How working remotely has  changed the office

What you need to know:

  • Embracing: During a CEOs meet last week, East African CEOs said there was a significant change in perspective, with many aware of the evolving risks and trends.
  • Hybrid working was popularised during the Covid-19 pandemic and organisations continued to embrace it post-pandemic.
  • In the 2022 survey, East Africa CEOs noted that hybrid working positively impacted hiring (64 percent) and employee retention (75 percent). 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations had invested heavily in clock-in machines, as a way of using technology to monitor the time employees reported to and left work.
When the pandemic ushered in working from home and online meetings for continuity of work, many employers were wondering whether to return all the employees back to office or let them continue working from home so as to effectively supervise them.

Four years down the road, the clock-in machine seems to have died a natural death. Confusion is lingering among, some still ponder whether to return all employees back to office while others have created work schedules where employees work for a specific number of days in office then take some days to work from home. 

According to Patrick Ngolobe, the managing partner Africa Executive Leadership Solutions, a management consultancy, when the economy was fully reopened, most employers lost between 30 percent and 45 percent of their workers in the quiet quitting syndrome. He attributed the exodus to several underlying factors that companies previously did not care to understand about their employees. For instance, whereas employers assumed that their employees lived in homogenous residential areas, some did not know that their employees lived in single rooms where an additional workstation could not fit, others lived in places where a computer or laptop is a source of insecurity, others lived in places without electricity or water, which became a major disruption and cause of disengagement from the company.
“In some instances, employers had to start cost sharing with employees for rent, electricity, water, air conditioning and many other considerations because these are costs you were incurring at the workplace. And because there was no commute, there was employee burnout because of increased working hours,” Ngolobe said.

He added that he knows a company which continued paying salaries for disengaged employees for months, some employers also discovered that they did not need all employees to deliver, others did not need to hire 10 floors.
These and other developments, made the employer flip the dial from the previous “You can be fired anytime” narrative, to being empathetic to the employee. 

According to Emmanuel Otim, the HR manager Regal Paints and winner of the 2023 Hybrid Working HR of the Year Award by the Human Resources Managers’ Association of Uganda, when the pandemic broke out in 2023, they adopted a blend of on-site and remote work because it gives employees flexibility and employees are beating their deadlines because of the daily targets they have set for them together with the frequent communication.
He says he personally believes that remote working and attending Zoom meetings are beneficial. They offer convenience and the ability to connect with others from anywhere in the world. 

“Also, performance management is simplified as results are instantly visible. Any challenges that arise can be promptly addressed. The changing landscape, including challenges such as weather changes, poor road networks and traffic jams no longer inconvenience staff. Instead, they can join meetings and work from wherever they are without disruption,” he says.
Regarding the millennials whose attention span is low and always seems restless, opting to work online, he says hybrid work is tailored well for the millennials because they have grown up in the age of technology. They have invested in technology, training, enterprise resource planning software, providing meaningful work.

Ugandan employees should work remotely

His advice to HR practitioners is to embrace emerging trends in HR, the new generation of workforce to remain relevant in the evolving workplace of the future.
Alice Namugawe, the human resources manager Coca Cola, on the other hand, says for them the advent of the hybrid mode of operation was an instant blessing as the company had invested in Microsoft Teams because of the multiple plants they have in different regions.
“We do not struggle pushing people. Every quarter we have the General Manager’s meeting in Namanve and the next day in Mbarara. We installed teams on staff laptops and phones. When someone does not attend the meeting, we call them. When someone is not able to attend, they can send an apology, which is registered,” she says.

According to this year’s KPMG Global CEO survey, 80 percent of the 50 East Africa CEOs who were interviewed stated that they were likely to reward employees who opt to work from the office with favourable assignments, higher compensation and promotions. They are also optimistic of a full return to office in the next three years for roles that are traditionally office-based. 
Of that, 52 percent believe that as they steer their organisations through rising uncertainties, personal integrity, values and beliefs will play a critical role in making decisions.

Then 72 percent of the CEOs are also prepared to make choices that could adversely affect the company’s financial returns in the short-term, if it means safeguarding the brand’s reputation.
During the report launch, Jane Langoya B’tek, one of the panelists, disagreed with the East African CEOs saying whereas the CEOs are expecting staff to report back to office, research from Kenya and the US shows that majority of people in work places are now millennials aged between 20 and 39 and if that group of people are not given the opportunity to work from home or office, they will walk away from the job and look for areas where they are allowed to work from both home and office.

“Research has also shown that it is beneficial because they are productive at home for those who have families and those who work from office the employer should invest in employee satisfaction and work on the life and work balance of the employees,” he said. 

Stephen Ineget, the country manager KPMG Uganda, said this years’ survey has brought in good insights. He says the 1,325 global CEOs interviewed are optimistic there is growth within the economy. They believe the key parameters to growth include affordable financing, how to make use of the current talent to increase growth,  and working from both office and home.
“Employers must invest in things even if it does not improve the company profitability in the short term but over the long term these investments will bring returns. Technology, especially AI will help fight crime, eliminate operational challenges, make processes smooth, minimise challenges and reduce people,” he said.

East Africa CEOs are reconsidering their strategies for attracting and supporting talent due to the uncertainties observed on a global level. They are embracing collaborative leadership styles with shared management and operational responsibilities.