In April this year when Nigerian workers were forced to work from home due to COVID-19, it came as a pleasant surprise to many. Workers in Lagos were particularly excited by the prospect of finally being able to avoid the typical stress associated with commuting in Africa’s most populated city.
Note that this excitement was not peculiar to Nigerian workers alone. Across some of the world’s biggest cities, there was a general consensus about how the opportunity to avoid daily commute was one of the major advantages presented by the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns that followed it. A recent report by The Japan Times said about 70% of Japanese wanted to keep working from home even after the lockdown, just so they wouldn’t have to grapple with the challenges of commuting. Another report by the Wall Street Journal revealed similar findings.
Effects of lockdown easing on working from home in Nigeria
Back home in Nigeria, many of the professionals who initially favoured the idea of indefinitely working from home, soon became bored as the lockdown persisted. They longed to return to their offices. However, this wasn’t quite going to happen. Despite the fact that the Federal Government had introduced the “phased and gradual” easing of the lockdown in early May, some employers directed their employees to keep working from home, out of fear of the contagious Coronavirus.
Fast-forward to the end of June, and quite a number of Nigerian professionals are still working from home. Nowadays, some people only go to the office when they absolutely need to. It’s indeed a new normal, one that has its advantages and disadvantages.
What professionals think about working from home
Godswill Ifegwu, a Lagos-based auditor, told Nairametrics that his employer still requires him to work from home in the meantime. And he likes this arrangement, as a matter of fact, only preferring the occasional trip to the office. He said:
“I am still required to work from home. I’d prefer to work from home indefinitely, with the occasional trips to the office that would not require me to join the mounting traffic.
“The disadvantage of working from home for me, though, is the unstable electricity and poor/expensive internet packages. Also, how easily one can get distracted, although this also happens at the office… I think in addition to working from home, companies can make use of co-working hubs where team members living within the same locality can go to work sometimes. This is important because sometimes, working with a team and communicating with them face to face, can be more efficient.”
Some bankers are also still required to work from home
Although many Nigerian banks have re-opened a lot of their branches across the country, they are still allowing some of their staff to work from home. A good example of such staff is Olumide Moses, a corporate communications specialist in a bank. He told Nairametrics he only goes to the office when he absolutely needs to be there.
“I am able to work from home. I’m still working from home even after easing the lockdown. I only go to the office when I need to do a task that might require me to work from the office. And yes, I do prefer working from home. The stress of traffic, waking up early and getting home late is eliminated.
“For me, working from home actually increases my productivity and creativity. You get to design your work environment and ease flexibility. Today I can work from my room, next to the parlour, another time in the car. Depending on what needs to be done. There’s less Physical contact with people.
“However, I must say that somehow it feels like I now work for extended hours. Sometimes, there’s no defined closing period. Calls can come in at odd hours.
“There’s also the issue of spending more on data and fuel to avoid giving an excuse as to why work is not delivered. If you are not disciplined enough and manage your time well, you may also get lazy and deliver late on tasks.
“There are also so many virtual meetings that clash with each other. Can be very frustrating. The network can be very disappointing.”
Another banker, who works at Access Bank but refused to be named as he is not allowed to speak to the press, said more of his colleagues have started working from the office again. However, he still works remotely, although chances are, he too would be required to resume back at the office by July. He said he prefers working from home and will appreciate it if his employer might consider giving employers some days to work remotely by the time everyone is finally back to the office.
In the meantime, while he continues to work from home, the Access Bank employee said he often relies on his colleagues in the office to provide him access to some sensitive documents that are not accessible from home. Apparently, the inability to access sensitive documents from home has been one of the biggest disadvantages of working from home for bankers. Recall that Nairametrics previously reported about how this contributed to a high rate of unresolved customer complaints during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Some employers directed their staff to resume immediately after the lockdown was eased
Interestingly, some companies have already directed all their staff to return back the office. A worker in the accounts department of Nigerite Limited, who pleaded anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, told Nairametrics that workers in all the departments in the company are back to working from the whilst. However, strict guidelines were put in place to ensure physical distancing and hygiene. The source also added that it never seemed as if the company’s management was ever considering making remote working a permanent part of their routine.
“The accounts department worked from home because even though production stopped, there was still a lot to do. Salaries were still being paid, and sales were also being made. The commercial and sales department also worked because there were lots of roofing and flooring materials already produced that had to be sold off. The Health and Safety department also had to come up with modalities to be used in the workplace post-lockdown,” he said.
Speaking further, the source explained that working from home had its challenges especially in Nigeria where power supply is epileptic and access to internet connection is unstable. For him, even though working from home was less stressful, it was just as expensive as coming to the office. As a matter of fact, he expressed his indifference to the management’s decision to discontinue remote working as soon as the lockdown was over.
“The only gainful thing with remote working is that we do not spend time in traffic anymore, but in terms of costs, you end up spending your transportation fare to fuel your generator,” he added.
Respondents focused on the advantages and disadvantages of working from home
For Cyril Imafidon, a Business Intelligence Analyst with SmatData Limited, working from home has helped to improve his productivity in many ways. He explained that prior to the lockdown, the time spent in traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge every morning would ordinarily sap out mental vitality from every employee, thereby leaving them to resume at the office half-way exhausted. This in turn often meant that mental activities would become more tasking more than they normally should be. However, working from home, he said, has been ‘eventful and improved productivity’.
“The opportunity to get to work refreshed without having to deal with sour tempers and traffic on Lagos roads is really the best part of it all,” he said.
He also noted that even though his office allowed remote working prior to the lockdown, he never really took advantage of it until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He however admitted that it requires a lot of discipline and focus to get the best out while working remotely.
“Generally, you need more discipline to keep distractions away and be able to focus on your task. There’s this tendency for you to want to rest more often than you would normally rest when you are in the office. If you are not disciplined enough, you might become unproductive,” he warned.
Despite the easing of the lockdown, Imafidon has continued working from home with the approval of his employers. He said that besides the unstable internet connection which interrupts his task, remote working is generally a better option.
Daniel Jacob, a software developer with one of Nigeria’s tier-1 banks, also told Nairametrics that remote working has had positive impacts on his productivity. According to him, working from home gave him more time to learn about some of the frameworks and tools needed for his personal and professional development.
Daniel admitted that he was initially frustrated when the remote work policy was implemented by his bank. This is because “at first, it was frustrating because of the demands from the office and the timeline to finish up. But as it’s the case with everything, it eventually became soft work.”
Now, even after the lockdown, he still supports remote working mainly because it caused “my productivity to rise through the roof.” He also commended his employer for making sure that software developers were made very comfortable during the lockdown.
Nigerian professionals are now used to remote working and are ready to demand it
Having had a full taste of remote working, some Nigerian professionals now feel like it should become the norm. Ozoemena Noel Nonso, who works with Creative Intelligence Group, told Nairametrics that after his positive remote working experience with his current employer, he would never in the future consider working with a company that does not have a work from home policy.
“We already had a work from home policy prior to the lockdown, so it was not a difficult adjustment,” he said, adding, “however, I do more now… I love working from home. I wouldn’t take a job without a work from home policy now.”
With additional reporting by Ruth Ukwumbu and William Ukpe