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Bums on seats

By Sinem Bilen Onabanjo
28 March 2020   |   3:07 am
As Covid-19 sweeps the world and terrorises many, months after China was battling its scourge, finally in other parts of the world

As Covid-19 sweeps the world and terrorises many, months after China was battling its scourge, finally in other parts of the world, we’ve had our own awakening/reckoning.

While in the UK, our government was advocating ‘herd immunity’ which is scientifically flawed as there is no vaccine to build enough herd immunity to protect the more vulnerable, for a while in Nigeria, and across Africa, false claims were bandied around such as high melanin protecting Africans from the disease, or sub-Saharan temperatures killing the virus immediately. Since then though, both claims have been refuted and in the UK the government has done a full U-turn.

With that, around mid-March, most British companies were assessing the agility of their workforce to see if remote working scenarios would work. Some Nigerian companies were faster out of the blocks, asking their employees to work from home from 23 March.

Let’s face it, working from home doesn’t come naturally in Nigeria. With inadequate infrastructure, the costs of keeping a house powered during the day, the general distrust of bosses in their employees and an attitude of presenteeism have meant for decades people have suffered six-hours on the road back and forth between the Mainland and the Island – instead of a short commute, for instance, from the bedroom to the study.

I recall staying with friends in Anthony Village some years ago and having to get to meetings in Victoria Island for 9 am. We would leave the house at 5 am – me hugging my thermos of coffee tightly – crawl in the rush hour traffic, on the pot-holed side roads on to the busy main roads, amidst the cacophony of car horns blazing, the burn of exhaust fumes in our throat. We would get to Victoria Island by around 8 am which meant just enough time to quickly grab meat pie for breakfast before the day’s meetings started.

Even in the UK, with all the infrastructure in place, remote working is not a part and parcel of the work culture. Apparently, bosses still think that one’s ability to do a job well is directly proportionate to their bums being planted on a nearby seat. Imagine the horror on the face of many a CEO when Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Brits to work from home where they can if it is not essential for them to go into work. WhatsApp messages pinging across the nation instructing employees to work from home for the next three weeks.

Hard to believe, five days in, and work gets done, in some places even more efficiently than before. Afraid to be seen to slack, keen to keep their jobs at a time of economic uncertainty, the workforce has pulled their weight – and lo and behold, companies haven’t yet collapsed. If they do, it will be down to the stock market, not remote working.

As Nigeria seems to sleep-walk into the phase UK just sleep-walked out of, there is hope that working from home works. You can find a plethora of think pieces across the internet on the benefits of working from, tips to keep to a routine, inspirational photos of home work stations, cute snaps of parents all over the country having the ultimate work-life balance act: homeschooling kids while cracking on with their work.

Despite the inevitable scare that comes with a predatory virus and the uncertainty of times, working remotely, I find, has helped me mentally. Waking up at 8 am every day, getting to a routine, having one form of exercise at lunchtime which is often walking the dog, I find I get more work down and still have time to keep physically fit too. The fact that my commute is from the bedroom down to the kitchen table also helps.

There’s much talk that like most other things it is already impacting on, this pandemic can change the way companies think, and it may not be long before we revolutionise the way we work, with work from home and flexible options more readily available. Only time will tell. The hope is that perhaps once we are out of this, bosses around the world can see bums on seats don’t equal more productivity.

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