Working from home was always going to be a daunting task.
Forced out of the office by a pandemic, employees were cast into an unfamiliar, and to some, an unfriendly working environment.
How could anyone expect an employee to concentrate, leave alone deliver, with all the distractions in the house?
Children yelling playfully as schools remained closed in the wake of the spread of Covid-19, the TV screaming for attention, and a cosy bed calling metres away.
Firms that had their staff working in shifts were lucky. A worker was only expected to deliver during their shift and they were therefore in the office.
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And so, it was just the normal office schedule that saw only half or a third of the staff work at a time. Those at home, went a common narrative, could not give anything of note.
But a new study by an American management consulting firm McKinsey has found that 80 per cent of the people enjoy working from home.
Forty-one per cent say they are more productive than before while 28 per cent say they are as productive.
“Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than in the office,” the report illustrated.
In a previous interview, Bidco Africa chai Vimal Shah said employees were more likely to be productive working from home.
“Hours spent in traffic are eliminated, and a fair chunk of this time is put into profitable use.
"The usual office chit-chat and catching up between colleagues is also minimised. People have more time to deliver on their assignments,” he said.
And especially because the traffic congestion into and out of Nairobi — every city worker’s worst nightmare — is eliminated and little time is wasted.
While the pandemic punished everyone indiscriminately, small businesses suffered, with some almost closing down.
The small businesses have been struggling to deliver, without the necessary infrastructure to support working remotely.
Ajua, an integrated customer experience company for businesses, conducted research recently to understand how Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owners were working on their customer retention during these difficult times.
It emerged that more SMEs in Kenya are aware that delivering exceptional customer experience is crucial to their bottom lines.
“These businesses are making use of mobile platforms to make their services more convenient for their customers to improve their competitiveness,” the report indicated.
America’s National Bureau of Economic Research recently found out that more people are attending crucial company meetings but take less time.
This is, unlike what would be expected, people missing meetings in big numbers.
“We find an increase in the total count of meetings per person per day - an increase of 12.9 per cent in the average number of attendees per meeting (going up by 13.5 per cent) and a decrease in the average duration of meetings (-20.1 per cent, equivalent to 12.1 minutes less per meeting)” the report said.
Official online communication also increased, with internal emails notably rising. “For daily email activity, we find that several email measures increased in the post-lockdown period,” noted the report.
“We find significant increases in the average number of emails sent and received among people from the same organisation, which we refer to as internal emails (an increase of 5.2 per cent or an additional 1.4 emails per person per day).”
There was also an increase in the average number of recipients included on emails sent in the post-lockdown period (more by 2.9 per cent or 0.25 recipients per email sent).
However, external emails and distinct emails sent (unique emails counted only once, regardless of the number of internal or external recipients) did not significantly change in the post-lockdown period.
Davis Tamba, a human resource practitioner at Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Nairobi in an earlier interview, said managing workers remotely was going to be a difficult task, and especially for some industries.
Tamba said it was hard to manage employees working from home because in the hospitality and service industry, “the lesser the pool of potential customers the harder it becomes to determine the productivity of employees”.
“The issue of performance management for a contractual arrangement that requires one to work from home has been made a challenge by the pandemic,” he said.
He added that having employees working from home would require them to submit certain necessary reports within given timelines.
“To measure a performance, you might be required to allocate certain weights to a given outcome, and the outcomes are pegged on itemised measurables as customer service and satisfaction, volumes of sales among others."
Ruth Wachira, the founder of consultancy firm StopGap says that the nature of work ultimately determines the productivity of workers operating away from the office.
“People’s work pattern has changed either positively or negatively depending on their nature of work.
"To some, there has been less time spent working and more time trying to change, manage and control their environment from noise, non-work-related temptations, meal and social breaks, thus affecting their productivity by being in an unstructured environment,” Wachira said.
“Some became more productive than ever as they were in control of time management, work structure.”
But it will be little surprise to see firms not overly eager to have their employees reporting back to the office. The workers are doing enough at home and putting in more hours.