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The pros and cons of remote work in Africa

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Since the pandemic, irreversible changes have occurred across the world. One of the major changes in reimagining work is remote work. Restrictions like lockdowns have forced employers to find a way to conduct work safely and effectively away from the office.

It is estimated that over 80 million Africans have jumped onto the remote work train. Africans have three remote options to choose from. These include work-from-home, freelancing, and co-working. Work-from-home is a new way that corporations are accommodating. The covid-19 pandemic forced corporations to allow employees to work-from-home (WFH) where they use different communication platforms like Zoom, Hangouts, and Meets for inter-organizational communication and coordination. 

Freelancing is on the rise as well. Remote workers can register and create profiles on platforms including Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork. The platforms provide freelancers the opportunity to apply for work from several employers. Jobs on these platforms can be either short or long-term, and from individuals or companies giving freelancers many options to choose from. 

The platforms are not only limited to international companies. Africa has some local companies offering similar opportunities for freelancers. These include rail companies that are making remote opportunities available to freelancers with programming skills. 

Another avenue for freelancers to acquire work is through social media platforms. Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular ones. Several organizations and individuals post remote roles for writers, developers, web designers, and virtual assistants. The platforms also allow freelancers to create accounts and market their services by interacting with other large accounts in the comments, creating valuable content, pitching through direct messages, and attending events like Twitter Spaces. 

The final option, co-working, allows employees of different organizations to share working spaces. In a co-working space, you can share office infrastructure such as printers, internet, and furniture. The value is that employers cut out operational costs. More so, for remote workers, is the convenience, since many co-working spaces are located close to where they stay. 

In Africa, the most popular co-working spaces include Ventures Park in Abuja, Impact Hub in Accra, Workstation in Lagos, BongoHive in Lusaka, Nairobi Garage in Nairobi and AlMaqarr in Cairo. Rather than feeling lonely from working at home alone, remote workers can enjoy the company of other remote workers plus a productive environment that encourages them to work efficiently.

While the pandemic was the main push toward the shift, there are several benefits of remote work for both employees and employers. 

Employers who choose remote working enjoy the capability to pick from several skilled employees. They are not limited to location and can choose the best of the best across the world. Since employers do not need office space with remote work, operational costs are reduced. Employee productivity also improves since employees work in more conducive environments. With lower operational costs and increased employee productivity, the employer enjoys greater profits.

Employees also enjoy several benefits. Many employees are frustrated by commuting in traffic, spending hours on the road just to get to their offices. This inconvenience is solved through remote work. African employees also get the opportunity to explore opportunities that were not available to them before. Since several global companies are hiring employees across the world without the need for them to move, Africans can access better jobs than they could in the past. Lastly, it allows employees to work wherever they want as long as they can perform their work.

Remote work sounds like a wonderful addition to the working environment in Africa. But despite the benefits, there are still challenges standing in the way of it going mainstream on the continent. The biggest issue is infrastructural, specifically low access to the internet. Only about 28% of Africa has access to the internet, which is the foundation of remote work. 

The infrastructural problems do not stop there. The power and energy infrastructure in Africa is lacking. There are still plenty of countries in Africa that experience regular loadshedding. Even South Africa, one of the most developed African countries, is currently experiencing troubling electricity shortages due to infrastructural challenges. Internet infrastructure, computers, printers, and other freelancing equipment is dependent on electricity. Therefore, regular loadshedding and inaccessibility to electricity in rural areas makes accessing remote work difficult. 

A few other challenges affect remote work on an individual basis such as difficulty adjusting to working outside an office, communication difficulty especially for different time zones, and distractions at home. 

Despite the challenges, remote work has great potential to solve unemployment in Africa. Youth unemployment may seem low at 13%, but the figure is deceptive and hides underlying issues. Some of the issues are that employed youth are vulnerably employed, in that they are not making living wages. 

If African governments can improve infrastructure to enable more access to the internet, the opportunity to learn free skills on the internet can add value to youth. With those skills, more youth can take advantage of remote work opportunities to improve their living standards. 

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Simon Mwebaze

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