A man working remotely.

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How ready are we for hybrid working?

What you need to know:

  • In an economy where 80 percent of the labour force is informal, it is far from reality. The informal economy is characterised by lack of government visibility and they cannot be taxed by the way they do business.

For a long time, it had been unthinkable that someday, working from home would be an alternative.  

Up to now, in much of Uganda, the mind-set is still fixated on office spaces. Of course, there are reasons to this, but Covid-19 introduced a totally new chapter.

In the pre-Covid-19 days, working from home was rather foreign for many Uganda.
For instance, Regina Basemeza was heavily pregnant at the end of 2018, but work required her presence in office almost on a daily.  

“The journey from Nsangi to the central business district was extremely exhausting. I hated waking up. I tried to explain to my boss that I could divide work time between office and home, but she would have none of it,” she says.  

However, Covid-19 changed everything with so many companies making it normal for an employee to choose  between working from home and office.

And this, according to Solomon Muhirwa, a human resource consultant with Watu Limited, introduced  a new alternative but has been slow to take root in Uganda compared to elsewhere.

Many employees are forced to trek long journeys to office due to infrastructure challenges such efficient internet connectivity. PHOTO / Edgar R Batte


“It would only become a norm if the economy gets more industrialised. However, in an economy where 80 percent of the labour force is informal, it is far from reality. The informal economy is characterised by lack of government visibility and they cannot be taxed by the way they do business. These have not embraced hybrid working,” he says.
Therefore, Muhirwa notes, the emerging mode only targets 20 percent, who are in the formal economy.

Nonetheless, there are some sectors that would be difficult to accommodate  remote working.
Sectors that need face-face interaction, Davis Malowa, a human resource consultant, says make working remotely hard.

In some cases where heavy production is involved, it is difficult to work remotely. PHOTO / FILE

“It is difficult to operate from home in such instances because they are services where people need face-to-face delivery. That cuts across to others in the service delivery sector because one must be in the office to offer the service. In some cases, even when the service can be offered via phone, such as advice, the recipient feels unsatisfied when it is delivered that way. It could be because, say the body language cannot be gauged on phone,” he says.

Besides the varying nature of careers, Muhirwa says, another stumbling block to remote working is that the employer and employee have a varying perspective towards hybrid working.
As far as the employer is concerned,  he says, there are advantages such as reduction in office footprint.

“That reduces the rate of depreciation owing to reduced pressure on the resources,” he says.
Hybrid working also reduces cost of employment such as renting office space and meals, among others.
As such, it could be beneficial to employers.

However, on the other hand, probably because Uganda’s systems are still rudimentary, most employers are not comfortable having employees work from home.

“There is a belief that for something to work out, employers should be seeing the person in charge. That also comes from experience where when people work without being monitored, things do not get done,” Muhirwa says.

On the hand, hybrid working may actually work better for employees but it needs a high degree of discipline to work effectively.  
“It saves employees  from transport costs and other related costs. The hindrance is that most employers do not trust them,” he says.

Keeping up productivity
If hybrid working is to be adopted, even among the 20 percent, Malowa suggests there are certain things that must be in place.
For instance, he says, you need to have basic enablers such as reliable internet connectivity.
In some places, Muhirwa says, internet connectivity is poor and even where connection is good, the costs are high.

As such, some employees prefer to commute to office because they believe they will work effectively there.

Beyond this, an employee needs a conducive environment that will allow one to have long spells of concentration.

“Find a room or secluded space where you can concentrate,” Malowa says.
There is also need to communicate on how work will be delivered. Otherwise, you might not be on the same page in the working value chain.

This, Malowa says, must be done ahead of time through an email because some people may not know how to log in for a zoom meeting, which could hinder productivity. The company must as well come up with a clear policy on any change, lest some people might take advantage not to work.

For instance, if you are handling an external client, the guideline would be that from henceforth, payslips will be issued online rather than in hard copy.

“That way, the inquiries coming in will not be as many,” Malowa says.  The company should also come up with guidelines on how hybrid working will be done for purposes of accountability.
 
“It will help supervisors that are wired for 8am – 5pm physical presence to appreciate that remote work is possible hence not expecting employees to be in office if they signed up to work remotely. That smoothens management as long as prior communication is made,” he says.

Are we ready for hybrid working?
While there are several benefits, working remotely, Malowa, just like Muhirwa, says Uganda is still behind developed economies.

Many employees, he says, use online working as a scape goat to do other things, noting that: “I have organised zoom meetings and while many log in, they are not present. You only find out when you call them for input and when the issue is raised, many feign the ‘poor internet connection’ excuse,” he says.

It is also an attitude issue that must be worked on as many have not yet appreciated that hybrid working may be a cheaper way to handle resources.

There is still the issue of reconciling costs. For instance, employers and employees have not yet figured out if hybrid working helps the company and individual, respectively.   


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