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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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Taming Digital Lenders in Kenya: Are We Close?

Dr Patrick Njoroge, CBK Governor Photo|The Standard

As app developers in Kenya, we do not just create loans apps. We care about the experience and welfare of the users. Like many Kenyans, we are concerned about the rates the digital lenders charge.

Kenyans have been complaining about instant loan apps for quite a while. However, a suicide case in 2019 caused a stir.

A man borrowed from a digital lender and defaulted on his loan. The lender resulted in what many have termed as “harassment.”

We told you how lenders ask for access to private data such as contacts or phone gallery. Here is the purpose. The lenders will contact everyone on your phonebook if they cannot recover funds from you.

Such was the predicament of this man who resulted in suicide. The lender started sending messages to his contacts, including his mother and grandmother.

What would you do if all your friends and family members start receiving messages about a loan you cannot pay?

Some have termed this as cyber shaming. The suicide provoked CBK to move to action.

Borrowers, on the other hand, started sharing their horrific stories of the means that digital lenders use to demand their loans.

The digital lenders’ side of the story

Every time Kenyans talk about interest rates on mobile loans, the digital lenders come out to defend their case.

Is this a case of misinformation? Do borrowers know how the process works?

In a recent interview on Citizen TV, the Digital Lenders’ Association spokesman, Kevin Mutiso explained how they end up with high interest rates.

Some will call it exorbitant but the lenders call it fair pricing.

Digital lenders in Kenya access funds from banks and other financiers. At the moment, the lenders in the Kenyan market cannot get funds from local banks.

The result has been borrowing money from venture capitalists from the US, China, Poland, and other countries.   

The lenders talk of a high cost of borrowing the funds. The capitalists charge between 18% and 22 % as an interest rate.

Think about it. Who pays for this interest rate? You! And every other Kenyan looking for a thousand or two from a loan app.

Remember we have not yet factored in other costs like developing a loan app, operational costs, taxes, and fixed costs. The lenders still have to make reasonable profits to stay in business above all costs.

When they add their price to the cost of borrowing, the instant loan becomes expensive.

Also Read: 10 Ways to Identify Fake Loan Apps in Kenya

Digital lenders also talk about the high risk of the business. With millions of Kenyans listed on CRB as defaulters, the lenders understand the risk in the market.

Loan apps lend to people that local banks will instantly turn away. When you hear or read that you can get a loan with a poor credit score, understand that you will pay a premium for that risk.

Again, not all digital lenders are predatory. Some are committed to helping small business owners grow their businesses.

Small business owners like mama mboga cannot wait for 30 to 45 days of a business cycle to buy new goods. They must go to the market almost every day to keep the business running.

Loan apps came in to cover this market segment.

Should the government regulate the market?

It is easy to shout and demand that the government steps in to regulate digital lenders. Borrowers would expect that interest rates would come down.

Digital lenders are open to government regulation. CBK can protect both lenders and borrowers by setting standards to govern their operations.

For instance, digital lenders should be required to be transparent about the price of their loan products. Honesty and ethical procedures in collecting funds from borrowers are equally important.

However, capping the interest rates would harm the market, as it is with any other market.

A loan is a commodity that is subject to demand and supply forces. At least the digital lenders view it that way.

From your basic economics class, you know that the price of any commodity goes up whenever the demand exceeds supply.

Unfortunately, this is the case in the Kenyan market for instant mobile loans.

We have a good example from the Kenyan government’s move to cap interest rates for local banks. The bank owners, in response, introduced digital lending platforms that operate as other private loan apps.

The interest rates are nearly the same. However, most local banks are ethical in their practices and are strict about controlling the risk of lending to defaulters.

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 is another perfect example of the long-term effects of government interference in a market.

The way forward

We clearly need order in the digital lending space.  The government through CBK should create rules and regulation for digital lenders in Kenya.

Whether we call it cyber shaming or harassment, dealing with defaulters must be ethical and fair. We do not need to lose another life because of a small loan.

While talking about lenders, we need to look at the real issues as Kenyans. What is pushing Kenyans to digital lenders?

Why are we willing to trade our private data for a loan of Ksh. 1,000?

Most people do not borrow for luxury but for basic needs. Unfortunately, the needs are recurrent and with no sustainable income, the inevitable happens.

Kenyans are desperate for an economic shift that will increase their real income to match the ever-increasing rate of inflation.

The income of the borrowers that loan apps target does not match with the cost of living, especially in the urban setting.

Hence, beyond asking the government for regulation, we need to demand systems and institutions that work for the citizens. Corruption is still a sad case in Kenya where people borrow to eat.

When the government fails to do its job well, the citizens suffer.

Finally, we need to make equal noise about savings as we do digital loans.

As app developers in Kenya, we have heard all manner of arguments and complaints about instant apps yet the demand for the same is still increasing.

However, noise about apps or platforms that help you save consistently is rare.

We need to cultivate the saving culture while we demand ethical and fair practices from lenders and accountability from the government.

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