The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many workplaces in Kenya and the region having to shut down and those that remained open did so to provide essential services.
Debate about the impact of this new way of working in Kenya post COVID has often been based on global studies. A recently published Kenya based study by Quantum shows that remote working is highly desirable in Kenya and the region. Is home the new workplace?
According to Alf Nathoo, the study researcher and author, before COVID, 84% of all respondents had never worked from home. The pandemic tested the traditional work model in Kenya of working at a fixed location with 39% of respondents having to work from home.
40% of them worked full time from home while 22% worked 2 days a week. While 54% of respondents worked from their workplace, 37% of them reported that it was because their company did not allow remote working.
A significant finding of the study was that 90% of respondents would have preferred to work from home during the pandemic and 84% wished to continue to work from home after the pandemic. Interestingly, 60% of respondents would change jobs if they were able to work from home. According to Alf, this was the beginning of new way of working for Kenyans. What makes home such an appealing workplace?
The average commute time for Kenyan employee is 1-3 hours daily. Alf notes that no wonder 93% of respondents reported saving commute time and cost working from home. The other resultant benefits included improved work-life balance (76%), more job satisfaction (71%), improved morale (65%), less stress and more productivity (60%). The study highlights that 64% of the respondents had no issues collaborating with their colleagues while 53% with management and supervisory responsibilities had no issues managing their teams remotely.
The study challenges the long-held belief that we need to go to a fixed location and at a fixed desk and chair to work. Four out of five respondents want to work away from the office and a further three out of five would change jobs to work away from the office making a strong statement about our physical workplace environment. Organizations need to pay attention if they want an engaged workforce.
Is the office irrelevant in Kenya? Not likely. Firstly, not all work can be done remotely.
“Places and spaces are designed for specific functions. Hospital is designed to offer health care services and it would be impractical to provide these services outside the hospital workplace environment” says Alf.
Secondly, even if remote work was possible, the office traditionally has been a control and command center.
“Managers want to see their employee at the desk, if not, they are not working” he says.
Thirdly, hybrid working is highly preferred with only 24% of respondents preferring full time remote working and 38% preferring 2 to 3 days a week working remotely. 60% of respondents also said that they missed the social elements of the office.
“We are social beings and fundamentally seek human interaction. That unplanned interaction over coffee, at lunch or in person meetings is very important part of human interaction” says Alf.
“Yes, Teams and Zoom help but are poor substitutes for physical interaction. The bond we create with colleagues clients or customers at the workplace cannot be recreated remotely. The office becomes a center of connectivity and social interaction rather than control and command center as we knew pre COVID.” he notes.
What does this mean for organizations in Kenya and the region where there is high preference for working remotely?
“Pay attention to your employee experience at the workplace. The physical space environment affects their well-being and ultimately, their behavior, productivity and performance. Is their stay at the workplace as pleasant as possible so that they want to come to work not because they have to?” he asks.
He recommends providing workspaces for different activities; from head down individual workspace to team work and social spaces.
“Bring nature indoors, improve natural lighting and add plants. This will reduce stress and improve concentration. Health and wellness activities, prayer room, mothers’ room and social spaces can create a better workplace environment” he advises.
“Lighting, noise, temperature, furniture, catering, cleaning, security and even lifts can have an impact on employee experience. Work performance can reduce between 5-7% if the room temperature is over 25°C”.
According to Alf, workplace is a business-critical function that not only directly impacts employee performance; it also has direct impact on business performance.
“The workplace is a capital-intensive asset and the second largest corporate expenditure after HR. An employee-centric department with a business focus and a workplace strategy aligned to the organization strategy can make a significant difference between those organizations that become successful and those that don’t. Unfortunately, in Kenya, the workplace is often considered to be a boiler function and not a boardroom agenda item”. Alf says.
Home may not be the new workplace in Kenya and the region, the reality is that the workplaces cannot continue to be managed in the same manner as pre-COVID.