COVID-19 Crisis: Pros and Cons of Remote Working for Business

Remote working is not a new term for employers. The current health crisis has just pushed the discussion further on having a remote workforce

A few months ago, allowing employees to work from home was optional for businesses.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced employers to consider remote working to remain in business.

The changes are so sudden that many employers are still struggling with the required adjustments.

Is it a good or bad thing to allow employees to work from home? Should business owners consider the same after the crisis is over?

Pros

1. Increased productivity

One of the highlights of the discussions on remote working is that employees encounter distractions at home.

However, most remote workers understand the demands of working from home. Employees know the changes necessary in their environment to work effectively.

In fact, the office environment sometimes offers more distractions including unplanned meetings, movements, and announcements.

While working remotely, employees can choose the most productive hours in their day when they can work with minimal distractions.

The result is higher productivity, which is good for business.

2. Longer working hours

Tied to higher productivity is additional working hours that many employers hope for from their employees.

Workers spend hours on the road due to heavy traffic during rush hours. Unfortunately, most of them cannot escape the daily nightmare on the roads.

Remote working minimizes movements. Most employees turn the extra time into working hours even without realizing.

For mobile app developers, extra working hours are always welcome.

3. Reduced costs

Hiring a new employee means setting up a fully equipped workstation that probably did not exist.

The business covers the cost of setting up and maintaining the workstation. Sometimes labour costs are higher than revenues from some employees.

In times that an economic downturn is expected, maintaining the office setup is not only expensive but also risky.

Bear in mind that transactions have declined across all sectors. Business owners are staring at declining revenues without an end in sight.

Remote working is an advantage for businesses because employees meet most of the costs.

All businesses have to deal with now is paying salaries and ensuring that employees remain connected in terms of communication lines and the internet.

4. Scalability

Let us face reality. It will take some time before everything falls back to normal. In fact, we must brace ourselves for a new normal.

The advantage of remote working is that it is easy to scale the workforce.

Employers can reduce or increase the workforce depending on the situation at hand.

An alternative is to change the nature of engagement while considering the welfare of employees such as reducing the number of working hours.

Employers can then adjust working hours or even hire new employees when revenues begin to increase.

Remote workers have the option of working more than one job. Hence, they are less likely to leave or terminate their contracts because of such changes in working hours or salaries in a recession.

5. Access to expert skills and talent

Remote working opens a business to a global tank of skills and talent in all fields. A business can hire anyone from any location or country with the necessary skills.

Such talent is inaccessible for a physical office setup. A firm can choose to hire experts for a specific task or period.

A large pool of talent also means that employers can negotiate for the best deal.

Highly skilled employees demand high salaries and benefits that businesses can hardly keep up with when in a crisis.

The global market also provides talent that is unavailable or limited in the local job market.

Also Read: How to Work Remotely Effectively During the Coronavirus Crisis

6. Fewer absenteeism cases

Employees get tired of the daily routine of commuting to and from work. Some of the reasons for absences from work are poor.

Luckily, with remote working, employers have fewer requests for off days to deal with within a month.

Remote workers have more control of their work engagement. Hence, they can easily take some hours off where necessary and resume without disrupting the workflow.

Sometimes all a worker needs is a few hours of rest and not a full day off.

7. Flexibility

Remote workers have flexible working hours. The level of flexibility here depends on the nature of the job.

For instance, for mobile app developers like Muva, collaboration is essential throughout the day.

Even with such jobs, employees still have a flexible schedule. Virtual teams can choose the most convenient times to collaborate or hold meetings.

The basic assumption is that remote workers are always working from home. Well, in times of a crisis like the COVID-19 crisis, that is expected.

In normal situations, employees can move from the home office to any other location like a quiet library to work.

The result of such flexible is improved employee satisfaction, which in turn leads to reduced turnover.

A business achieves all this while saving costs, which is good for any company even after the COVID-19 crisis.

Cons

1. Poor relationships and collaboration

Even with the best of technologies, virtual teams lose some aspects of healthy relationships.

In fact, remote workers are at a high risk of social isolation. Think about demanding jobs like software development that require hours of concentration.

Programmers may spend days indoors until a project is complete.

Poor internet connectivity might also interfere with collaboration among team members and with their leaders.

Employers must consider such challenges and advice their employees on steps to take when collaboration issues arise.

Remote workers need constant reminders to balance their work with social events and outdoor activities.

2. Cybersecurity issues

Data security is a major concern for employers, especially when employees are abruptly sent to work from home.

Employers have little control over the internet providers that workers choose.

Public unsecured networks are a major threat to a company’s data security. Hence, the preparation period for remote employees must include data security.

Employees need the training to differentiate between secure and insecure networks.

The training should also include steps to take in case employees suspect a security breach.

Simple lessons like creating strong passwords and keeping them a secret are equally important.

3. Lack of trust

Some business owners have a hard time trusting remote workers.

Although, the employees may participate in online discussions and video conferences, it is hard to verify their commitment to work.

The problem may not arise with employees that just transitioned from the office setup to remote working.

However, hiring new remote employees comes with trust issues. It takes a while before employers can trust them with some details about their business.

Remote workers must work hard enough to eliminate such issues. An easier way is to have occasional physical meetings with remote workers where possible.

Nevertheless, running a business involves taking risks and hiring remote workers is one of them.

Conclusion

Remote working has various benefits for businesses as outlined in this article. However, the concept works differently depending on the type of business. Some firms must maintain a physical office or production unit. If your business allows, a shift to remote working might be the best thing you can do to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

How to Work Remotely Effectively During the Coronavirus Crisis

We just ended the second week of working remotely as a company because of the Coronavirus crisis.

We promised to share our experience as we go along to help you understand what it takes to keep all staff members engaged remotely.

One thing we need to agree on is that no one saw this crisis coming. It was a “Chinese problem” until it began to affect other nations.

The Kenyan government was quick to catch on with the safety measures to control its spread. We have moved from calls to work from home to mandatory dusk to dawn curfew.

Our journey of working from home got better in the second week. Here are the lessons shared by our team so far:

1. Set up your new office

If you have been working from your employer’s office for years, chances are that you have no working space at home.

Our team had the same challenge as shared in our previous post. Setting up the workspace does not happen overnight.

We cannot predict when it will be safe for us to work closely again in an office setting and neither can you.

The temptation is to curl on your couch or bed with a laptop. We have tried that. It does not work as you expect. You will be snoring after an hour or so!

Even with limited space at home, you can set up a new workstation with a comfortable desk and seat.

Here is the danger of working from your couch. By the time the crisis is over, you will be complaining of back and neck pains.

Your couch was designed for rest, TV, and family talks, not long working hours.

You may start there but by now, you should have an ergonomic workstation.

The workspace will help you in the future when you need to do assignments or personal studies at home.

2. Create boundaries

We know this challenge so well. Everyone is on a mandatory quarantine. All your family members are working from home or just staying at home.

You are a bit lucky if you live alone but the situation for many of us is a family setting.

The fireplace stories are back. For parents, your kids need attention all day.

We are moving from watching the latest news to sudden meals in the kitchen.

How do you get work done in such an environment? Set boundaries!

Call for a family meeting if you need to and agree on working hours. This means that they cannot ask for anything or walk into your workstation at certain times.

If you are a parent, explain to your kids that you are not out on holiday. Give them assignments to do while you work.

Where possible, ask for help with the kids during your working hours.

Here is a tip with boundaries. Respect other people’s boundaries if you want them to respect yours.

If you constantly interrupt others, they will do the same.

3. Constant communication

You have covered the situation at home, created the workspace you need and communicated your boundaries to everyone.

Your team members are doing the same in their new office setups.

We have noticed that we move faster when everyone is online at the same time. Communication is important when creating an app or website remotely.

You must communicate your progress at every stage and respond to your team members promptly.

This is only possible if the environment at home allows you to focus on your tasks throughout the day.

We understand that technical hitches may come along the way. For instance, a team member may lose power or internet connection.

You may hit a snag with an assigned task and need assistance.

Such a team member has the responsibility of informing others of the challenge immediately.

Luckily, we have multiple channels of communication at Muva Technologies. In our planning period, we advised the team on the best way to use each channel.

Communication is not just for a smooth workflow. Your workmates are like family depending on the relationships you create in the office.

We work more or less like a family. Everyone must check in daily with the current health status and all.

We are also sharing tips on how to stay safe and navigate the uncertainties of the day.

4. Maintain an office-like schedule

Well, this proved tough at the beginning but we are slowly catching on with the schedule.

When going to the office, you set your alarm at a certain time. For most of us, you are ready to start your day at 8am or 9am.

Do not break the routine. Remember that we are working remotely just for a season.

It will be hard to adjust after the crisis is over.

The greater benefit is that maintaining your routine helps you manage your time effectively.

Take the breaks as usual. This means that you might need to prepare your meals earlier or ask for help.

Here is a quick one, do not adopt unhealthy eating habits and blame it on the crisis.

Maintain your discipline in preparing healthy meals before or after work.

Using an office-like schedule means getting off your desk at 5pm or your usual time. This brings us to our last tip for the week.

5. Balance

We get it. You want to prove to your boss or supervisor that you are working effectively from home.

You might be tempted to work extra hours into the night because you can. You can use the time you spend in traffic to work.

However, you need balance to maintain the daily routine. Your family still needs your attention.

If you do not give them the usual time, they will have a hard time keeping the boundaries you created.

You need time to catch up with your friends, catch the latest news, and keep the hobbies you can.

Outdoor activities are limited but you still have options for indoor activities besides watching TV.

Remote working offers an opportunity to do more every day where your work and personal development is concerned.

Learn something new. Learn new ways of doing your job. Develop a new hobby. Spend more time your family now that you can.

At the end of the crisis, you should have tangible results of how you spent the extra hours.

Stay safe!

My First Day of Working Remotely Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

My name is Faheem, a developer at Muva Technologies.

The Kenyan government issued a directive that from Monday 16th March 2020 learning institutions should be closed. The government also urged companies to allow employees to work from home where possible among other precautionary steps against the spread of COVID-19.

Working remotely has been a huge topic of interest since the advent of the internet and now more than ever remote working has to be called into play. It seems that we have all the facilities for it, that is, internet at home, laptops rather than workstations, Skype, Slack, and team viewer. This should have been a breeze.

NO, I did not take into consideration some factors. For instance, I do not have an actual worktable. I have to use the dining table with a quite uncomfortable chair, which did not seem bad at first.

As a developer, I need to be online for a good part of the day granted not a 9-5 work schedule but deadlines pre-Covid-19 had been set.

The kids are home and who does not love kids? My 3-year-old nephew loves my back-lit laptop keyboard.  My day 1 of quarantine was spent teaching him how to switch the lights off and on. This was fun for the first 2 minutes but we soon wanted to watch kids TV.

Our favourite song baby shark just happened to be recommended when searching for nursery rhymes.  So, like a good uncle, we watched it over and over and over.

 Eventually, I did get most of my work done but the efficiency was lacking.

The upside was that Muva Technologies gave me a few tips that have proved quite helpful.

 1. Communication is key:

The first thing I got was a good communication channel. At Muva, we use slack for internal communication.

All staff members gave their contact information on the Company’s slack channel. The details required include our names, phone number, email, Skype ID and the projects we were working on.

This proved essential, as I was able to communicate with my project team.

The morning started with checking into virtual work by a simple good morning message followed by the objectives for the day in the following format

– what I did yesterday

 -what I will be doing today

 -prevailing challenges

 This was simple and effective in letting the team know what they should do and what will be achieved by the close of day.

 2. Priorities

The reason for working from home was to prioritize our health. According to our leaders, the company must prioritize its employees’ health at all costs.

Nonetheless, as said earlier, deadlines were set and we have to meet them. As much as the client would understand the pandemic at hand, we must deliver as promised.

To us, this meant to get as much work done as early as possible and the push your code online or as our leader quoted, “Eat the frog first thing in the morning “– Thomas Oppong

 3. Flow

Try to stay focused for a good period of time. There are many distractions at home but once you get into the rhythm of getting your work done, stick to it for as long as possible.

A good tip would be to use the tomato timer , that is, doing 20 minutes of work and taking a 5-minute interval, though this timing varies from person to person.

4. Teamwork

This is tied to communication with an addition that as much as you need your team, your team needs you. Use all the tools provided to keep tabs on your work-mates not only for the work-related aspect but also keeping tabs during this period.

As for the meetings with clients, Skype and Zoom are both reliable software as we are urged not to come into physical contact.

Where possible, avoid meeting the clients with the whole team. Pick a representative and advise the client to do the same.

5. Stay safe

Maintain personal hygiene and I cannot stress this enough, WASH YOUR HANDS.

Secondly, avoid getting information from memes and conspiracy theorists; stay updated with data from relevant sources like the World Health Organization (WHO)

We will continue blogging and providing relevant information on remote working and our personal experiences throughout.

God Bless

Coronavirus Apps: Should App Stores Ban or Approve Them?

Image: CNN

The coronavirus fear has spread across the globe as the outbreak continues to make headlines. Travel restrictions, cancelled public events, quarantines, suspicious cases, and death tolls are all over our TV screens.

As everyone worries about the rising death toll, app developers have a different response. Ever since the disease broke out, developers have been creating apps to keep users informed. However, app stores including Google and Apple have been cracking down on the apps.

Should the platforms let the apps be given the severity of the situation?

The rising popularity of coronavirus apps

The greatest asset that people have in times of a crisis is accurate information. You can only make a sober decision with the right information at hand at the right time.

The purpose of creating these apps is to help users know the level of risks in their current location. Coronavirus is spreading through physical contact.

South Korea is one of the worst-hit countries with over 7,000 reported cases. Coronavirus apps are most popular in this tech-savvy country.

The apps use government data to show users how far they are from a confirmed case. The apps give all available data on the patient including the location, date of confirmation of the case, and demographics.

In a recent interview, the owner of one of the popular apps, Corona 100m cited the increasing downloads. The mentioned app was hitting 20,000 installs in an hour.

Corona 100m sends an alert every time the user comes at least 100m from the location that a confirmed patient visited.

Japan has also borrowed the idea where one free app has over 120 registered doctors. The doctors use the apps to advise users, especially those experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

Who knew that mobile apps would come in handy in times of such a crisis?

Crackdowns

While thousands turn to coronavirus apps in desperation, app stores are cracking down on the same apps. Apple and Google have been rejecting apps from developers sharing coronavirus information.

The platforms are citing the need to give accurate information to users.

Apple is specifically rejecting apps from individuals. The store is only accepting coronavirus apps from governments and recognised health care institutions.

Consequently, app developers who had previously submitted their apps for approval are getting message with a ban.

The restrictions make sense to a certain extent because misinformation can cause unnecessary panic. However, there are well-meaning developers with accurate information that can help the situation.

Most app developers are relying on information from the World Health Organization and their respective governments.

Unlike before, fewer apps are now appearing among the top results for virus-related apps on the iOS app store.

Google is using a different strategy on its app store. The platform is blocking search results for Covid-19. It is still unclear to developers if the play store is simply rejecting new apps or careful with the information shared.

Even approved apps risk a ban if owners violate Google’s policy on sensitive events such as a disease outbreak.

Both Google and Apple are constantly monitoring the few available virus apps to ensure that they do not violate their policies.

Such restrictions are protecting users from spam. However, they are blocking genuine developers from playing a part in combating the fast-spreading disease.

If only a few apps are available, users have to deal with a slow performance given the large number of downloads reported per hour.

In addition, the platforms are not providing the criterion used to disqualify app developers. Instead, uploaded apps are simply not appearing among search results.

Further restrictions

Google and Apple are not the only tech-companies concerned about misinformation about coronavirus. Facebook and Amazon have also joined in the fight against inaccurate data shared about Covid-19.

Amazon promised to pull down any product listing that claims to cure or protect customers against coronavirus.

You can trust some crooks to take advantage of the situation and introduce such products.

Esty has followed Amazon’s path in pulling down listings that relate to curing or preventing the virus.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are also restricting any misinformation about the virus that users may attempt to share on the platforms.

Both Google and Facebook have banned any ads related to the disease.

With such strict measures from the most popular social platforms and marketplaces, it is difficult for spammers to spread fake news and data.

However, some criminals are cracking through the bans to sell products, especially in the worst-hit regions.

Are Kenyan developers ready?

We have all heard the reports and briefs from the government about the level of preparedness in our public hospitals. Luckily, all suspected cases in the country have tested negative for Covid-19.

However, tension is still high as some African countries begin to report confirmed cases. There are still some loopholes in our travel bans.

Our challenge is to app developers in Kenya. South Koreans and Japanese developers were ready to offer software that is now keeping thousands of users safe.

Do we have such expertise and quick response from Kenyan developers? Have we failed to use technology to provide solutions in times of crisis in the past?

The hope of every Kenyan is that coronavirus will not seep through our borders. If that happens, software developers should be ready to provide quick solutions in the form of mobile and web apps.

Software engineers in Kenya should take the challenge from those in Asian countries to stop over-relying on the government in a crisis.

The government has an obligation to protect citizens. However, with such an outbreak, it takes both citizens and the government to control its spread.

Final Thoughts

It is rational for app stores and social platforms to monitor the information that users are sharing about Coronavirus. Tension is already too high in countries reporting thousands and hundreds of confirmed cases.

However, the platforms should have a fair process of banning new Covid-19 related apps. Some genuine app developers are willing to use their expertise to control the outbreak and save lives.

We are in the age of digital technology and mobile apps. Developers should have room to exercise their creativity as long as they do not violate the policy guidelines for respective platforms.

Is China’s TikTok App Taking Over Social Media?

Kenyans went on a craze of sharing short videos in January via TikTok. It seemed the fun and easy way of surviving the long month of “Njaanuary” as it has been coined.

It turns out that the whole world is now busy sharing videos via the TikTok app. The app allows users to create and share short videos with a limit of 15 seconds.

If you are on social media, you definitely have viewed multiple videos created using the new app. In a world that loves video content, the Chinese app seems to be overtaking other social media platforms.

Features

TikTok promises to “make your day” with real videos from real people. Sometimes a spontaneous moment is best shared in a video.

The app provides users with tools to create original short-form videos. The simple tools enable users to share bits of their day with the world.

The tools include music, special effects, and filters to create high-quality yet interesting videos.

Music in different genres is available on the platform including rock, pop, hip hop, and country among others.

Users can pause and resume recording a video several times. The feature allows you to capture only the moments you want to share on video.

Other interesting features include the ability to cut, duplicate, and combine different videos. You do not need to leave the app to use these tools.

TikTok app has become very popular among the young people, especially teenagers. Its feed has endless videos that are personalised based on the user’s interests.

The videos are in different categories including pets, gaming, comedy, memes, food, sports, and DIYs among others.

ByteDance owns the TikTok app, which was officially released into the market in 2017. The app is available on both IOS and Android platforms.

Popularity and downloads

We must admit, the app can keep you entertained all day. Even if you do not create any videos, a peep into your feed will do as the app promises, “make your day.”

In 2018, TikTok broke the record of social media platforms in the US. It was the most downloaded app in October 2018.

The video platform was the first Chinese app to achieve such a milestone and in just a year of existence in the market.

By the end of 2018, the app had already reached over 150 markets and translated into 75 languages.

Before releasing TikTok, ByteDance had introduced a similar app Douyin, which was equally successful in China. By February 2019, both apps had over one billion downloads.

Tiktok emerged at position 7 among the most downloaded apps in 10 years between 2010 and 2019. The popularity has continued in this new decade.

Overtaking Facebook and WhatsApp

Facebook and WhatsApp are perhaps the most popular social media platforms you can think of today. Both allow users to share fun stories and videos while making business connections.

The TikTok app seemed to challenge these apps. In 2019, the app overtook Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook in terms of downloads.

Data from Sensor Tower now indicate that TikTok has overthrown WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook alongside Instagram.

Facebook seemed to have captured the social media market by owning the three platforms. However, Chinese app developers seem determined to challenge this position.

Recent data shows that both Douyin and TikTok have been downloaded about 104 million times in January 2020. The data include both the Apple app store and Google Play Store.

In addition, the data shows a remarkable 46% increase in downloads compared to the same month in 2019. It also indicates a 27% increase from the downloads recorded in December 2019.

The data only accounted for three major markets, which include the US, Brazil and India. Hence, the actual downloads are much higher when other markets including China’s third-party Android downloads are included.

The total downloads are almost hitting the 2 billion mark. If the trend is another to go by, the app will hit and exceed this mark in 2020.

Security Concerns and Bans

Despite the rising popularity, TikTok raised some security fears. Several countries have banned the app from their markets for different reasons.

In Indonesia, the app was banned for several weeks in July 2018 because of its content. The owners move to edit the content that Indonesian users shared to meet the government requirements.

In China, the government listed 100 categories of content that are subject to censorship for TikTok and similar apps. The grounds for bans in China seem political.

It is interesting to note the tough restrictions in the app’s country of origin.

In the US, the Transportation Security Administration and Army banned the TikTok app in 2019 over security concerns.

The arms of government cited that the Chinese could be using the app to gather data from American users. Apps have become the easiest way for governments and criminals alike to collect private data from unsuspecting users.

The app has also raised cyber-security concerns, especially for teenagers who seem too much in love with the app.

The US government is keen to ban all GPS apps because of the risks involved. Some analysts predicts further censorship for TikTok in the US market given the strained relationship between the US and China.

In India, the app was briefly banned with the government citing concerns that the app was encouraging pornography.

The bans, however, do not seem to deter social media users from taking and sharing videos. The app’s downloads keep increasing every month in the top market including the US.

Concluding Remarks

ByteDance has proved that it is possible to overtake even the most popular and powerful networks in the world. Facebook and WhatsApp have been in the market for a long time. However, in less than four years, TikTok has overtaken the two in terms of downloads.

The owners identified a gap in social media and created a solution for it. Anyone can run a video for 15 seconds and have some fun. What gaps do you see in the world of apps or in your niche? With the right app developers in Kenya, you can fill them and achieve record-breaking results.