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Flexible Working – How can this be adopted easily and effectively? Is this pandemic the nudge we need to discard outdated work practices

Flexible Working – How can this be adopted easily and effectively? Is this pandemic the nudge we need to discard outdated work practices

A global crisis such as the one that we are currently facing and its attendant social distancing measures has greatly underscored the need to adopt flexible working models. This has a hidden upside as it gives us a chance to rethink how work is organized and bring our processes into the 21st century. Flexible working could mean developing flexibility in terms of time, job, location or possibly all three at once. Having employees work from home may only be attractive to some companies this period alone but others may decide to adopt this new arrangement post-coronavirus having found positive consequences to the approach.

For most African businesses, this is the first-time flexible work models are being tested. This arrangement is relatively new, and the switch will not be an easy one. One of the concerns when it comes to this type of work is how to ensure efficiency, how to ensure that everyone is being productive. Having teams spread out across various locations, coordinating work hours, fixing online meeting schedules may not be easy and can cause confusion that reduces progress which can lead to delays in meeting up with project deadlines and the likes.

Whether you are just getting started or you already have existing remote work frameworks in place, there are several points of reflection that could inform your approach to the adoption of flexible work practices, these include;

· Understanding the business case: In adopting this arrangement, it will be important to understand the business case for implementation of this model, that is, what is the cost that will be incurred in implementing? how much will be gained from productivity improvements and more? In this era of a global health pandemic, the foremost business case that cuts across all industries is the preservation of human life through the adoption of social distancing measures.

· Learnings from similar companies: A quick look at examples of similar companies that have pioneered flexible work models in your industry and similar industries around the world could serve as inspiration for your own thinking on the best way forward.

The approach for thinking about flexible work models should be centred around the potential for success and feasibility of execution. Every business must consider the level of dependencies required between workers and also between the firm and its clients in order to understand its potential to successfully adopt remote working practices.

Internal dependencies are centred on interlinkages between job functions and reliance on fixed capital assets for work eg; heavy machinery. External dependencies, on the other hand, refer to the level of physical interaction between a customer and a client in order to close a business interaction. Industries like entertainment (online entertainment like Netflix etc are booming) but cinemas and amusement parks are being closed, restaurants that only offer dine-in experiences etc.

Therefore, the following framework is a starting point for continued thinking of the alternative work options available for individual firms.

Flexible work matrix

High Flex Adaptability:

Industries classified under this quadrant have the lowest level of internal dependencies and external dependencies; it is, therefore, possible for the firm, workers and its clients to adapt to a fully remote working model. The feasibility of execution will depend on the ability of the companies to establish clear goals, align their employees and empower them to take ownership of their activities and deliverables without being micromanaged. These companies would also need to identify the right infrastructures and technologies that will help teams work effectively and monitor productivity.  Examples of businesses that fall under this category include Financial institutions, Consulting firms, Tech companies and more.

Medium Flex Adaptability:

These Industries have a high level of internal dependencies and low level of external dependencies which means there is minimal interaction with customers but full dependence on fixed capital assets for work and interlinkages between job functions. For these businesses, there is a possibility to run a partial remote working model where only core departments would be prioritized to work out of the physical office space. Examples could be Quality Assurance, Electrical department for manufacturing companies while departments like finance and marketing would work from home.

These companies would also have to adopt several work tools and technologies to make work seamless across all job functions. Companies would also have to carefully plan out work arrangements and schedules, set up proper communication lines and adopt the right technologies and tools to make the execution of this arrangement effective.

Medium Rigid:

Businesses in this quadrant have a low level of internal dependencies and a high level of external dependencies which means they rely largely on physical interaction with clients to transact business. The social distancing measures that have been put in place will make it extremely difficult for businesses like these to function or even adapt to any flexible working option. The flexible work options for this line of businesses are therefore very limited and adaptability is almost rigid. Some examples of businesses under this quadrant that may count as expectations are retail companies such as grocery stores or pharmaceuticals who provide essential products. These companies can adopt job sharing work options where two part-time workers are retained to cover a full-time position. This will help limit the exposure of individual workers to the public or they can also explore providing self-service options to customers which means only core departments would need to be at the physical workspace.

Highly Rigid:

Industries classified under this quadrant have the highest level of internal dependencies and external dependencies; it is therefore almost impossible for the firm, workers and its clients to adapt to any remote working option. A good example that comes to mind is airline companies whose operations rely solely on using aircraft to carry passengers.

The level of adaptation to any flexible work arrangement here is fully rigid.

Once you have been able to categorize where your business falls, it is important to think around some questions to help decide how feasible the flexible work option would be for your business. These sequences of questions will help lead you to a decision.

Flexible work decision tree

Flexible working may not be easy to implement at first but once you are able to get it off the ground, you will reap great benefits. Some examples of companies who have successfully implemented this arrangement and are doing well so far include:

  • Techpoint – Techpoint is a technology company that amplifies the best innovations out of Africa through its media, data, events, and tech-focused platforms. Techpoint’s recently adopted work style mandates members of the editorial team to report to the office — for meetings and pitch sessions — only twice a week, while they can choose to work from home the rest of the week. So far, remote work has worked well for the Techpoint team. 
  • Black Purist Media – After adopting a remote work policy, the creative and digital company has seen a considerable decrease in its monthly expenditure and budget, an overall increase in productivity, a daily obsession with timelines, to-do lists, crushing deliverables and meeting targets. Most importantly, there is a new sense of self-awareness that comes with controlling one’s time. [1]
  • ROAM: ROAM, which stands for Ringier One Africa Media, is a leading classifieds African group with about 400 employees in 7 African countries. On March 19, ROAM enforced a COVID-19 remote work policy. Although the company subsequently took 87% of its operations remote, as of March 27, the company was 100% remote. The company makes use of Google Hangouts, Slack, Zoom, amongst other software, in its flexible work. Employees were provided with dongles and have daily ‘standup’ calls and ‘stand down’ calls in order to check in on their wellbeing and output. The company has tried to ease the cost of working remotely for its workers. In Nigeria specifically, ROAM has provided its employees with fuel allotments to solve the problem of frequent power outages, as well as provided South African developers UPS devices.[2]

This pandemic is undoubtedly tragic but at the end of the day, it may help us identify new innovative ways to work that would be far more collaborative, participatory, and could help shift our culture digitally to improve overall productivity. Throughout this process, it is important that you make your people feel the change is being made with them and not to them.


[1] https://techpoint.africa/2017/05/23/remote-working-culture-nigeria/

[2] https://weetracker.com/2020/03/27/african-company-remote-work-covid-19/

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