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Opinion: Flexible Working; Is This The Future Of Work In Africa

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The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of change across the world. And while the majority of it has put additional stress on the shoulders of billions, there are still positives to be drawn from the shift in attitudes some businesses have had towards their flexible working policies.

With many employees unable to physically travel into their offices for work, companies discovered the possibility of allowing their team to get the job done from home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this shift in working habits has been popular among many workers.

A recent study by Direct Line found that most people have massively preferred the swap to working from their houses. As many as 44% of them (over 13 million people) even intend to ask for some kind of permanent flexibility after the pandemic ends.

With demand growing for this to become the norm across the world, will Africa follow suit? Let’s take a look at the potential impact of a working from home policy for African professionals.

The demand for flexibility

Africa has one of the fastest growing rates of new businesses being set up every year – accounting for as many as 22% of new companies globally. In recent years, a huge shift towards digital professions has provided Africans with the chance to work from the comfort of their own homes.

This, coupled with the change in attitudes COVID-19 has brought about, has meant that both employees and employers are reconsidering the potential of how a flexible policy might benefit all.

The benefits

Ask anyone who is allowed to work from home as much as possible, and they’ll tell you just how handy it can be to work from a location of their choice. There are loads of reasons why working from home brings a positive impact to both a business and an employee.

  • Freedom. Let’s face it – for most people, our personal lives outweigh the importance of our daily work life. While both are important, it’s unhealthy to prioritise your professional success over your personal happiness. With the freedom flexible working brings, employees can have a greater work-life balance.
  • Unlimited potential. Having the flexibility to work wherever and however you like gives someone the opportunity to optimise their output. Let’s face it, we all work to our best under different conditions. By placing the power in the hands of a worker, a business will theoretically always get the best from their employees.
  • Employee satisfaction. As many as 33% of employees claim that flexibility and freedom is the key to their happiness at work. Those figures are enough in and of themselves to turn heads for employers. A happy workforce is a productive one.

The downsides

But for all the benefits, it’s important to recognise the potential downsides to running a company in this manner. Here are some of the reasons why a company might not want to invest in a flexible working environment.

  • Employees taking advantage. While the vast majority of employees can be trusted to manage their time properly, it’s sadly not always the case. It’s these rogue elements who make it hard for companies to trust the 99% of people who can be relied on.
  • Potential data hacks. When laptops and other company-owned devices are taken home on a regular basis, the chances of a public data breach (at a coffee shop or other social venue) become significantly greater.
  • A lack of unity. For a lot of people, the part of work which makes it bearable is the camaraderie between colleagues. This social aspect can be lost if a workforce begins to regularly work from different locations. 

The future

In truth, it’s hard to say. Any shift towards a more regular form of working from home will be introduced on an office-by-office basis. There are clear advantages to having such a policy, but it’s also understandable why some companies might be hesitant to bring it in.

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