make remote work operate seamlessly and effectively for their organizations when some have had to struggle through it. Some countries and organizations only have to kick-start operating remotely, while some in developing countries have to jump-start the process. 

In these prepared organizations, important structures such as critical communication systems have been put in place to ensure connectivity is maintained within the workforce and face time is prioritized. In addition, adequate coaching of remote workforce is emplaced to support work/life balance and ensure productivity is not impaired while working out of office. Creating opportunities for remote social interactions and staying motivated, which enable colleagues to have informal conversations about non-work topics have been reported to promote sense of belonging among co-workers. Most importantly, employee engagement surveys are being used to gauge progress and that real work gets done.

The CEO of 15Five, a silicon valley company reported that nearly 1 in 4 managers, supervisors, and executives he had interacted with says that employee quality of life has improved, while 1 in 5 have seen progress in productivity. Ironically, 3 in 5 also indicated communication with remote employees was as good or better than with those in-house. 

CURRENT REALITIES OF REMOTE WORK IN DEVELOPING NATIONS

The World Development Report (WDR) 2019 of the World Bank stated that in many developing countries, a large number of workers remain in low-productivity jobs, often in informal sector firms whose access to technology is poor as shown in the graph below. Indeed, the share of informal workers is as high as 90 percent in some emerging economies. Overall, about two-thirds of the labor force in these economies are informal. For example, in Peru, despite all the attention focused on the issue, informality has remained constant at about 75 percent over the last 30 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, informality remained, on average, at around 75 percent.  

Informality persists in most emerging economies despite improvements in the regulatory environment

Sources: WDR 2019 team, using household and labor force survey data from the World Bank’s International Income Distribution Data Set (panel a); Djankov et al. (2002)

According to Funke Onafunye, a HR practitioner and the co-founder of CV-loft, she opined that remote work presents some complexities for companies in Africa. In her opinion, factors that affect productivity must first be considered. If the business is going to suffer, remote work is a no”.

The reality remains that many businesses still require the physical presence of staff. Yet, the roles  which can easily be performed remotely are still in-office and Funke blames infrastructural problems in Africa for this stating that when we consider the infrastructure in Africa and the basics the staff need to work- electricity and internet- are expensive and not available all the time.”

MAJOR CHALLENGES FACING REMOTE WORKERS IN DEVELOPING NATIONS

Amongst the many issues facing the developing nations, the outbreak of Coronavirus has not only aggravated the already deficient socio-economic development of many nations, but it has also put more pressure on the active population who are either self-employed or working as employees to continue being productive and innovative on their jobs while working from home.

As have been stated earlier, the Power Problems faced by many nations where electricity supply is epileptic or just not available will limit work hours and eventually affect productivity. Low bandwidth or unavailability of internet connectivity in some locations is another problem worker are faced with. The Statista Research Department in March 2020 reported that in 2019, only 38.5 percent of households in developing countries were estimated to have a computer at home, which then means that majority of employees depend on the office workstation for their work to be done. 

The already limited space in most homes makes it almost impossible to have a designated workspace within the home. While some people are fortunate enough to have a study room or home office, majority of the workers will have to make temporary arrangements in the dining room or the living room, which may cause unavoidable distractions by kids or other cohabiters. Other social distractions are social media interference, loneliness and anxiety caused by information from media concerning the pandemic and looming economic meltdown as a result of the global plunge in oil prices. Some other challenges are difficulties in shifting from work time to free time especially when there are deadlines and targets to meet. Financial difficulties arising from pay cuts are also major challenges, which may demotivate workers as prices of commodities are rising and many may not be fortunate enough to receive stimulus packages provided by the government while the organizations may also not be able to give some support at difficult times.

PERSONALIZED SOLUTIONS TO CHALLENGES OF REMOTE WORKING IN DEVELOPING NATIONS

  • Maximise hours of electricity supply availability: 

In response to the challenging effects of the COVID-19, the Association of Electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) in Nigeria in April 2020 promised to ensure stable electricity supply across the value chain and offered 2 months of free electricity supply. 

This may not be available across the nation but it is expected that the supply will be much better than it used to be. Workers are encouraged to take advantage of the supply whenever it is available either within your schedule hours of work or rest period, especially if you do not have a very reliable alternative source of electricity supply. There may be need to re-allocate your schedules and be flexible to move work responsibilities to hours where electricity supplies are available – knowing it may not last for too long.

  • Subscribe to the most Efficient Internet Provider in your ;local area:

Take out sometime to research on more reliable network provider around your place of residence. This may not be your regular network provider but with a faster and more reliable bandwidth, you are advised to subscribe to their services and also do a proper check on the data packages offered. 

  • Plan to exceed organizational targets using the PAM system:

It may be bad enough that meeting set targets look impossible. This may not be entirely true because when there is a will; there definitely will be a way. Even in the face of all the outlined challenges, if your life depended on the work at hand, you definitely will get a way through it. To achieve this, the PAM, Personal Accountability Measures is recommended. This is designed to help individuals to aim a being personally responsible without being dragged.

Personal Accountability Measures are meant to be personal so there are neither frameworks nor guidelines here to be followed. With PAM, a worker judges him/herself in honesty and fairness, both to self and to the employer.  It behooves on individuals to set realistic and job specific goals to help make a success at remote work.

Workable examples of Personal Accountability Measures (PAM) include, having clear targets of achievements on daily and weekly basis. It is best to set these targets a day earlier or at the start of the day and Week. As work progress, these targets may be reviewed. This will serve as a working document which can be used for your personal performance ratings. In addition, eliminating all forms of distractions during your work hours will help achieve your goals.

To truly overcome the ills of remote working in developing world, a personal determination to succeed at this must be made, else all situations around will justify the failure or inefficiencies that come with remote working.