As an HR professional, I have never felt the need to put out ‘expert opinions’ for people to reapply or learn from. My focus as an employee has always been to do an excellent job, add value and make impact. I live the “Be so good they can’t ignore you” mantra.
However, a lot of times after conversation with my friends, I get asked why I don’t share my professional knowledge broadly. A friend of mine who had always challenged me about this sent me a message two days ago that said – “ Cities that were set upon hills don’t decide to hide under a bucket; You’re literally covering your own candle” – so here I am sharing my thoughts/opinions and hoping it will be helpful to at least one person/organization.
In this article, I will be sharing my thoughts on the remote working landscape in Nigeria and what employers & employees should do differently to maximize productivity at this time.
Over the past few weeks, a lot of us have been on ‘lockdown’ in various parts of the country and there has been wider usage of the phrase “Working from Home”.
As someone who has had the opportunity to work in two great multinational organizations with flexible work approaches, this was not alien as I always had the flexibility to work from home. As such, with the lockdown, all I needed to do was get into my home office and get on with work. Deliverables, timelines and productivity remained largely constant and the only thing I was missing was the physical human interaction.
I realized however, that this concept was new to a lot of organizations in Nigeria. Over the past weeks, I have been exposed to a number of employees from different corporate organizations who have been sitting idly, getting little or nothing done as their organizations are not set up to support remote working. You would assume this issue would be peculiar to small organizations; that just maybe they don’t have the resources to set up the right structures, however that is far from the reality, a lot of large organizations in various sectors despite having large budgets are losing out on productive time from their employees because they have refused to leverage available technology and put in place the right structure to optimize results.
Personally, I think there is a cultural element to why the average Nigerian organization would not embrace a ‘Work from Home’ culture, we believe that until you see someone with your two ‘korokoro’ eyes, there is no way they will deliver optimal performance and that is why there is a lot of eye-service in the workplace. However, from research, the average employee is only productive for 3 hours every workday (even in the office). If that is the case, what employers need to focus on is how to increase the hours of productivity regardless of the location.
I would argue that employees can be doubly productive at home than at the office and there is a substantial body of work to support this. According to one study, remote employees work an average of 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. This number will definitely be higher in Lagos where employees spend an average of three hours as transit time to and from work daily.
Below are a few things I believe would be beneficial for both employers/employees at this time:
Have the Right Structure: Structure is everything, every business must ensure that they are designed in a way that optimizes efficiency and effectiveness. At the core of this is aligning business processes, workflows, roles and responsibilities to available resources.
One common mistake a lot of businesses make is that they start organization design from the people i.e. creating roles for people versus plugging people into already aligned roles as part of a defined organizational structure. This anomaly must be urgently corrected, the imperative of the impact of Covid-19 on work processes dictates that every organization that wants to make it to the other side must critically re-think their structure, create roles that aligns with organizational goals and fit talents into the roles.
Set Clear Objectives: This might sound cliché and you may have heard this several times; however, it is the most critical part of determining success in an organization. Your employees need to have clarity on what is required from them with clear timelines. Like the popular saying, goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time-bound). This way, regardless of where the work is being carried out, people know what is expected from them and you can track whether they are meeting expectations.
Build an Environment of Mutual Trust: Studies show that organizations with a high level of trust have increased employee morale, more productive workers and lower staff turnover. If you have the right structure and the right people, you should trust that your employees will manage their time and remain productive. That is not to say that the trust will not be betrayed as is the case with all human interactions (that is why disciplinary policies in the workplace exist).
Have Systems/Processes to Track Performance: One of the things I tell people leaders is that an employee should never be surprised by their performance rating at the end of the year. It is not a good look for any leader if subordinates are shocked by their ratings at appraisals. Feedback should be continuous; cycle is dependent on type of job/role and as such I wouldn’t be specific in terms of timing/frequency. As an organization, you should design processes for feedback even as employees work remotely.
Set up Routines: Whilst it is important to have a trust-based relationship, accountability is key. One of the ways to ensure accountability is to have consistent routines especially now that a lot of employees work from home. You could set up daily or weekly check-ins. This could be brief meetings to check with your team, understand what they are currently working on, check status, communicate changes in priorities etc. If an employee knows that I have a check-in with my leader Monday mornings for example it drives accountability in ensuring they work towards closing open actions in time for the next check-in.
Communicate: It is important for business owners and leaders to communicate the effect of the pandemic on projections, revenues, profit and overall business openly & transparently; trust me, your employers understand.
In cases where actions like pay cuts, forced leave, unpaid leave, redundancies etc. must be taken, communicate early and respectfully. These conversations need to be straightforward and according to Jack Welch should be guided by two main principles: “no surprises and no humiliation. If you handle them right, they’ll never be enjoyable, but they can be tolerable for all involved” ; let your humanity show through the entire process. While at it, ensure that all applicable laws are obeyed. It will be unfortunate to act without taking into cognizance your employee’s legal rights and end up being burdened with litigation at a time when your business requires your maximum attention.
Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You: This is one of my favorite quotes of all time; it is from the book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ by Cal Newport. It is a philosophy I live by as a professional. This doesn’t mean never making mistakes or being 100% perfect, however as an employee you need to continuously work towards building expertise within and beyond your scope.
As an employee, your growth & development is primarily your responsibility. Whilst your organization might have processes in place to support this, you are in the driver seat and you can only grow as much as you let yourself. It is important to remember that the skills you develop are yours to own!
Are your organization’s priorities changing due to the pandemic? This is the time to understand what new skills are needed for you to standout at this time and take the time to develop yourself in them.
Communicate: Communication is a two-way process and as such responsibilities go both ways in the employer-employee relationship. This is not the time to be quiet/invisible; you need to ask questions, share progress on whatever you are working on, share your ideas on what the company can do differently, just generally add value. You should never approach work like you are doing the company a favour. You are building skills that no one can take away from you irrespective of the organization you work in. Remember that!
Expect Anything: This is the part a lot of employees don’t like to hear; most people want to work on their own terms and leave on their own terms. But we all know that work isn’t a perpetual paradise; sometimes, organizations must make tough and unpleasant decisions and if you are in paid employment, you don’t have 100% control over how these decisions will affect you.
The ongoing pandemic will expectedly have an impact on a lot of organization’s revenue and as a result many organizations are exploring options to reduce their expenses to enable them stay afloat. All options will be considered and this could range from options like mandatory leave, unpaid leave, up to termination. It is the harsh reality of life and you need to internalize this.
Lead Your Self: More than ever, this is the time to lead yourself as an employee. You need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the changing landscape and act swiftly to meet the dynamic needs of your organization.
The world as we know it has changed forever and the task for sustaining high-performing organizations is a joint responsibility for both employers and employees. We all should strive to play our part in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
Oluwanifemi Odeyinde is the HR Business partner for Sub-Saharan Africa at Johnson & Johnson. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org