Telecommuting – Working from home

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Welcome to another week of financial learning. I believe we are all well and staying safe in these abnormal COVID-19 times!

COVID-19 officially hit the shores on Ghana in the early part of March 2020. Events after the first announcement led to full and partial lockdowns, a ban on the social gathering, and eventual relaxing of restrictions to legislation on the use of nose masks and face shields.

The country has gone through a myriad of experiences that will be told to many generations to come. The negative impact of COVID-19 is something that will take more than just weeks or months to recover from.

Some businesses have had to rely on financial support for sustenance while others have been forced to wind-up, awaiting miracles for their restart.

Employees in the educational and hospitability industries have been hit massively by the pandemic, and continue to count their losses even after the relaxation of some restrictions.

In an earlier article, I touched on how churches and schools could use virtual means to hold their services and lessons.

Be that as it may, such mechanisms for our setting will require a bit more time for us to realise their full potential, considering the cost of data and level of illiteracy in Ghana.

The support from government through the National Board for Small Scale Industries is also a step in the right direction.

Almost every country affected by the pandemic is putting in place packages to support affected businesses. I therefore support the initiative in Ghana, and only add that the process should be expedited and transparent. Only those who need the support should receive it, and not allow the process to turn into a “family and friends” opportunity as we say in Ghana.

Beyond the stimulus package, I want to particularly look at the issue of working from home during the pandemic in Ghana. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention!

I hope human resource experts will draw a few lessons from today’s epistle according to Patrick TV GH. The focus of this article is looking at the effect of Working from Home on Employees’ Efforts.

In recent years, there has been increasing focus on the question of how to balance work and life commitments, in both academic and political debates. Homeworking is one initiative that has been promoted as a way of improving the work-life balance, according to Tracey Crosbie and Jeanne Moore in their publication titled ‘Work-Life Balance and Working from Home’.

 Homeworking was an increasing phenomenon between 1981 and 1998. The number of people in the UK working mainly from home almost doubled, rising from 345,920 to 680,612 (Felstead and Jewson, 2000).

More than a quarter of Britain’s labour force is reported to work at least part of the time from home (Labour Force Survey, 2001). This was predicted to rise to at least a third of the workforce by 2006 (Henley Centre, 1998).

In the United States, about 10% of the workforce reports working from home at least one day a week (Census 2010), while the proportion that primarily works from home has almost doubled over the past 30 years from 2.3% in 1980 to 4.3% in 2010.

There are many definitions of homeworking (Felstead and Jewson, 2000), but it is broadly defined as any paid work that is carried out primarily from home (at least 20 hours per week). This broad banner therefore includes those working at home (e.g. employees) or working from home (e.g. self-employed) (Felstead and Jewson, 2000).

Employees, who can work from home have high autonomy in scheduling their work, and therefore are assumed to have a higher intrinsic motivation according to one study by Kira Rupiettaa and Michael Beckmann, 2016.

The prevalence of working from home arrangements in firms has increased over the past decades, due to advancements in information and communication technologies (Shamir and Salomon 1985; Baruch 2000).

 

In the year 2009, more than twenty percent of German firms provided their employees the possibility to work at least a couple of days per month from home (FlüterHoffmann 2012).

 

This points to the fact that it is not a novelty across the globe, even though the scenario is different in Africa and Ghana.

Working from home has a lot of considerations that must be well-addressed before and during implementation.

A potential drawback of working from home is that it can cause personal and professional isolation because employees have reduced social interaction (Hill et al. 2003). Therefore, firms need to adjust their organisational culture to working from home. Employees need to have regular face-to-face team meetings with supervisors and colleagues to share important information, to feel integrated into the team, and to identify with the company (Bailyn 1988).

Employees have the highest intrinsic motivation if they are not only responsible for their work but also get regular feedback on their performance (Hackman and Oldham 1976). Thus, firms need to make sure that they provide appropriate feedback.

Before COVID-19, the efforts of most businesses in Ghana were mostly skewed toward offering products and services in the traditional brick and mortar.

There was some appreciable level of usage for electronic and digital applications that usually targetted selected technology-savvy customers and at extra cost.

Customer meetings and engagements were widely done through face-to-face means at branches and head offices.

 

Because of these face to face engagements, the staff was also accordingly trained to work via stationed desks. Performance targets were set with a mindset of employees working from an office to meet them.

Remunerations were agreed on with the same mindset of staff achieving standards while working at the office – i.e. Working Hours, Reporting Time to mention a couple.

All of a sudden, working hours and reporting time didn’t matter because of COVID-19!

Businesses now focus on how to meet the demands and needs of their customers without having all staff members present at the same time and location.

I may be wrong, but the first industry that launched the ‘Working from Home’ system due to COVID-19 was the banking sector. They called it Staff Rationing.

 

Banks started by first grouping their staff into segments at both the head office and branch levels. One group reported to the office for a week while the other alternated.

Banks also invested logistics into training their staff to be able to work from remote and virtual locations, and be able to pick customer’s requests from customer inquiries, account opening, KYC, deposit mobilisation, and loan applications using electronic, digital, and virtual technologies.

Some banks have also invested in telecommuting and teleworking technologies to allow employees work “business as usual” from home and other remote locations. These telecommuting systems and flexible workplaces are work arrangements in which employees do not commute or travel (e.g. by bus or car, etc.) to a central place of work.

Other businesses have also replicated the same system in their line of work. I must say some companies have been able to successfully implement telecommuting without any negative effect on profitability and productivity. Such is not the story for all businesses.

Businesses are torn between productivity and the health of their staff. Some employees see working from home as an extension of their leave days, while employers tend to calculate periods that their staff work from home as part of their annual leave.

The argument for and against will continue to linger as we battle with COVID-19 and any future pandemic that affects work.

Employees must begin to approach working from home as a form of work schedule that requires the same commitment and expectation as working from the office.

In most cases, anyway, staff emoluments have not been affected by this way of work.

The flip-side of working effectively at home is the level of redundancy being reported daily. If the productivity of staff at home continues to be low as discussed by the Human Resource experts, then employers will be forced to choose between profitability and downsizing.

Any act of downsizing adds up to the already high level of unemployment in Ghana and Africa.

Many employers fear that employees will exploit the freedom of working from home and lower their work effort (Gariety and Shaffer 2007). It is however not all gloomy for employers when their staff work from home.

Employers can benefit from the introduction of working from home, as they can save operating costs due to reduced office space (Bloom et al. 2015).

The attitude of employees when they work from home is a shared responsibility between the staff and employers. Can you blame the employees when they haven’t had intensive training on how to work from home?

How many of these employees undergo training on working without supervision?

Do they even have the required logistics to effectively meet targets while at home?

A collaborative effort is therefore needed as we protect lives while at the same time putting in place systems to make the business function.

As some experts keep on saying, COVID-19 has come to stay – and the earlier we adjust physically and psychologically, the better for all of us.

Let me end by adding that working from home is not an entitlement, but rather an opportunity to diversify our skills in meeting job targets from remote sites.

Your employer needs 100% commitment from you even in times like these.

Save your job by employing total commitment at home!

I wish everyone an enjoyable and memorable week!

 

 

 

 

 

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