On Thursday, Twitter asked its 4,900 man workforce to work from home, as remote work becomes the tech industry’s most popular response to the global pandemic, coronavirus.
While tech companies in Nigeria are responding to the pandemic in different ways, remote work is also one of the ways they’re working around the problems. Carbon and Andela are two companies with remote work policies as TechCabal reports here.
In the US and China, office workers are working from home and the Financial Times says “remote work is on trial”.
The trial is seeing mixed results according to tech publication, Protocol. They outlined some of the less glamorous parts of working from home: loneliness, discomfort and rising tensions with partners.
In the last few years, remote work has remained in conversations in the tech scene in Africa, but much like artificial intelligence, there seems to be more talk than action.
It made me wonder how remote workers are faring in Nigeria, so I spoke to a cross section of remote workers across Nigeria. Here are their experiences.
While remote work is only just catching on, I was surprised to find a lawyer in Nigeria who works remotely. Gideon is a lawyer who lives in Warri. He has never worked at an in-office job because it is not worth the aggravation.
He told me, “My wife worked for a while before we went for our masters, so I knew from her daily frustrations that I couldn’t do a regular 9-5 in Nigeria”
But, knowing you want to work remotely is just one part of it, finding the gigs that are worth your time is important.
“I initially pitched to a bunch of people I wanted to work for. I made cold calls sometimes. Most of them wanted to give me jobs but they wanted to negotiate days I would come to work. But most of the offers were in Lagos so I would say no”
With a degree in sports law, he was on the lookout for roles as in house counsel for betting companies or sports companies.
Despite a few false starts, his resilience paid off. He also believes his edge is his specialisation. “I am probably one of about five or six people with the specialisation I have in Nigeria”
What is Gideon’s average work day?
“Because of the nature of my job, my work day is mostly calls to and from Canada, the UK and a few other places. I respond to emails and work on contracts that need immediate attention”.
But, it’s not all rosy, there are still things he struggles with. Power supply and internet are common Nigerian problems and with a fast paced job, these problems can be costly.
“I have had to delay on a deliverable for 24 hours because every network provider was bad at the time. It delayed the job by another month”.
Beyond infrastructural problems are things which are not often discussed, like concentration and needing human interaction. Gideon admits this gets to him sometimes but he has found a workaround.
“I fix that periodically by going to an office space to work, but I also get bored before the end of the day”
For Deola, a digital marketer who lives in Lagos, clients refusing to pay for work done is a big problem. One instance is a client who didn’t pay the ₦85,000 ($232) fee they agreed on. But she is learning from her experiences.
“I was naive at the time, now I collect 40% up front even if you’re a family member or a friend. Of course it doesn’t remove the problem totally but I feel better knowing I got a small percentage at least”.
She is also learning to draft contracts with her clients or ask for guarantors from individual clients. “If you are an individual, I may ask you to give me a contact of two or more people that will vouch that you will pay the agreed fees”.
Over the years, Deola has had Nigerian and foreign clients.
“I have mostly Nigerian clients but sometimes I have foreign clients. Right now, I have a client in London and one in India.”
Will Adeola ever consider returning to an in-office role? It’s a possibility she’s open to if they pay is attractive and the workplace is flexible.
Tolu is another Nigerian who works remotely from his house on Lagos mainland. Beyond money, distractions and human interaction, he talks about an interesting problem.
“Many Nigerians worry about how they look to other people. If people see you leave home early and come back late, especially if you look dressed for work, then you’re hardworking”
It highlights a societal problem of how people who work from home are viewed. On one end of the extreme is the belief that these people are internet fraudsters. This position is driven by the fact that many roles that exist in Nigeria today did not exist for the previous generation.
But Tolu finds that working remotely has changed his understanding of how time works.
“Five minutes is no longer just five minutes. You can’t be on the phone for five minutes when a deadline is approaching. That is a long time in freelancedom”
For him, this can cost you friends because most people think working from home should mean a lot of free time.
But it’s not all bad news, he “shoots his shot” at places which will need him and is constantly reaching out to companies. Curiously, he doesn’t use freelance websites because they’re a “never ending rabbit hole”.
Yet the biggest positive is the quality of life. “If you live in Lagos as a freelancer, you don’t have to deal with traffic. That’s god mode”.
Away from these experiences, remote work presents some complexities for companies in Africa. According to Funke Onafunye, a HR practitioner and the co-founder of CV-loft, businesses want to put efficiency first.
“I’ll have to consider the factors that affect productivity. 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.
“Employees usually take on other jobs and it tells on their performance. Also, 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”
“It’s expensive for the business to run an office and sponsor remote workers to work efficiently”
In the end, she is an advocate of remote work, but for her, it doesn’t have to mean working from home.
“It can mean working close(r) to home. Perhaps a hub or something of the sort. As long as we can monitor their work and the business doesn’t suffer”.