In the April and May issues of Leadership, I wrote about two contradictory articles; Managers in the ruins and Inside the Board room respectively. The Corona pandemic has led us into organizational distress. In both articles, my heart still reigns with pain imagining managers trying to cuddle employees to ‘Work from Home’ as we await the new normal for organizations to resuscitate into business again.
The government has consistently urged organizations to work from home, but, the question in my mind is, can we work from home for all jobs? Certainly not! Indeed, there are many jobs that one cannot work from home; even if it would be possible, the lockdown was so abrupt that planning for work from home was not done. I have worked from home since many routine tasks can be accomplished on computer. I have signed documents on line; assigned tasks, supervised work; held meetings; received reports, wrote reports. I have actually accomplished more output daily than I do while at office.
Where working from home is tenable, it is spatial in time, content and duration than office work. I have found on-line meetings quite better: short, precise and focused. I have attended board meetings and all directors placed in the confines of their homes.
I know many organizations have endeavored to continue while employees work from home. In some cases, it has been possible and smooth. In many others, it has not been possible and organizations have simply closed down. There are indeed many lessons for managers and employees alike.
In Uganda, we take things for granted; we do whatever we wish last minute; we like belated decisions; we are reactive than pro-active. We hardly anticipate that situations could change. I have previously warned against the talk of “I will cross the bridge when I get there! It is wrong. Strategists “create bridges now and cross them”. When ‘they get there’ and reality has changed, they just re-align their plans. The strain is less and manageable. We saw the lockdown coming but somehow kept aloof.
The government declaring a lockdown without notice has taught us painfully. Even for the jobs where work from home is possible, we did not prepare for it. Some employees had their laptops locked up in offices; others enjoy office internet and had never anticipated owning a personal modem, just in case. Others were caught in workshops away from home. For workers in the informal sector, working from home is dreamland!
The civil service system also has complications that working from home has been limited. The situation for private sector employees has become complicated; not only unable to work from home although willing, but anticipating no pay for not working.
For those who have adjusted and worked from home, there are attendant challenges. These have ranged from lack of gadgets to work, no suitable work spaces, power supply, internet connectivity and coordination with other co-workers for smooth work flows. Others have knowledge gap; one has a laptop but unaware how to use smart phone to tether internet from hot spot. Indeed, in Uganda, we have been locked into the mortal and brick system, with little digital knowledge.
Our eyes must now open that even in normal times, employees should be inducted into and equally supervised working from home. We know how much we seem to emphasize physical presence at work without regard to the quality time of employees at work. I recall when RDCs with due respect moved to force striking teachers into classrooms, without regard of the quality inside there.
By Prof. Vincent Bagire
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