Professor Robert Kelly became famous in 2017 when a video of his children barging in on his live interview with the BBC went viral.
For a moment, viewers watched as the man known as a serious political analyst dropped his professorial mien and switched back to being a father interrupted at work by his children.
He had simply forgotten to lock the door of his home office that one time, but the comic relief he provided showed one of the realities of working from home, with its myriad distractions and stumbling blocks.
With the measures taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus now forcing more people to work from home, the agility and adaptability said to be the greatest demands of the workplaces of the future have become even more urgent today.
Both employers and employees now have an increased interest in not just where people work anymore, but rather, how they work.
Just how well are people fairing without the official structure and rules that come with a nine to five job with medium to full on supervision?
“Honestly, it’s been great,” says Matthew Muraya, a Digital Marketing Strategist.
Matthew has discovered he is more productive at home, as he is not constantly pulled into meetings and colleagues no longer need to “pick his brain for just a second” or just need a word.
“I find that I’m more productive at home because I don’t have the various distractions at the office where you’re constantly pulled into meetings and stray away from your to-do list,” says Matthew.
Additionally, he has found that now that he is in full control of his schedule, he works better in the afternoon and evening and so has freed up some extra time in the mornings for himself.
Working from home also means that teamwork and collaboration has to be planned as there is no longer the convenience of simply walking over to a colleague to clarify something or follow up on a deadline.
“Collaboration among teams can be a challenge but it comes down to an individual’s organizational skills, work ethic and integrity. It is not impossible,” Matthew says.
For others, the value of face-time is critical to their business and telecommuting is posing a challenge to professional relationships built with clients and stakeholders in business.
“It’s been quite hard on my end being in a pre-dominantly client-facing profession,” says Antony Gitau, who handles fund and project management for Non-Governmental Organisations.
Antony’s clients typically work in remote areas and his work gets done in the field.
“I had to cut a work trip short because of the virus and working from home has been a challenge especially when communicating with clients in remote areas where there’s less developed infrastructure. It’s a necessary change but it hasn’t been easy,” says the grants advisor.
Adding to the challenges is a lack of real-time collaboration, seamless information sharing and a growing sense that relations between parties have becoming seemingly more transactional and impersonal.
From her experience, says Melanie Otieno, who works at a start-up dealing with alternative energy solution, the flexibility helps, but being away from people she is used to working with comes with a measure of loneliness.
“I believe that people should be able to work where and when their productivity levels are best. I would be comfortable with working from home or just away from the office a couple of days a week because a change of scene is necessary to help one declutter and re-focus, so it’s partly working well for me. I miss my colleagues though,” she says.
“Some alone time is welcome but I also know face-time between colleagues is important and we haven’t had much of it. The phone and video calls, emails, WhatsApp messages are all trying to fill the gap but the interaction is feeling a bit forced. It’s just not as natural or as efficient, especially in situations where there’s critical feedback to be shared,” she says.
For parents, working from home is all the more challenging.
Juggling between children demanding round-the-clock attention while setting up a home office space is not easy, especially when you have a teen, a three-year-old, and twins, like Rose Chemutai, a regulatory specialist.
“It’s been a rollercoaster but there’s a method to the madness. I’ve adjusted my working hours to very early mornings before everyone wakes up and evenings while everyone’s winding down to prevent a backlog in my work. This way, I’m able to clear the most important tasks in the morning, given that the day is split between work meetings and my other full time job at home,” says Rose.
“What’s working for me is establishing boundaries with the kids. They are learning to respect my space when I tell them I’m on work-mode, save for the occasional video call photobomb and noise in the background. In any case, colleagues are understanding because they’re faced with the same reality. As long as I have a stable internet connection, I’m happy to do this over hours spent in traffic commuting between home and the office,” she adds.
Increased internet connectivity has enabled people to work from home, and technology is at the crux of any desired telecommuting success now and in the future.
As corporates band together to play their part in alleviating the strain of the pandemic on citizens, Safaricom is supporting the work from home directive by facilitating working, learning and entertainment from home through continued investment in the network to increase its capacity at this time.
Home Fibre bandwidth has been doubled at no charge for a period of 90 days to aid this. For a family stuck at home, this means that every member can pursue their preferences, be it e-learning, working, or entertainment.
On fixed data, mainly Fibre To The Home, demand has grown by about 70 percent to an all-time high of 1.4 petabytes, with an all-time high of more than 97,000 active customers.
All in all, an ideological shift in organisations (where possible) is encouraged to establish an agile and flexible work ecosystem as it’s becoming quite obvious that work is no longer a place you go, but rather a thing you do.
Years ago, the idea of working from home may have amounted to insubordination but here we are, on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Hangouts and even Houseparty, staying connected to make it work.