The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has significantly altered virtually every aspect of business and personal lives across the globe. Measures being taken governments allover the world to stem the spread of the virus, have ranged from routine body temperature checks at ports of entry to clamping down on public gatherings and in extreme cases, total shut-down of cities. The effect of this on businesses is that operations cannot go on as usual, and companies have to get creative on how to keep their businesses afloat even in the face of dwindling revenues. In the heavily hit countries in Europe and North America, companies are either sending staff home on unpaid leave or adopting "work from home" arrangements to maintain their operations.
As at the time of writing this piece, Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in the country has confirmed a total of thirty (30) cases nationwide. At least two state governments have instructed their civil servants to work from home, while some banks are also cutting down on their regular operations. Like the way the 9/11 bombing led to heightened security checks on international travels, by the time this epidemic is over, we can expect some adjustments in the way businesses run, and Nigerian businesses should not be left out. This article looks at a few of the changes that are likely to be induced by the COVID-19 experience and how Nigerian businesses can adjust to the emerging realities.
- Hygiene: in response to the Ebola outbreak recorded in 2014, offices, homes, schools and other public places ramped up the use of hand sanitizers. With time, the culture of keeping sanitizers within reach gradually faded. However, COVID-19 has sent Nigerians scurrying for hand sanitizers again. Preventive measures recommended by the World Health Organisation against the COVID-19 spread include frequent and thorough hand washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. It can therefore be expected that sanitizers will be more ubiquitous in workplaces across the country in the years to come, even if the frequent washing of hands cannot be maintained. For the good of staff, customers and other stakeholders, businesses should therefore include hand sanitizers as part of their regular office consumables.
- Remote work: prior to the Corona virus outbreak, telecommuting was already a norm in developed countries. Responses to COVID-19 have however made "working from home" (WFH) or telecommuting the popular alternative to confining employees in a physical space. Companies in Nigeria are also adopting this option. One of the major lessons businesses can take away from this unpleasant experience is the need to ramp up their remote work capabilities. Apart from being an emergency arrangement for times like this, it is also an important component of business continuity strategies. As a business owner, you should ask yourself, "if my office premises becomes inaccessible, can my staff work remotely and keep the business running?" Achieving this would however demand some investment in laptops, internet modems and data subscriptions. This could be significant for small businesses, but that is the reality of the future of work, and it is important to start making plans for that. Infact, I would predict that by the end of this decade, the demand for desktop computers in offices would have reduced significantly. The big elephant in the room for us in Nigeria would however be power supply. The solution to that is no doubt beyond the grips of individual business owners and that might be the major limiting factor to working remotely. It may however be an opportunity for individuals investing in shared work spaces where remote workers can access power supply and even internet services, although at a cost.
- Online Collaborative Tools: remote work arrangements have thrived on the back of collaborative tools like Skype for Business, Zoom, GoToMeeting etc. The future of work portends significant opportunities for the adoption of these tools.
- Flexible Working Hours: another approach being adopted by companies in response to the COVID-19 spread is flexible working hours for staff. This is done to decongest office spaces and ensure minimal human contacts. With "flexi" hours, staff can resume and close at different times, provided the agreed working hours for the day are met. Under normal circumstances, organisations adopt this to support work-life balance of employees.
- Decongesting work spaces: the term "social-distancing" has become popular as the world fights the spread of the Corona virus. To achieve social distancing which requires a distance of at least 1 meter between individuals, some responsive organisations have began to rearrange their workspaces to ensure safe distances exist between co-workers. Hitherto cramped workspaces will have to give way for some appreciable spacing to reduce the spread of contagious diseases going forward. Business owners will therefore do well to factor this into their office arrangements.
As the world join hands in concerted efforts to combat what is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges humanity has faced, it is hoped that Nigerian businesses will emerge from this with new strategies for the inevitable changes in the world of work.