Working From Home

Greetings, friends:

I hope this month has been kind to you, despite the cold weather for those of us in Nairobi. I’ve been thinking about the future of the workplace, especially because it seems remote work is here to stay, even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides. Companies are having to navigate the complexities of having staff work from home or the office, or a combination of both, as most countries seem to be going through cycles of locking down and opening up again.

When the Quartz newsroom in New York reopened a few weeks ago, they sent out a survey asking employees how they planned to use the office space. The results were in line with what many other surveys have found – most employees would much rather the flexibility of working from home with occasional hours at the office, rather than the other way around as was the standard in the Before Times.

The majority of Quartz employees were happy to consider coming back to the physical newsroom after a year of being fully remote, but only if they came in for two or three days a week at the most – Wednesdays and Thursdays were the most popular days to come into the office. None (as in, 0%) planned to use the office again full-time in the future, and many employees say they would rather quit a job than submit to working full-time at the office (!).  I don’t expect that responses would be any different here, the agonizing roadworks in Nairobi being just one reason of many that leaving the house has become even more stressful, in an already stressful city.

To be successful in this hybrid world, Quartz has curated some helpful tips for workplace leaders – managers need to be aware of “proximity bias”, that is the tendency to assume that we know those we see more often, which would disadvantage the career growth of those who might not come to the office that much. Managers should lower their expectations for productivity, and employees should be evaluated on the basis of objective, output-based metrics – in the newsroom context, for example, that would mean simply delivering a great story and not necessarily putting in more hours. And managers should never, ever, use productivity-tracking software to monitor workers such as webcams or keystroke recorders; it’s humiliating for workers and unhelpful for measuring what makes great work.

There’s both opportunity and risk in this moment, and we’re going to have to keep restructuring and re-evaluating. In the meantime, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: A Place Weeping, an editorial in the Johannesburg-based New Frame. You’ve no doubt been following the stories of looting and unrest in South Africa over the past week, and this piece puts context to it. An excerpt: “The social devastation of mass unemployment renders South Africa a non-viable society for millions. Something must give.”
  • What We’re Watching: How To Become A Tyrant, a snarky docuseries on Netflix based on the book ‘The Dictator’s Handbook’ by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. It’s a chilling mix of dark and delightful, and truth be told some of the tactics were too close for comfort. I feel like we’re living some of it in real time.
  • What We’re Listening To: When Neoliberalism Took On Africa’s Economic Imagination, an episode on the Equals podcast featuring Zambian economist Dr. Grieve Chelwa. Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda recently died, and this podcast seeks to ask what President Kaunda really set out to do with the state taking a far more active role in economic management. What can we learn from “Kaundanomics” for today? And what was the impact of the defining “structural adjustment” period on Africa’s economics?

With love and solidarity,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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