Staff face hurdles working from home to keep firms up
By Awal Mohammed | April 11th 2021
On her bed, the usual sight of duvets, bed sheets and pillows have been replaced by a laptop and other electronic gadgets. Over the sound of a microwave and sounds of her keyboard is a cry of a child; “Mum! I want to play outside”.
This has been the daily routine of Anne Mwakio since the pandemic hit the country in March last year.
Her struggles mirror that of thousands of Kenyans who were forced to work from home owing to the pandemic.
“It is a daily hustle, I had to ensure my bedsitter becomes my office, and a bedroom together with my two-year-old son,” said Mwakio. “I miss normal working days. This is extremely tough for me”.
The 28-year-old single mother of one works as a salesperson at a leading insurance company.
Like everyone in their field of work, being outdoors and meeting prospective clients is vital if she wants a better paycheck.
The first wave of Covid-19 in Kenya shut down both public and private institutions. From national government departments to public sector corporations as well as counties to their assemblies, key services grounded to halt as workers were sent to work from home.
“We went back to the office briefly from November last year, but the feeling was not the same,” said Caleb Otwami, a relationship manager at a local bank.
“In January, we were optimistic that things had started to creep back to normal then recently, restrictions were imposed. All the hope has vanished,” he said.
In September, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) released a report showing that 13 per cent of businesses that shut during the first and second waves of the pandemic are yet to reopen, even as many struggle to recover.
The figure is expected to rise as the country continues to tackle the deadly third wave of the pandemic, owing to the emergence of new variants of the virus. This has heightened panic in the country.
While businesses had to find ways to remain afloat, most employees continue to complain of long work hours and blurred lines between work and off-work hours.
This was worse for women who juggle remote work stresses and unpaid care at the home.
“The employer assumes that if you are working from home, you are already resting and they can call you past 5pm and ask you to attend to some work, well past your working hours,” said Mary Githinji, a communication manager with a public relations firm in the country.
Undeniably, Covid-19 has ravaged economies globally, leaving almost every sector reeling in losses.
Private businesses had to reduce their cost of operations with dwindling incomes occasioned by the virus playing a major role in cost-cutting measures. Almost every private business announced a pay cut. Others suspended pension payments for workers.
According to Retirement Benefits Authority, employers suspended Sh2.1 billion in contributions to pension schemes since March as firms took advantage of the authorised payment holiday to maintain their cash flows.
“I am expected to work full-time at home with a reduced income yet every commodity price in the market has doubled since the pandemic started,” said Mwakio.
Working from home and reduced sources of income have seen gender-based violence cases increase, particularly against women. Many women had to work from home, quarantining with abusive partners, with financial stresses magnifying the risks of violence.
Healthcare Assistance Kenya reported that gender-based violence cases increased by 34 per cent in March 2020, skyrocketing to 301 per cent by April 2020.
Already, global firms such as Facebook and Twitter okayed employees to work remotely, permanently. Closer home, firms have asked staff to work from home.
As Covid-19 bites, workers will have to find new ways to deal with the challenge working from home.
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