Many Nigerians were in total denial of the COVID-19 pandemic until we recorded the first case in late February 2020. The outbreak led to a massive restructuring of work and service policies in all industries, primarily when the government issued a nationwide lockdown in coronavirus hotspot states. McKinsey’s report revealed that the pandemic sped up existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation across the globe.
According to Charles, a digital marketer who lives in Ibadan and has been working remotely before the pandemic, “working from home is quite convenient for me and cost-saving; it also guarantees health safety from the virus too.”
During the lockdown restrictions in Nigeria, many sectors and businesses discovered they could not run their services remotely. Banks and traders were the happiest when the lockdown got lifted. Tunde, a tax consultant in Lagos, revealed that he looked forward to the ease of lockdown, saying, “I had more to do at the office than at home, and asides that I spend less on data and power, those are on the company.”
Despite the ease of lockdown, some companies have not resumed entire operations at their physical office. We could blame this on the second wave of the virus, which started in Nigeria in December 2020, which was more deadly. Companies had to reinstate the work from the home policy during the second wave but asked their staff to come back to work when that phase of the virus was abated in Nigeria.
John, a content writer with a tech company in Lagos, said, “we were given the option to resume back at the office in February or work from home, ‘sharp sharp,’ I worked from home, though I have to pay for my data expenses that is better than having to get stuck in traffic every day.”
For Kudrat, an auditor with one of Nigeria’s top financial consulting firms, “working from home feels like there is no end time because you’re working round the clock.” Still, she prefers it more because it gives her the freedom to choose whether she works from the office or stays home.
But these are Nigerians that still had jobs or not underemployed, as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Labour Force Survey revealed that the unemployment rate rose to twenty-seven percent in the second quarter of 2020, with the pandemic highlighted as one factor for the increase. But, McKinsey’s report pointed out that some workers have had to switch occupations since the pandemic began. To corroborate this assertion, Young Nigerians have become increasingly active in the freelancing space during and after the pandemic, especially on the micro-blogging platform, Twitter.
The future of work is hinged on digitalization and globalization. This OECD data on the future of work pointed out that 6 out of 10 adults lack basic ICT skills. Still, young Nigerians are constantly breaking these barriers by learning new ways to become better writers, virtual assistants, digital marketers, and social media managers. They take on other new skills in the digital world that can help them navigate remote working.
Adeyemi, a postgraduate student of the University of Ibadan, said freelancing for media platforms in Nigeria while earning his degree has been good for him, especially during and after the lockdown restrictions, helping him gain experience while also learning the ropes. For Yetunde, a recent graduate who got introduced to freelance writing by a friend during the pandemic, she said, “though I paid little attention to it at first, I am fully doing freelance copywriting now, and I see myself going far with it.”
The challenges of buying data, fuelling generators because of inconsistent power supply, and poor service reception are significant concerns raised by interviewees working from home. Still, they all stated that it wouldn’t make them give up remote working to return to the office. To them, virtual meetings and remote work are the new norms for the global labor force, only if the government would be receptive to the idea.
The recent government clampdown, which includes cryptocurrency restrictions and banning Twitter operations in Nigeria, is detrimental to the future of work in the country. Judging by how many people have been able to score remote gigs from the platform, learn new skills or link up with a community that promotes working smart in a digital economy. The government must take a unique approach to some of its policies which have negative linkages on the future of work in the country, and set it right.
For employers, the future of work after this pandemic requires new workspace setting, flexibility, and employment policies, which needs urgent attention if they want to ensure high employee productivity.