It’s the wee hours of another Monday morning and as usual, Ruth is awake way before the crack of dawn.
By the time she steps out of her apartment in Iyana Ipaja, it’s not even 5 am yet. But she’s managed to have a bath, get dressed for work, and skip breakfast yet again.
She walks briskly to a junction close to her apartment where she awaits her ride. It’s a bus belonging to an ex-serviceman who lives in that area. But that bus never comes because she misses it on this very day.
The ex-serviceman is an early riser who hates “Lagos traffic” and has to find his way early before the roads become a row of unmoving vehicles. He picks up people at various junctions as he drives to work every day. It’s how he makes extra cash.
Ruth rides this bus most times because it’s convenient and it helps her arrive work on time. But on this day, she will have to fancy her chances with Molue.
By the time Molue gets her going, daylight is just starting to break out and the roads have become a maze with vehicles locked in a jam. Her commute from Iyana Ipaja to Ibeju Lekki takes 4 extra hours, no thanks to the traffic jam and the Molue driver seemingly stopping to pick or drop passengers every 100 metres.
It’s a nightmare. She gets to work 2 hours late, defeating the whole point of waking up so early. Plus, she’s disheveled, drained, and is reprimanded for turning up late.
Ruth works as a social media manager at a catering firm. She gets off the clock at five after putting in a terrible shift. But another nightmare ride means she doesn’t get home until past midnight.
The next day, she’s off again, hopeful that it won’t be so bad. But it is. And so is the day after that one. And Ruth has to work from the office over the weekends too. Her work rate declines and her health deteriorates.
But she sticks to it because there are bills to be paid. How easier her life would be if she didn’t have to make that trip from Iyana Ipaja to Ibeju Lekki every day for work that she could as well do two times better from the comfort of her home.
For now, though, she’ll just have to keep at it and help herself to intermittent whispers of “what if” and “God when?”.
And that’s because the vast majority of Nigerian employees are not exactly enchanted by the idea of remote work, even though it can help a lot in a city like Lagos where traffic can keep one on the road for half the official working hours.
Does Remote Work Work?
“Saying Lagos traffic is terrible is an understatement. I spend more than a total of 4 hours in traffic daily,” Wale Adetona (AKA ISlimFit), a well-known digital media practitioner, social commentator, and social media influencer, told WeeTracker.
To him, working remotely is a good idea. “Working remotely will definitely increase productivity and save countless hours spent in traffic. Unfortunately, it’s not all organizations that will implement it.”
Most of the problems people have with remote work are the fear of employees switching off and taking the job lightly, thus producing little. Adetona shares that sentiment.
“For most organizations, keeping track and ensuring people really work while at home is the issue. However, if they are clear on agreed KPIs and deliverables, this won’t be an issue.”
Adetona goes on to say that remote work can be beneficial to fintechs, startups, digital entrepreneurs, media houses, creative houses.
Remote Work Can Work
In a tweet from earlier this month, Vice-President Global Operations at Andela, Seni Sulyman, gave an interesting take on the matter.
“The cure for Lagos traffic? Technology. My 35/40 minute drive to work took 3 hours today. I attended all meetings on @zoom_us instead of canceling them, took notes on @trello, and messaged colleagues on @SlackHQ. Technology wins today and every day. The future of work is here,” he tweeted.
The cure for Lagos traffic? Technology. My 35/40 minute drive to work took 3 hours today. I attended all meetings on @zoom_us instead of canceling them, took notes on @trello, and messaged colleagues on @SlackHQ. Technology wins today and everyday. The future of work is here. 💻
— Seni Sulyman (@senisulyman) October 9, 2019
Stephanie Busari, CNN International Lead and Supervising Producer of CNN Africa, echoed those thoughts in a tweeted response of her own.
Currently writing and editing from my bedroom. Chatting on @SlackHQ with my team. We even have a work one day from home policy and if it is raining, they work at home, rather than spend unproductive hours in traffic. Remote work can work. It is essential in Lagos. https://t.co/dg0x5TWOwx
— Stephanie Busari (@StephanieBusari) October 11, 2019
“Currently writing and editing from my bedroom. Chatting on @SlackHQ with my team. We even have a work one day from home policy and if it is raining, they work at home, rather than spend unproductive hours in traffic. Remote work can work. It is essential in Lagos.”
THIS 👆🏽👆🏽👆🏽. Many years ago, some would’ve said it’s not possible to run the printing press or television business remotely. Until the internet came, and newspapers and TV moved online, and @StephanieBusari worked from her bedroom. And some might still say it’s not possible.
— Seni Sulyman (@senisulyman) October 11, 2019
And then came concerns about keeping tabs on if employees are doing actual work remotely. To which she responded:
“I trust my team. And the comms via Slack is for us to check in with updates. Our work is so output based that if you don’t perform, it would become VERY noticeable and questions would be asked.”
She added: “Why do you need to track employees if they are delivering? And if they are not delivering, management should step in and make it known so they can improve performance. Or leave.”
“The future of work requires employers to let go of controlling tendencies. If they are delivering and performance and bottom line are not affected, that is all that matters. Trusting your employees is critical.”
“Employees can turn up every day to the office and still turn out mediocre work. There is a LOT of time-wasting and paper-pushing during the 9-5 workday. Decide what your acceptable and realistic performance metrics are and empower your team to achieve them.”
But It Does Take Some Doing
Victoria Crandall, Director of Media Relations at Insider PR, has been living in Lagos for three months. She admitted to WeeTracker that she hasn’t really had it rough with the traffic but also talked about having to work in her car while being driven around Lagos and getting stuck in traffic for hours on those really bad days. Also, she’s well aware of the merits of remote work.
“My company is based in Washington, DC — we all work remotely. I’m a huge proponent of remote work. I think if you’re disciplined – that is, you don’t need a boss looking over your shoulder to be accountable and meet deadlines — and you have a proper work environment at home (consistent electricity, decent internet connection), remote work is critical to working productively in Lagos.”
“All businesses in the knowledge economy can benefit from remote workers who will be happier and more productive. Writers, graphic designers, computer programmers do not need to be in a physical office to work,” she added.
On the issue of how organisations can keep an eye on things, she said: “organisations need to put in place accountability systems that ensure that staff is meeting deadlines.”
“Working remotely comes with its own unique challenges and benefits, but there is nothing inherent in it that says your productivity will categorically increase or decrease.”
“There’s a good chance of either one happening. For people with long commutes, it would probably increase. For me, some days, it’s higher, other days it’s like normal.”
He added: “If a job obviously doesn’t involve every day dealing with physical assets, remote work should probably be an option. Besides, remote work isn’t new or limited to computer technologists. People have been working remotely for decades (maybe centuries?)
Well, it does seem like remote work can really help in a city like Lagos but many Nigerian employers are just not crazy about the idea of giving employees that kind of freedom at this point in time.
Featured Image Courtesy: Zegist